More Circles

In the shop of the Musée national des arts asiatiques Guimet I discovered this Summer a new edition of Okakkura Kazuo’s famous “Book of Tea” (茶の本). There do exist countless editions and translations of this classic, including (copyright-)free versions on the web. This new French edition I saw in Paris caught my interest, because on the title-page a Zen-circle (Enso) was printed. Not just a random one, but one painted by my former Zen- and calligraphy teacher. An Enso, for which he never ever issued the copyright to anyone.

Earlier this year I wrote in my article Circles and Copies about the many copies and modifications of this very Enso one can find in the world wide web. This shameful collection is not only a visual proof of how little respect certain people who like to adorn themselves with borrowed plumes of Zen pay to copyright issues (well, they do, kind of … most images boast a new copyright holder). The collection of more or less tasteless (mostly digital) modifications of the original artwork also strikingly demonstrate that adding anything to the simplicity and beauty of a pure hand-brushed Enso will not results in any improvement.

All this copy and paste illustrates how difficult it might be to paint just a circle by yourself: the hand-brushed Enso fully exposes the calligrapher’s heart, your mind, your understanding of Zen to everyone who puts an eye on it. Probably it is exactly this you want to avoid by using another Master’s Enso, instead of showing to the world the one you can produce yourself?

Five minutes with google gave me more than a dozen new variations, all of them based on the one original one can find here. I wonder if one day we may witness a new version of the old tale Chushingura, a version for the digital age: I imagine 47 loyal former students will share forces to claim royalties, world-wide, from everyone who abused, modified and sold the stolen Enso.

A new random collection of modified Enso from the web.

A new random collection of my former teacher’s modified Enso from the web.

P.S.: Let me repeat here the copyright-notice from my January 2014 article on that issue:

Just in case you found “your” artwork displayed above: before complaining or considering to take me to court for copyright infringement, maybe you think for a moment of the modest old Japanese Zen monk who provided the basis for all that … and refund him properly for his efforts. Here is the web-page with the original Enso (including original copyright notice).