Sunday, March 27, 2011

Simplicity: in life and the arts

Back in Middle school, I was watching my best friend jump over a tennis net, the kind of jump that they do in the Olympics. I never thought I could jump over that net, but seeing him do it, it looked so easy. So easy, that I thought I could do it. 10 seconds later, my foot was caught in the net, and immediately to follow was a thud and a fractured arm. Fail. It made me realize, besides that I couldn’t jump over that net, was that the better someone is at something, the more simple and easy it looks to the casual viewer.

The most beautiful performances or works of art are so often the simplest looking. These works are usually extremely difficult, but the fact that it looks so simple, graceful, and natural is what makes it amazing to the viewer. The slightly extraneous or tense movement of a beginner make clear that the novice’s fault is not in his doing too little, but too much. This is why it makes sense that to get ahead, experts often say things like “go back to the basics.” As Bruce Lee once said, “It is not daily increase but daily decrease; hack away the unessential.” Simplify.

It’s a joy of mine to find parallels of life truths in the arts. For me, it’s often about the Martial Arts and chess, since those are my biggest hobbies, though also evident in other arts of course like singing and dancing, and regular everyday activities as well. Let’s take the Martial Arts, and to extend Bruce Lee’s involvement in my post here, his “one inch punch.”

In that burst of power over the course of one inch, there is an ease of movement despite maximal effort applied. The one inch punch works because he uses his whole body, has trained his nerve pathways to react at the exact precise time, and cohesive coordination. A facet of that is that he is not applying extraneous effort in any muscles that are not required for the movement.

Antagonistic muscles
See the antagonistic muscle pairs above. When the bicep contracts, the tricep extends, and vice versa. While performing a punch, a beginner will often use excessive tension in the lengthening muscle which will not only cause quicker fatigue but will also act as a brake, slowing and weakening the punch. So as you can see, the beginner is actually doing more work, working against himself, while the expert knows the value of not doing to get the job done.

What is your art or hobby, and do you find links like these between art and life insightful? What are life principles that manifest in your art, or perhaps facets of your art that taught you something about life?


  1. I think it your post is so relevant, I stopped my work and am writing a reply!
    As you may know, I recently started to take Argentine tango classes. I was not sure exactly what I was going to gain, except an insider's view of one of the most beautiful social dances and some serious leg sculpting. In short, I describe my experience in the first beginner's cycle as "art imitating life." In the relationship, sense. The relationship between you and your self. The relationship between you and your partner. And, the relationship between you and the role as the 'leader' or 'follower'. Through this dance, you work on these relations in the physical sense. No words. Feeling. Touch. Through the body. The way the man leads. Or doesn't. The confidence he possesses and the fear he has to go left or to go right. To let go and be lead or fight the surrender and push against the current. To trust or not to trust.

    I love love LOVE that you brought this topic to surface.

    Victoria (sis)

  2. I didn't even know you took tango... we need to talk more! <3.