Rating: 5/5 stars
Wu Daozi is still considered by many to be one of China’s most gifted artists, which is a very impressive feat in any era. However, Daozi is thought to have lived between 689 and 759, rendering his accomplishments that much more impressive, astounding, and awe-inspiring. Not unlike a Hollywood film, at the pinnacle of his success, he suddenly vanished, never to be seen or heard from again.
Often called the Sage of Painting, Daozi revolutionized the art form, primarily by creating (seemingly by accident, according to Brush of the Gods, but which I fully recognize as his God-given gift and talent,) figures and fabric that moved visibly, as though blown by an invisible wind. And it was during the T’ang Dynasty (618-907,) that calligraphy was known as superior, that it was virtually untouchable (the culmination of all which had come before it,) that Daozi chose boldly to pursue his own unique vision of what art could be. He completely changed the ways that art was seen and felt and ultimately experienced.
As the book illuminates, the young artist’s work was done as full-fledged murals alongside monasteries and other locales of reverence. He painted roughly three hundred frescoes, and more than one hundred scrolls. Sadly, most of his work was destroyed or stolen.
Written by Lenore Look and illustrated beautifully by Meilo So, Brush of the Gods was clearly researched exhaustively, but unlike a lot of nonfiction, this one stood out. It’s the essence of fun and cool. It would almost have to be, given its genre: children’s literature. Most everyone knows that kid’s are the toughest critics.
One of its strengths was its ability to transcend age. I’ll be thirty-nine in August, and yet I literally could not read it fast enough. I was fascinated with its wealth of information. At the same time, I was surprisingly blown away by its simplicity, but I was never unaware of the sheer number of details, or the compelling prose. Furthmore, Meilo So’s illustrations gave me an idea of what Daozi’s art was like, without seeming pedantic.
Legend has it that Wu Daozi never died–he merely walked into his final painting, a landscape commissioned by Emperor Xuanzong, and disappeared.
Reading this to my son, Carter, inspired me to do so much more. I want to seek out books detailing the trials and tribulations of the artist’s life, and learn more about the T’ang Dynasty, and Emperor Xuanzong. How did he come into power? In what ways did his position impact Chinese culture? Was he well-liked or hated? I have so many questions, the least of which is where do I go from here? How do I take my gifts and talents and make (not just create, but embrace,) art that I’ll be proud of; that won’t be forgotten by the world in a week.
These are only some of the questions which haunt my mind.