circles & bridges: viewer participation in haiga
by Stanford M. Forrester

When each one of us picks up the paint brush, we also decide on which approach to bring to the blank page. Like in any art form, it is one's true voice and vision that make a piece special. The voice in haiga is the entire piece, but perhaps more specifically the haiku that is placed on the page. The vision in haiga is the way the whole piece is presented and perhaps more importantly is how the creator & the viewer SEE not only the image, but every possible aspect of its being.

Like a good haiku, a good haiga must let the viewer participate in the creation process. Ueda Makota in the introduction to Violet Kazue de Cristoforo's
May Sky says that a haiku is like a Japanese enso, which is a roughly shaped circle most oftenly seen and used as a symbol in Zen for 'expressing something inexpressible'. The poet creates the first half of the circle, and it is the reader who completes it. It is also interesting to note, when one looks at an enso, one can see that it was completed with one movement of the brush. Therefore, there becomes no separation between the artist and viewer. In a good haiga, we might not be sure where the artist stops and passes the brush over to the viewer to finish. We might even be daring enough to say that the viewer becomes the artist. What this leads into is the theory  that there must be room for the viewer to participate in the haiga as in a haiku. What I would like to do in this short essay is expound upon this idea and offer maybe one or two  techniques from the poet-painter's bag of tricks.

I think the key word here is participation. Without this participation, I believe a haiga tends to be flat. Returning to the enso example, we've already said that the artist begins the circle. What we of course know is that art is intended to be seen by many. Therefore, as the artist, we can not expect each viewer to complete the circle in the same manner. If we look at books of calligraphy, we see countless variations of an enso, starting out fat, ending thin, a big splat of ink in the beginning with streaks throughout the circle, starting out dark, ending up lighter, dark throughout, light throughout, you get my point. In this respect each person brings something special, something different to what they see on the page every time. Like a river, you can never dip your feet into the same river twice. How refreshing!

If you read a lot about haiga there's no doubt you have come across the discussion about empty space and the room for the viewer's mind. Many of us already know this, but what does one do with that room or in that room? Not being an art historian, or trying to be, my guess is that this space/room came out of Taoist and Buddhist thought. Especially in Buddhism, there is no separation between all things and all non things.  It is this interconnectedness of everything that makes the universe. Therefore, it is my belief that this space creates a bridge from one idea/thought in the haiga to another.  This space links the haiku to the haiga and back. But it is this space where the viewer has to travel. So if we switch from the enso metaphor to  a bridge metaphor, it is the viewer's mind doing the walking, or maybe the running, depending on the haiga. Therefore space doesn't have to be used to simply give the viewer a place to sit in the haiga, but it can be cleverly used to lead the viewer around the page. We can lead the viewer up, down, to the right,  to the left, back again, or even off the page! So I believe direction and movement within this 'space' are wonderful devices to enhance one's haiga. A while back I did a haiga that played very much on direction and movement. The haiku in the haiga is:

Zen archery -
aiming for the bull's-eye
in my mind

The haiga was very simple. With sumi-e ink I painted an arrow shooting across the page. The arrow seems to be shot out of the haiku which was on the far left, and the fun of this haiga is that the poet-painter shoots the arrow, but it is the viewer who must determine where the arrow has landed. Did the arrow hit the target? Did the arrow miss the target? I think the arrow hit the viewer!

Probably one of my favorite haiga I've ever painted is that of a snail  placed in the middle of the page with the haiku above it to the left. Like my 'Zen archery' haiku, there is only one image on the page and it is painted in a seemingly simple fashion.  The haiku reads:

    or not
    the snail

Here there is a play on space and motion. The viewer stares at the snail and stares at the blank space. The viewer puts on the snail's shell and peaks out gauging how far the journey is to the edge of the page. Depending on the viewer one may think the snail is motionless, another maybe not. Or, I say 'or' the same viewer might see the snail differently on different days. Some viewers might come to a quick conclusion, some might ponder, or some might watch the snail and test their own patience to see if they wait just long enough the snail might move. 

In concluding, I think it is extremely important that the poet-painter leave a substantial amount of space in the haiga for the viewer's participation.  What I hope I've sparked in this short essay is the interest  in thinking of countless ways to use this space in creative manner by sharing with you a few of my own examples. The more the viewer is allowed to participate in the haiga, the more alive I believe the haiga becomes.

Stanford M. Forrester

Stanford's biography

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