Tao Te Ching

The Power of Goodness, the Wisdom Beyond Words
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Although wars, conflict, crime, and disasters so easily captivate our attention and dominate both historical texts and modern news; art has a much deeper and more valuable significance, a closer link to the potential discovery of meaningfulness, to the revelation and appreciation of sacredness. In describing Chinese porcelain, Will Durant called it “the summit and symbol of Chinese civilization” and “one of the noblest things that men have done to make their species forgivable on the earth.” It’s an interesting perspective—a weighing and assessment of the human species as a whole. From that panoramic view; fame, fortune, pleasure and power hold little value while art raises the human experience, connects us to the sacred, and gives life meaning.

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Quotes (78)

“Great works of art teach us to have confidence in our spontaneous impressions with good humored inflexibility—the most when the whole cry of voices is against us.”

Themes: Art

“The aim of art is to represent not the outward appearance of things, but their inward significance; for this is the true reality.”

Aristotle Ἀριστοτέλης 382 – 322 BCE

Themes: Art Reality

“The art of living well and the art of dying well are one.”

Epicurus ɛpɪˈkjɔːrəs 341 – 270 BCE
Western Buddha
from On Nature

52. Cultivating the Changeless

“Most people use their mind recklessly… The wise use their mind calmly. Calmness means carefulness and carefulness means a gardening of spirit, an art born of an understanding of the Tao.”

Hán Fēi 韓非 280 – 233 BCE

Themes: Art

59. The Gardening of Spirit

“The perfection of art is to conceal art.”

Quintilian 35 – 100 CE
from Institutio Oratoria

Themes: Art Inscrutable

“The noblest functions of the human soul begin with reflecting on art and meditating on things of beauty. Rather than fixating on fame, fortune, pleasure, and power; it waits for the revelations of truth.”

Avicenna أبو علي الحسين بن عبد الله بن الحسن بن علي بن سينا 980 – 1037 CE via Arberry, Shan Dao
from Avicenna on Theology

“It is typical of the unintelligent man to insist on assembling complete sets of everything. Imperfect sets are better.

Yoshida Kenkō 兼好 1284 – 1350 CE via Donald Keene
Inspiration of self-reinvention
from Harvest of Leisure

Themes: Art

“Study the art of science… Realize that everything connects to everything else.”

Leonardo da Vinci 1452 – 1519 CE

Themes: Art Science Oneness

39. Oneness

“Art lies in conceiving and designing, not in the actual execution.”

Leonardo da Vinci 1452 – 1519 CE

Themes: Art

81. Journey Without Goal

“Good painting is noble and devout in itself, for among the wise nothing tends more to elevate the soul... Painting is the music of god, the inner reflection of his luminous perfection.”

Michelangelo 1475 – 1564 CE

Themes: Art

“Art owes its origin to Nature herself... this beautiful creation, the world, supplied the first model, while the original teacher was that divine intelligence.”

Giorgio Vasari dʒordʒo vaˈzaːri 1511 – 1574 CE

Themes: Art

“Art may improve but cannot surpass nature.”

Miguel de Cervantes 1547 – 1616 CE
One of the world's best novelists

“Art is a mirror held up to nature.”

William Shakespeare 1564 – 1616 CE via Joseph Campbell

Themes: Art

“But come bad chance, And we join to'it our strength, And we teach it art and length.”

John Donne 1572 – 1631 CE
from Songs and Sonnets

Themes: Art

18. The Sick Society

“One Science only will one Genius fit;
So vast is Art, so narrow Human Wit.”

Alexander Pope 1688 – 1744 CE
Second most quoted English writer
from An Essay on Criticism, 1709

Themes: Art Less is More

“Science and art belong to the whole world and before them vanish the barriers of nationality.”

Goethe, Johann Wolfgang von 1749 – 1832 CE
from Maxims

“Just trust yourself and you'll learn the art of living.”

William Blake 1757 – 1827 CE

33. Know Yourself

“The excellence of every art is its intensity, capable of making all disagreeables evaporate from their being in close relationship with beauty and truth.”

John Keats 1795 – 1821 CE
Writer of "poems as immortal as English"
from Letters, 1817

Themes: Art

“If the artist does not fling himself, without reflecting, into his work, as the soldier flings himself into the enemy's trenches, and if, once in, he does not work like a miner on whom the walls of his gallery have fallen in; if he contemplates difficulties instead of overcoming them one by one ... he is simply looking on at the suicide of his own talent.”

Balzac 1799 – 1850 CE
(Honoré de Balzac)
from Cousin Bette

Themes: Perseverance Art

“God manifests himself to us in the first degree through the life of the universe, and in the second degree through the thought of man. The second manifestation is not less holy than the first. The first is named Nature, the second is named Art.”

Victor Hugo 1802 – 1885 CE
Literary pioneer, poet, and social justice provocateur
from William Shakespeare, 1864

Themes: Art God Reason

“The arts and sciences, and a thousand appliances: the wind that blows is all that anybody knows.”

Henry David Thoreau 1817 – 1862 CE
Father of environmentalism and America's first yogi
from Walden or Life in the Woods

38. Fruit Over Flowers

“In Science the paramount appeal is to the Intellect — its purpose being instruction; in Art, the paramount appeal is to the Emotions — its purpose being pleasure.”

George Henry Lewes 1817 – 1878 CE
English philosopher and soul mate to George Eliot
from The Principles of Success in Literature (1865)

Themes: Pleasure Science Art

“Fine art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart of man go together.”

John Ruskin 1819 – 1900 CE

Themes: Art

“He is the greatest artist who has embodied, in the sum of their works, the greatest number of the greatest ideas.”

John Ruskin 1819 – 1900 CE
from Modern Painters, 1860

Themes: Art

“Art is an old language with a great many artificial, affected styles, and sometimes the chief pleasure one gets out of knowing them is the mere sense of knowing.”

George Eliot 1819 – 1880 CE
(Mary Anne Evans)
Pioneering literary outsider

from Middlemarch

Themes: Art

“all the noblest arts hold in perfection but for a very little moment. They soon reach a height from which they begin to decline... for an art is like a living organism—better dead than dying. There is no way of making an aged art young again; it must be born anew and grow up from infancy as a new thing, working out its own salvation from effort to effort in all fear and trembling.”

Samuel Butler 1835 – 1902 CE
Iconoclastic philosopher, artist, composer, author, and evolutionary theorist
from Erewhon

Themes: Art Creativity

“It is art that makes life, makes interest, makes importance.”

Henry James 1843 – 1916 CE

Themes: Art

“What matters poverty? What matters anything to him who is enamoured of our art? Does he not carry in himself every joy and every beauty?”

Sarah Bernhardt 1844 – 1923 CE
“One of the finest actors of all time”

Themes: Art Beauty

“Art is the highest task and the proper metaphysical activity of this life.”

Friedrich Nietzsche 1844 – 1900 CE

Themes: Art

“Life imitates art far more than art imitates life.”

Oscar Wilde 1854 – 1900 CE

Themes: Art

“Art is the only serious thing in the world. And the artist is the only person who is never serious.”

Oscar Wilde 1854 – 1900 CE

“Art is the most effective mode of communications that exists.”

John Dewey 1859 – 1952 CE
The "Second Confucius"

Themes: Art

“Theater is, of course, a reflection of life. Maybe we have to improve life before we can hope to improve theater.”

Dean Inge 1860 – 1954 CE
Christian mystic and philosopher

Themes: Art

“The world as an art is the play of the Supreme Person reveling in image-making. You may call it maya and pretend to disbelieve it; but the great artist, the Mayavin, is not hurt. For art is maya, it has no other explanation but that it seems to be what it is.”

Rabindranath Tagore 1861 – 1941 CE

“Only through art can we emerge from ourselves and know what another person sees... Thanks to art, instead of seeing a single world—our own—we see it multiply until we have before us as many worlds as there are original artists.”

Marcel Proust 1871 – 1922 CE
Apostle of Ordinary Mind
from In Search of Lost Time

Themes: Art

“What was any art but a mold to imprison for a moment the shining elusive element which is life itself- life hurrying past us and running away, too strong to stop, too sweet to lose.”

Willa Cather 1873 – 1948 CE
Modern day Lao Tzu

from My Ántonia

Themes: Art Here and Now

1. The Unnamed

“The stamping out of the artist is one of the blind goals of every civilization.”

Elie Faure 1873 – 1937 CE
French art historian and essayist

Themes: Art

“Religion and art spring from the same root and are close kin. Economics and art are strangers.”

Willa Cather 1873 – 1948 CE
Modern day Lao Tzu

from On Writing

Themes: Economics Art

“Religion is the art of those who are uncreative.”

Rainer Maria Rilke 1875 – 1926 CE
Profound singer of universal music

Themes: Religion Art

“[Nietzsche's] personal feelings initiate him into those of the criminal ... in general all creative originality, all artist nature in the broadest sense of the word, does the same... an artist must approach his work in the spirit of the criminal about to commit a crime.”

Thomas Mann 1875 – 1955 CE
Deep, psychologically insightful author

Themes: Art

“It is not as if the artist were a special kind of person; every person is a special kind of artist.”

Ananda Coomaraswamy குமாரசுவாமி 1877 – 1947 CE
Perennial philosophy's Citizen of the World
from The Dance of Shiva (1918)

Themes: Art

“Like the goal of art is the search for beauty, the goal of religion is the search for God and truth.”

Ouspensky Пётр Демья́нович Успе́нский 1878 – 1947 CE
(Pyotr Demianovich Ouspenskii)

Themes: Art Religion Truth God

“The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel is as good as dead.”

Albert Einstein 1879 – 1955 CE
from Ideas and Opinions

Themes: Art Science Magic

1. The Unnamed

“I wash my hands of those who imagine chattering to be knowledge, silence to be ignorance, and affection to be art.”

Kahlil Gibran 1883 – 1931 CE

Themes: Art

81. Journey Without Goal

“I intentionally struggle to surpass the boundaries of art, and thus harmony—the essence of beauty—is distorted... I was struggling, not for beauty, but for deliverance... I wanted to be delivered from my own inner darkness and to turn it into light”

Nikos Kazantzakis 1883 – 1957 CE via P. A. Bien
from Report to Greco

Themes: Beauty Art

“It's delightful to contemplate a society where art is more respected than wealth; but, art can only be the flower that grows out of wealth. It cannot be wealth's substitute. The Medici came before Michelangelo”

Will Durant 1885 – 1981 CE via Shan Dao
Philosophy apostle and popularizer of history's lessons
from The Story of Philosophy, 1926

Themes: Art Wealth

“The artist is always beginning. Any work of art which is not a beginning, an invention, a discovery is of little worth.”

Ezra Pound 1885 – 1972 CE

Themes: Art Creativity

“Struggle is the most invaluable experience of all. Suffering seems to be the inevitable fate of the creative sensitive types. Poverty, disease, death, unrequited love affairs, and disappointments of every sort fan the flame of the artistic spirit. The greatest works of art were not created by spoiled brats. They were born for the most part out of a sense of despair, and if not despair then just plain hard work. Somewhere along the line the artist learns the art of transformation.”

Henry Miller 1891 – 1980 CE
from Reflections (1981)

“The incomparable landscape painting of China and Japan was essentially a religious art, inspired by Taoism and Zen Buddhism; in Europe on the contrary, landscape painting and the poetry of ‘nature worship’ were sealer arts which only arose when Christianity was in decline”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Perennial Philosophy

Themes: Art
“It isn’t only art that is incompatible with happiness, it’s also science. Science is dangerous, we have to keep it most carefully chained and muzzled. ”

Aldous Huxley 1894 – 1963 CE
from Brave New World

Themes: Art Science

“Only the free-wheeling artist-explorer, non-academic, scientist-philosopher, mechanic, economist-poet who has never waited for patron-starting and accrediting of his co-ordinate capabilities holds the prime initiative today.”

Buckminster Fuller 1895 – 1983 CE

28. Turning Back

“The greatest artist is one who expresses what is felt by everybody.”

Anagarika​ (Lama) Govinda 1898 – 1985 CE
(Ernst Hoffmann)
Pioneer of Tibetan Buddhism to the West

Themes: Art

“The self-conscious element of an art that is divorced from life or meaning is unknown in Tibet... It is only from the standpoint of creative visualization... crystallising into the universal order of a mandala that we can understand”

Anagarika​ (Lama) Govinda 1898 – 1985 CE
(Ernst Hoffmann)
Pioneer of Tibetan Buddhism to the West

from Way of the White Clouds (1966)

“Culture is art elevated to a set of beliefs.”

Thomas Wolfe 1900 – 1938 CE
(Thomas Clayton Wolfe)
Father of autobiographical fiction

Themes: Culture Art

“because of the Taoist insistence on the positive value of non-being that empty space has been utilized as a constructive factor in Chinese landscape painting.”

Wing-tsit Chan 陳榮捷 1901 – 1994 CE
from Way of Lao Tzu

Themes: Art

11. Appreciating Emptiness

“Artists are the Indians of the white world. They are called dreamers who live in the clouds… I tell you this is the real world, not the Green Frog Skin World. That’s only a bad dream, a streamlined, smog-filled nightmare.”

John Fire Lame Deer 1903 – 1976 CE via Richard Erdoes
from Lame Deer, Seeker of Visions

Themes: Dream Art

28. Turning Back

“all art is propaganda... the artist is not a harmless eccentric but one who—under the guise of irrelevance—creates and reveals a new reality [while] in the value system of civilization, of compulsive survival, the artist is irrelevant.”

Alan Watts 1915 – 1973 CE
from Psychotherapy East and West

“An artist's only concern is to shoot for some kind of perfection, and on his own terms, not anyone else's.”

J. D. Salinger 1919 – 2010 CE
from Franny and Zooey

Themes: Art

“Among the languages of American Indians there is no word for ‘art,’ because for Indians everything is art.”

Huston Smith 1919 – 2016 CE
from World's Religions

Themes: Art

“In the realm of art, the Great Integrity [the Tao] implies the 'artistification' of life and the gradual disappearance of our old age are 'closets' such as museums and performance halls.”

Ralph Alan Dale 1920 – 2006 CE
Translator, author, visionary
from Tao Te Ching, a new translation and commentary

Themes: Art

“Art is good when it springs from necessity. This kind of origin is the guarantee of its value; there is no other.”

Neal Cassady 1926 – 1968 CE

Themes: Art

“Life is short. Art, or something not life, is long, stretching out endless, like a concrete worm. Flat, white, unsmoothed by any passage over or across it.”

Philip K. Dick 1928 – 1982 CE
Legendary consciousness provocateur
from Man in the High Castle,

Themes: Art Immortality

“Every time I have had a problem, I have confronted it with the ax of art.”

Yayoi Kusama 草間 彌生 1929 CE –

Themes: Art Problems

“Ordinary artists express themselves for fame, fortune, or power. They only make art which becomes a master controlling them. Artists must go beyond outward, obvious expressions and experience the subtle, inner elements; the source of the outer, gross elements. Then they can make art which reflects what people need.”

Thinley Norbu གདུང་སྲས་ཕྲིན་ལས་ནོར་བུ 1931 – 2011 CE via Shan Dao
(Kyabjé Dungse)
from Magic Dance (1981)

Themes: Art

“Art is thought, and thought only gives the world an appearance of order to anyone weak enough to be convinced by its show.”

Colin Wilson 1931 – 2013 CE
from Outsider

Themes: Art Deception

“genuine sexual expression is at least as dangerous to society as genuine artistic expression,”

James P. Carse 1932 – 2020 CE
Thought-proving, influential, deep thinker
from Finite and Infinite Games

Themes: Art

“If as Sun Tzu says, ‘Deception is the art of war,’ it follows that being genuine and authentic is the art of peace.”

Shan Dao 山道 1933 CE –

57. Wu Wei

“Art is a way of survival… a verb, rather than a noun… Art is my life and my life is art.”

Yoko Ono 小野 洋子 1933 CE –
(“Ocean Child”)

Themes: Art

“When one of the emperors of China asked Bodhidharma what enlightenment was, his answer was, ‘Lots of space, nothing holy’… It’s all good juicy stuff … the art of living in the present moment.”

Pema Chödrön 1936 CE –
(Deirdre Blomfield-Brown)
First American Vajrayana nun

64. Ordinary Mind

“The painting is the trace of what’s left of the looking.”

Diane Kurz 1936 CE –
Painter of ordinary sacredness

Themes: Art

43. No Effort, No Trace

“Through art as magic, the magic of the mandala embodied in the very fabric of everyday life, we can live our lives as cosmic citizens.”

José Argüelles 1939 – 2011 CE via Shan Dao
from Mandala

“Every moment we might be doing the same things — brushing our teeth every day, combing our hair every day, cooking our dinner every day. But that seeming repetitiveness becomes unique every day. A kind of intimacy takes place with the daily habits that you go through and the art involved in it. That is what is called art in everyday life.”

Chögyam Trungpa 1939 – 1987 CE
from True Perception: the Path of Dharma Art

Themes: Art

“I suppose an artist takes the elements of his life and rearranges them and then has them perceived by others as though they were the elements of their lives.”

Paul Simon 1941 CE –
Prolific planter of musical, cultural wisdom seeds

Themes: Art

“Paintings are strange things: as they near the end they acquire their own will, their own viewpoint, even their own powers of speech.”

Haruki Murakami 1949 CE –
from Killing Commendatore

Themes: Art

“Art despises placidity and smooth surfaces... art, lovely subversive are, you see what breaks through in spite of restraint, or even because of it.”

Amy Tan 1952 CE –
Rock and roll singer, bartender, and insightfully talented author
from Saving Fish From Drowning

Themes: Art

“everything is potentially a fertile subject for art and we can make discoveries as valuable in an advertisement for soap as in Pascal's Pensées... the greatness of works of art has nothing to do with the apparent quality of their subject matter, and everything to do with the subsequent treatment of that matter.”

Alain de Botton 1969 CE –
Philosophic link between ancient wisdom and modern challenge
from How Proust Can Change Your Life

Themes: Art

“* Art is memory made public... as long as the art endures, a song or a view or a thought or a feeling someone once taught worth keeping is saved and stays shareable, others can say, 'I feel that too.'”

David Mitchell 1969 CE –
from Utopia Avenue

Themes: Art

“Art has replaced religion as a touchstone of our reverence and devotion.”

Alain de Botton 1969 CE –
Philosophic link between ancient wisdom and modern challenge
from Religion for Atheists

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