I am currently teaching a class on Kiri-e (Japanese paper cutting) at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts. It is such a pleasure to slow down to the pace of paper, cutting one shape at a time. In its purest form, Kiri-e allows us to literally hold the tension between the dark and light aspects of our lives while focusing on the simple art of cutting paper.
In Kiri-e, it is essential to have both dark and light in order to create a work of art. Without contrast, it is impossible to see anything. For example, try to imagine a picture of a black bear in a cave at night or a white polar bear in a dazzling blizzard and you get the idea. Without contrast, an image is impossible to see, leaving us with just an intellectual concept rather than a work of art.
Another lesson Kiri-e teaches is how to slow down and really pay attention. Because we are constantly moving between dark and light shapes while making Kiri-e, it is very easy to get confused and lose the way if we try to move ahead too quickly. In order to create Kiri-e, it is essential to take things one step at a time. Through the practice of cutting one shape at at time, we learn through our senses of touch, sight and sound, as well as through our posture and body position how to slow down and be fully present. It also becomes clear very quickly that pushing through when we are tired or when we lose our focus can ruin an entire piece of work in an instant. These lessons are learned non-verbally, through the body. Later, if we stop to think about it, we may realize that through the act of cutting paper, one step at a time, we have come a little closer to who we really are in the process. As is said in Zen, “train the body and the mind will follow”.
Like many of the Japanese arts, Kiri-e, when practiced mindfully, can become a very satisfying means of growth and transformation. It’s also a really fun way to create satisfying works of art. I am delighted to have the opportunity to share this humble art form with my students at MCBA. I look forward to introducing more of the Japanese paper based arts into my classes in the future.