On the Laws of Japanese Painting: An Introduction to the Study of the Art of Japan, by Henry P. Bowie (New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1911), pp. 77 - 79. [Excerpt]
One of the most important principles in the art of Japanese painting – indeed, a fundamental and entirely distinctive characteristic – is that called living movement, SEI DO, or kokoro mochi, it being so to say, the transfusion into the work of the felt nature of the thing to be painted by the artist. Whatever the subject to be translated – whether river or tree, rock or mountain, bird or flower, fish or animal – the artist at the moment of painting it must feel its very nature, which, by the magic of his art, he transfers into his work to remain forever, affecting all who see it with the same sensations he experienced when executing it.
This is not an imaginary principle but a strictly enforced law of Japanese painting. The student is incessantly admonished to observe it. Should his subject be a tree, he is urged when painting it to feel the strength which shoots through the branches and sustains the limbs. Or if a flower, to try to feel the grace with which it expands or bows its blossoms. Indeed, nothing is more constantly urged upon his attention than this great underlying principle, that it is impossible to express in art what one does not first feel. The Romans taught their actors that they must first weep if they would move others to tears. The Greeks certainly understood the principle, else how did they successfully invest with imperishable life their creations in marble?
In Japan the highest compliment to an artist is to say he paints with his soul, his brush following the dictates of his spirit. Japanese painters frequently repeat the precept:
The Japanese artist is taught that even to the placing of a dot in the eyeball of a tiger he must first feel the savage, cruel, feline character of the beast, and only under such influence should he apply the brush. If he paint a storm, he must at the moment realize passing over him the very tornado which tears up trees from their roots and houses from their foundations. Should he depict the seacoast with its cliffs and moving waters, at the moment of putting the wave-bound rocks into the picture he must feel that they are being placed there to resist the fiercest movement of the ocean, while to the waves in turn he must give an irresistible power to carry all before them; thus, by this sentiment, called living movement (SEI DO), reality is imparted to the inanimate object. This is one of the marvelous secrets of Japanese painting, handed down from the great Chinese painters and based on psychological principles – matter responsive to mind. Chikudo, the celebrated tiger painter (Plate VI), studied and pondered so long over the savage expression in the eye of the tiger in order to reproduce its fierceness that, it is related, he became at one time mentally unbalanced, but his paintings of tigers are inimitable. They exemplify SEI DO.