Not men, but mountains and rivers are my teachers

I have just received a facsimile of “The Long Scroll” by Sesshū, considered by some Japanese as the greatest of all their artists.

I quote from the Scroll’s introduction and commentary by Reiko Chiba:

Sesshu Toyo

Sesshū Tōyō, 1420 – 1506

In considering Sesshu and his work, it is well to remember his concurrent role as a Zen priest. He was born in 1420 near Okayama, in the southern part of Japan’s main island… (He) matured early and at the age of twenty advanced to the famous Sokoku-ji, a temple in Kyoto where he made rapid progress both as an artist and as a popular figure in the Zen denomination…

He was a whole man in the sense that we in the West frequently associate with great Renaissance figures… In addition to being a painter he was an accomplished poet and landscape gardener. While at the great Sokoku-ji he was selected to act as host and entertainer for visiting dignitaries. He was also a businessman, trusted with the purchase and evaluation of art objects and given considerable authority on one of the great contemporary trading expeditions to China. Sesshu enjoyed company and parties. He was an inveterate traveler, most famous in his day for his long journey to China but always restlessly on the move in Japan until the end of his long, full life at the age of eighty-six…

Sesshu was not a strict traditionalist. As he himself once said, not men, but mountains and rivers, were his teachers. Even in his own day he became a legend and was the founder of an extensive school. His fame today is secure, and a major portion of Japanese painters have acknowledged him as master.

Sansui Chokan-detail

Sesshu’s work exhibits the three traditional brush-writing techniques: shin, gyo, and so. Shin is distinguished by an angular quality, firm and decisive strokes, and attention to linear detail; gyo, by curving lines and rounded forms resulting from more rapid use of the brush; and so, by a cursive, comparatively indistinct quality that achieves its effects through suggestion rather than literal interpretation…

The Long landscape Scroll was completed in 1486, roughly six years before Columbus discovered America. The original, done in ink and faint color washes on paper, is approximately 51 by 1.25 feet in size.

You can view the book and scroll, completely, here:

About Ron Pavellas

Expatriate American living in Sweden with wife. Retired from employment in the USA. Currently focused on blog articles, memoirs, and creative writing.
This entry was posted in Art, Zen and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Not men, but mountains and rivers are my teachers

  1. Stunning. Would that I could spend some time in Japan. Proabably a bit too expensive!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ron Pavellas says:

      I agree on the desire and the expense. I was there as a US Navy sailor, visiting a number of ports, but was too young (19 and 20) to know how to appreciate the culture. Japan was still recovering from the war. I did get a good, if superficial, feeling for their social manners, however, and have ever since felt sympathetic to Japan and the Japanese.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I spent a year there and adored the place. Back in 1986 when money was no object and I waved a coprporate credit card in every avaliable direction. The temples were, needless to say, my favourite thing about the place. Even then I loved Zen.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Vasil Georgiev says:

    Hi Ron, Thank you for your very interesting description of the creative work of the best Japanese artist. Is there pictures of him in Sweden? Best, Vasil

    Liked by 1 person

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