This is a wonderful book. My first reading of it was itself a flowing experience, an act of harmony with the Tao that the author advocates. Subsequent readings and cursory reference have proven to be insightful and stimulating, so the book is a handy resource not to be shelved with rarely turned volumes.
Ben Willis introduces the reader to both Chinese Taoism and art explaining basic terms such as Tao, te, wu-wei, yin and yang and how they relate to creativity and artistic expression. It is not, however, a dry and theoretical dissertation. Ben Willis clearly has a first-hand and deep relation to the subject matter, and it shows with an elegant and direct writing style that is engaging and inquistive, thought provoking but clear in exposition, critical yet with an optimistic prejudice that encourages the reader to embrace a new reality and discard the everyday habits of rational thinking. Willis sees in Taoist philosophy an intuitive and mystical approach to life sadly lacking in Western living. In his effort to explain and promote Taoism, Willis also incorporates Western concepts into his writing that harmonize with his project, which are designed to promote understanding and structure, but not an embrace of dogmatic allegience. In many ways, his writing reminds me of Alan Watts.
"The Tao of Art" is a spiritual book designed to encourage intuitive thinking and appreciation for the Taoist perspective of the universe. Harmony, spontaneity, and the use of energy (chi) in artistic expression are prevailing themes. But these are not light glosses or superficial reflections. There is a sober depth to the subject matter, and Willis is not afraid to use science or include the ascetical and moral with his aesthetics. The author clearly sees the development of the "True Self," Lao Tzu's "Uncarved Block," as an important locus for the artist's life and fully connected to artistic activity. If you are looking for a disengaged gnosticism or casual inspiration, this book will probably be too challenging for you.
There is some criticism of the rationalizing tendencies of Westerners, but not unfair criticism, I think. Greed, materialism, and the over-objectification of the world are fair game for critique in any genuine spiritual persepective. In many ways, I think everybody should read this book. Certainly, anybody intersted in Taoism should read this book.