Brush drawing by Thomas Merton, "Untitled"
7" h x 6 3/4"w
“The nineteenth-century European and American realists were so realistic that their pictures were totally unlike what they were supposed to represent. And the first thing wrong with them was, of course, precisely that they were pictures. In any case, nothing resembles reality less than the photograph. Nothing resembles substance less than its shadow. To convey the meaning of something substantial you have to use not a shadow but a sign, not the imitation but the image. The image is new and different reality, and of course it does not convey an impression of some object, but the mind of the subject: and that is something else again.” (“Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander” p. 133-134)
“True artistic freedom can never be a matter of sheer willfulness, or arbitrary posturing. It is the outcome of authentic possibilities, understood and accepted in their own terms, not the refusal of the concrete in favor of the purely “interior”. In the last analysis, the only valid witness to the artist’s creative freedom is his work itself. The artist builds his own freedom and forms his own artistic conscience, by the work of his hands. Only when the work is finished can he tell whether or not it was done “freely”. (“Answers on Art and Freedom”, in “Raids on the Unspeakable”, p. 175
Comments of Roger Lipsey: “[This image] offers Merton's transformation of the most fundamental icon of Zen: the brush-drawn circle, or enso. ... Merton was drawn to this traditional form, but he had difficulty finding his way with it From Merton's brush, the unadorned traditional circle is tentative, awkward. He experimented with various inks and papers and effects, but the deceptive simplicity of the circle somehow defeated him as an artist, so the evidence indicates, until he dynamized it or made it more intricate. Then he was again on home ground ... in the fish multiple turns of the brush and cheerful tail fins convert the solemnity of the traditional enso into another spirited fish for the Christian aquarium. When Merton intuitively found a way to dynamize the circular form - to convert it into a fish, as here, or into some other creature on the move - his art is sure, captivating, and in this case even entertaining. He made the enso his own, not by imitation of the traditional icon but through it transformation.” (“Angelic Mistakes, The Art of Thomas Merton”, by Roger Lipsey, p. 47)