Category Archives: 08.The Way of Tea and Abstract Art-Rong-tsang Tsai

Rong-tsang Tsai。The Way of Tea and Abstract Art

The Way of Tea and Abstract Art-Rong-tsang Tsai

茶道与抽象艺术The Way of Tea and Abstract Art

蔡荣章-Rong-tsang Tsai

2002.07《茶艺》月刊社论Published in “Tea Art”monthly magazine

We are no strangers to familiar sights and sounds around us; but when it comes to sights and sounds we are not familiar with, or are unsure of, we’ll be at a lost.  With the Way of Tea 1, there are more of the ‘unfamiliar’ than the ‘familiar’ if what we encounter in our daily lives is a guide.  It could be easier for us to appreciate the Way of Tea if we have some knowledge of Abstract Art.

The Way of Tea is a cultural behavior externalized by the act of tea brewing and drinking.  This is not to say that tea brewing and drinking is not figurative enough; through tea brewing and drinking, aficionados express abstract concepts. However, both the ‘senders’ and ‘recipients’ of the conceptual messages must have an understanding of the abstract.

It is not enough to only appreciate what is figurative as in representational art, such as a person, a tiger, a street, a church, a musical piece based upon birds chirping, or a familiar folk song. When a canvas shows nothing but lines and planes of colour, or a sculpture that looks like nothing we know of, or a musical rendition of simply sounds, that is abstract.  And if these images and sounds reflect exactly what their creators want to express in terms of the aesthetics and concepts, they are what we call the ‘Abstract Art’.

Understanding and application of the abstract in art must be taught.  Many a time, during school outings, teachers will direct students’ attention to the ‘Lion Head Hill’ (because it looks like a crouching lion), or the mountain ridge that resembles a Buddha lying down with the face of the ‘Goddess of Mercy’.  Rocky outcrops not readily recognizable in terms of physical likeness are simply ignored.  Musical appreciation is approached in a similar manner – we are encouraged to find out if the music sounds like children crying, or festivities and celebrations. With such training, people will consider a painting or a piece of music incomprehensible because they see or hear nothing familiar in it.  This springs from a lack of understanding towards the ‘abstract’.  If we are aware of the impact of the abstract on art, thoughts and the aesthetics, we will understand how much we have lost by not being able to appreciate the abstract – without us know, we are turning our life of vibrant colours into something monochromatic.

This brings us back to tea, where exposure to abstract concepts, paintings, sculptures and pure music, among others, is a pre-requisite. Only by liberating ourselves from what is recognizable can we fully appreciate the colour, aroma, flavor, appearance and style of tea – and this will also make it possible for us to master the spirit of ‘modesty and self-restraint 2’, ‘purity and harmony 3’ and ‘emptiness and solitude 4’.  When the need arises, we will be able to externalize the ideas by way of tea brewing 5 and tea gatherings 6.

以下为文內之编码Coding in the text:

茶道1 the Way of Tea 1

精俭2 modesty and self-restraint 2

清和3 purity and harmony 3

空寂4 emptiness and solitude 4

泡茶5 tea brewing 5

茶会6 tea gatherings 6.


The aesthetics, character and the state of mind created are not to be undermined in the understanding and enjoyment of tea; and yet, they are the hardest to express.  Writings on the thoughts pertaining to tea, regardless of languages used, remain scarce.   We have attempted to express them in Chinese, with accompanying English translation(Translator:Katherine Yip.2010.01), to elaborate our thoughts as they are. What we want is to share the knowledge of tea alongside tea drinking.  This is, in our opinion, an important contemporary task in promoting the tea culture (Coding in the text is for cross-referencing of the academic terms of tea). (2001)