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藝 Yì – “Art” in Ancient Chinese

Yì (藝), the character for art in traditional Chinese, is fascinating in its morphology, and carries profound philosophical implications:

Visually, the yì (藝) character is comprised of three layers. The topmost layer consists of the cǎo (艸) word particle, which directly translates to English as “grass”, or, “flora”. This pictographic particle also carries a deep symbolization for the process of cultivation and growth.

The middle portion of the character entails tǔ (土), the soil from which cǎo (艸) sprouts, coupled with wán (丸), the product of tireless pursuit and continuous refinement in ancient Chinese alchemy.

The entire character is elevated upon a third particle, yún (云), which literally means “cloud”. Yún (云) symbolizes the heavens, and its significance lies within a concept passed down from ancient China, that art, in its various forms, is a precious gift from the divine.

From a philosophical point of view, by daring to undertake the cultivation of a garden above the clouds, yì (藝) connotes the artist’s courage to endure hardship in realizing his or her dream, and eventually achieve the impossible. Furthermore, through the arts, humankind is able to connect with the heavens; by understanding true aesthetics, one will discover an intrinsic discernment of what is good from what is bad.

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