Heritage Treasure: Two Ancients Cultivating Heart-MindFebruary 24th, 2010 by Staff
This is the Year of the Tiger. This portrayal of a tiger, along with an old man, is most fascinating in the history of Chinese or even world Art insofar as the tiger is usually not perceived as a calm and cuddly cat.
Shi Ke (石恪) of the Five Dynasties and Ten Kingdoms period (907-979 CE) created the picture in shades of Chinese ink. He named it “Two Ancients Adjusting Heart-Mind” (二祖調心 er zu tiao xin). The character zu can mean ancestors or ancient masters. The Chinese word xin means the heart. But in Chinese culture, xin is more than the physical organ in our chest. It includes always the mind and related properties such as attitudes and outlook. The term “adjusting heart-mind” is most often used in meditation as a way of cultivating one’s character.
Shi Ke’s brush strokes are simple but forceful in creating this picture of gentleness. The artist portrays two companions in friendly and peaceful co-existence even though the tiger is generally regarded as ferocious and terrifying. The underlying sentiment Shi Ke expresses is harmony, which occupies a prominent place in all major Chinese philosophical traditions: Confucian, daoist and chan (禪) Buddhist.
Shi Ke lived in a period of political disunity in China as there were five dynasties in the north and ten kingdoms in the south within one century. After the country was unified with the establishment of the Song dynasty (960 – 1279), he was asked to work in the imperial academy of art. Given his free spirit, he did not stay there long but retired to his native Sichuan province. His free style in “splashing ink,” however, had a lasting impact on later artists.