Yin and yang


Dear Artist,

You’re wondering what Yin and Yang have to do with your art? Quite a bit. The ideas and symbols of Chinese and Korean culture traditionally held concepts of dark and light. “Yin and Yang” is both a dual concept and a single one. Yin is traditionally “passive, dark, feminine, downward-seeking and corresponding to the night.” Yang, on the other hand, is “male, active, light, upward-seeking and corresponding to the day.”

The well-known Yin and Yang graphic symbol represents the interaction of the two. Each half contains the seed of the other, and they cannot exist without each other. Living within a circle, they exact a basic life principle. Yin and Yang form a cornerstone of Eastern philosophy, medicine and art.

In most Western interpretations of Yin and Yang, the two opposites are brought toward a synthesis. In contrast to the tolerance of opposites popular in Eastern cultures, the relationship of Yin and Yang is not seen as a cyclical process but as a key to progress.

Watching the daily activities of some creative folks, you might notice vacillation between excitement and calm, between contemplation and action. To some degree the nature of art-making dictates this. Together with left and right brain interaction and co-dependence, dark/light, sun/shadow, big/small, rough/delicate, strong/weak and colourful/subdued are concepts we wrestle with daily.

The philosphy of Yin and Yang is also useful when we wish to speed progress. Just as wheels on the studio chair propel the artist back and forth between application and contemplation, so daily action is enhanced by the quickened interaction of the two sides. This manifests itself in many ways: The feminine in us has a transforming effect on the masculine in us, and vice versa. Playfulness enables seriousness. Spirit and technique vie for dominion as body interacts with mind. While concentration and steadiness are valuable, many psychologists think it is during the neural switching that the good stuff happens. The artistic worker, in tune and feeling in balance, is better able to calm the inner beast, invent systematically, find excitement as well as flow, pay the bills and make creative progress.

Best regards,


PS: “One must train from a state of movement to a state of stillness.” (Wu Jianquan, 1870-1942, martial arts teacher)

Esoterica: An excessive Yin or Yang state is generally viewed as unbalanced or undesirable in both Eastern and Western cultures. But many whom we now consider great fall into just that state. Van Gogh, Rothko and Jean-Michel Basquiat were all ‘yinners’ to the point of self-destruction and suicide. The future may have something more to say about their work, but in the meantime you and I need to extract maximum happiness and maximum service from our own spans. In the wisdom of both East and West, if we choose balance, the result ought to be joy, productivity and community usefulness. It would be nice if this path also pushed mediocrity out of the circle.


Thought and action
by Donald Demers, Eliot, ME, USA


“Gull Rock, Monhegan”
oil on canvas, 12 x 16 inches
by Donald Demers

The brush marks we create are nothing more than the evidence of our thoughts and feelings. With this in mind, I believe that painting is as much about thought as it is action. I encourage the people that I work with to spend as much time considering and contemplating their paintings as they spend physically applying paint to it. It seems as though this is the yin and yang at work.




Intuitive knowledge
by Darrell Baschak, Manitou Beach, SK, Canada


“Rocky Lake Afternoon”
original painting
by Darrell Baschak

I wonder if we all practice the art of yin and yang to some degree without even realizing it? It might be a question as to what degree of success we utilize it that determines the outcome of our art making. Personally, I have read much material on the topic and have come to realize that there is “nothing new under the sun” with respect to that philosophy. We should all give ourselves credit for what we know intuitively and stop beating ourselves up looking for answers on the other side of the road.




It’s all in the mix
by Jean Burman, Australia


watercolour, 22 x 30 inches
by Jean Burman

Artists do seem to swing wildly from the Yin to the Yang in the course of their artistic endeavours… and it is interesting that so many of the “greats” dwelled permanently in the Yin!

Perhaps it isn’t possible to obtain the desired balance between the two… without losing the intensity of the other? It’s a bit like mixing complements in perfectly equal parts to achieve a perfectly neutral (yet utterly dull) grey! Far better to keep the mix just a little on the warm side (or the cool side) to keep the colour lively!




Gender objection
by Nancy Davis Johnson, Durham, NH, USA


watercolour painting
by Nancy Davis Johnson

I’ve become increasingly aware of the yin and yang involved in creating paintings as I get closer to the ulimate “yin” of my life’s end. I find this tug-of-war process of painting more fascinating as I progress. It’s even influencing my selection of subject matter and my way of handling the medium. Perhaps explains why some paintings sit unfinished for weeks until I get into a more yin (or yang) frame of mind.

But I do strenuously object to the tradition of attributing a gender to the description of yin (female-dark) and yang (male-light). What ballderdash! Isn’t it the male who usually starts wars and generally disrupts the state of things? I’d call that dark, indeed. I say there’s no need to inject gender into this concept and it’s obvious that this tradition is male-instigated.


Balance invites and holds viewer
by Anita Stoll, Coarsegold, CA, USA


“Winter at Fishslough IV”
pastel painting
by Anita Stoll

In the process of creating art, I want a mix of excitement, contemplation, mystery and suspense. It is part of my process to create a mix that will hold the interest of the viewer. My work is to find that balance of where to draw them in, when to linger, and where to place some mystery in the painting.

A painting beautifully executed can turn me off immediately. It looks like a photograph. It has too many opposing forces or none at all, making it boring. My eye and mind don’t have a chance to absorb, thus my journey through the painting is quickly over and so on. My process is the struggle creating that certain balance needed to invite the viewer in, hold his or her interest long enough to evoke some interaction and finally create a relationship with it.


Balance in painting and in life
by Gregory Packard, Montrose, CO, USA


“The hero”
oil painting, 18 x 16 inches
by Gregory Packard

A good painting fosters a spirit of spontaneity and randomness, yet those qualities are most often brought forth with a solid understanding of the fundamentals: drawing, design, color and value. Lacking in those areas and you may end up with a painting that lacks harmony. At the same time, however, forcing that knowledge too much may lead your painting to lack inspiration. It’s a matter of understanding and then letting go, like mixing known chemicals into an unknowable concoction. The results can be enlightening.

Isn’t life the same way? Too much of living by the seat of our pants and life can become un-harmonious. Too little, too much given to us without merit, and we become bored or insatiable. For some people everyday is a chance to manifest their own destiny while for others everyday is simply another domination by life, job or kin.


Lack of Balance
by Gene Black, Anniston, AL, USA


“Haiku of Spring”
acrylic painting
by Gene Black

It is a great challenge to balance the yin and yang in life. In art it is even more of a challenge. A challenge that faces me is balancing the bold brilliant active parts of a painting with the calmer more neutral areas. Mood and weather can influence a sensitive soul to stray too far into one without having the other for balance. In contrast, sometimes that lack of “balance” in a painting is what draws the viewer and gives life to the painting. I am and shall probably always be seeking to find this magical thing called balance.


Mediocrity is essential
by Dave Wilson, White Rock, BC, Canada


Bob Dylan (from Rolling Stone Magazine)
oil on canvas, 12 x 16 inches
by Dave Wilson

In your letter regarding Yin and Yang you concluded, “It would be nice if this path also pushed mediocrity out of the circle.” ‘Mediocrity’ is made up of many human efforts on their way to an enhanced self-expression. Everything will always have and outside, a center and an area in-between. ‘Mediocrity’ will always be a (subjectively) determined and relative ‘absence-of-excellence.’ You can’t and will not have one without the other. Meanwhile all sincere/naive efforts which aspire shall ultimately be seen as that which gave birth to excellence. The heights of the mountain rest upon the masses below its peak.

“The slow one now will later be fast, as the present now will later be past…” (Bob Dylan)


Balance keeps us sanely creative
by San Merideth, Santa Fe, NM, USA


“Spirit of the Afternoon”
acrylic on canvas, 36 x 48 inches
by San Merideth

Here in Santa Fe, and in a few other cities around the world, there’s a semi-annual, well-attended conference known as the “Creativity and Madness Conference.” Through the years a number of attendees — psychiatrists, psychologists, and such — have become good clients of my gallery and so I am quite appreciative that we have this recurring event. I have nonetheless often disliked the conference name because it seems to imply that “creativity” and “madness” go together — like Bonnie and Clyde, salt and pepper, or well, yin and yang.

Your observation that some truly brilliant artists have been destroyed by being stuck in “yin” mode is accurate I believe. And I agree that such self-destruction is not intrinsic to creativity. It is the balance of action and reflection, solitude and relationship that keep us sanely creative. Wallace Stevens, a brilliant poet who plumbed the depths of inwardness while living a completely “real world” life as an insurance executive, articulated this balance with grace:

“I do not know which to prefer,
The beauty of inflections
Or the beauty of innuendos,
The blackbird whistling
Or just after.”

That passage from Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird is rich with layers of meaning, but for me, one of those layers is about that to-and-fro movement from action to reflection and back again. That movement itself is magical.


Deadline inspiration
by Lorelle Miller, CA, USA


“Muriel’s Marina”
oil on canvas
by Lorelle Miller

Your letter “Boat stories” inspired the feature article “Boats Stories and Art” by Pacific Yachting magazine. I was one of the 12 chosen artists and I must tell you that the project took on a life of its own. A wonderful thing happened in conjunction with this deadline. I decided to paint a painting geared for the boating magazine. I would never have painted Muriel’s Marina if this project didn’t land in my lap and inspire me to do a painting with a marina or boats of some kind.

I made the connection through a deadline of sorts myself. My emotions were heightened because we were waiting for my mother-in-law to pass away and here this deadline was on my mind. I began painting the attached painting, then made the personal connection by remembering how much my husband’s family was a part of the yachting world. I literally began to weep once I became aware of why this painting was touching me so. For this I must thank you. We are not touched so often and so deeply.


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Yin and yang



From: Robert Perrish — Sep 25, 2007

There’s a line from a recent Van Morrison song, “you’ve got to fight every day, to keep mediocrity at bay”, that has an obvious ring of truth. Mediocrity can serve as an example of what one should never settle for in regards to creativity. But again, it’s only relevent to your own standards.

From: Jane Champagne — Sep 25, 2007

I am sick to death of equating gender with concepts such as the yin and yang, and agree totally with Nancy Davis Johnson’s comments. The men who ordained that all the negative yin things were female were also the ones who forced women to bind their feet. Draw your own conclusions… .

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Sep 25, 2007

The nature of reality indicated in the yin/yang symbol is that of Wholeness. There is a part of the yang in the yin and a part of the yin in the yang. But only together unified in the circle are either whole. Also- both Ms. Johnson and Ms. Champagne have made not-so-subtle judgments regarding the nature of (perceived gender) reality. Culturally the masculine is related to the words active- electric- positive & light while the feminine is related to the words receptive- magnetic- negative & dark. But it is our culture that has judged that negative & dark = BAD. There would be no Light if the Dark did not also exist as how else could the Light KNOW ITSELF. In the electro-magnetic scheme of things- the positive/negative balance is required to create a flow of energy. Culturally- it is now perceived- as evidenced by Ms. Johnson & Ms. Champagne’s comments- that all wars and all bad things that have ever happened anywhere over all time were obviously created by MEN- yet throughout several thousand years of human HIStory- women have occasionally run things. Predating that- the Feminine was God- but I’m sure during that time no woman ever did anything that was self-serving- motivated by greed- manipulative- or controlling. Right? Regardless of your gender- every time you envision a piece of art you access your intuitive feminine ability. Likewise- every time you pick up a brush and apply paint to canvas- you utilized your active masculine ability. Creation requires both. Our culture has gender-separated us. Without both- balance will never be KNOWN. But balance requires the necessity of transcending your physiological gender- if you can. These 2 responses/judgments suggest neither Ms. Johnson nor Ms. Champagne can. And I’m sick to death of that- being a fiber artist who’s “group” is predominately women who have no concept of what transcending their gender might actually require of them. Below- Kim Weber has suggested his/her religious perspective- unknown to us- trumps Robert’s mystical understanding of the creative spirit. Dear Kim- ART IS A MYSTICAL PATH. Mysticism is the DIRECT KNOWING of your God- Art in my case- and following your Art Path will lead you straight into the Heart of God- religion unnecessary. In fact- it’s likely your religion will get in the way of you ever KNOWING GOD DIRECTLY. So please- Robert- continue to expose the mysticism of your art experience to all of us who KNOW the Truth about our own Creation Experience.

From: Mike Hill — Sep 25, 2007

Ok, down to earth a little. Mystical belief systems – in what way does it produce art? It may be a grand way of describing your feelings or your system, but truth be told, you produce the art by what – your hard work. It starts as what the definition of a successful artist is. Many will say that there is really no definition or that a successful artist is one who is fulfilled by the art they produce and don’t need outside appreciation. All good and well, but how many artists who work full-time producing a lifetime of art and give it all away? In all due respect for those out there that might, it don’t happen! Every artist that I have come across, either full-time or hobbyist, is trying to produce a product that will be appreciated in some way, but more importantly can be sold or somehow receive monetary restitution from their art. With that in mind a more successful artist is one who sells more art or who commands a higher price for their art. How is that accomplished? Simply by producing something that someone is willing to fork over money for and then somehow convince them that they need to go ahead and fork over their money! Does that mean that the sold art is better than than the non-sold art? Are McDonald’s hamburgers the greatest hamburgers of all time – hardly (tasty, but not the best)! Among other things, McDonalds has marketed, branded, and otherwise convinced a few billion people that their hamburgers are the best. Are they better than my hand-ground, big, meaty, juicy patties resplendent with lusty smokiness that come off my real wood fired grill? Hardly, but their marketing to the masses is better than mine. Did their success just happen because of some mystical belief? No, it came from, in large part, to hard work and not repeating mistakes. If something didn’t work, they redid it and tried again, and again, until it sold!! Think of any successful (sold) artist and I wonder how much of their success they believe comes from “some belief” and how much comes from just plain hard work, knowing their customers and practicing, repainting, redoing, recarving, etc…..(sometimes starting over) until they got it right? Do you really believe that the buyer of your art cares if you balanced your yin and your yang? No they care whether they, but perhaps more importantly others “like” it, whether it will look good over the couch or mantel, whether it is the right color for their decor, and whether they can sell it later at a price greater than they paid you for it. Like it or not that is a large part of reality. Oh some may be keyed by other things to buy the art, but in just a little research I think I am safe in saying the above. Do I collect art? Heck, I don’t even have much of my own stuff. I appreciate the process, not the product. “the Feminine was god [sic]” ?????????????????? Where in Kim Webers “response” is there any evidence of religion as you call it? Seems to me more of an opinion! “Mysticism is the DIRECT KNOWING of your god [sic]” Only if faith is the belief in the unseen “following your Art Path will lead you straight into the Heart of God” In all due respect, you will have to elaborate much more – may be true of little “g” god, but not big “G” God! ” religion unnecessary. In fact- it’s likely your religion will get in the way of you ever KNOWING GOD DIRECTLY”. Finally a real truth. However, I will take a seeker trying the “religious” way over the shock-jock who will immerse objects in urine, spread excrement, or whirls frogs in a blender and modify the definition of art and call what they do as art.

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Sep 26, 2007

Sorry Robert- but I got asked a lot of questions yesterday and don’t know how to contact Mike privately with answers. I realize this isn’t a message board in the common back-and-forth communicative sense. But I had to respond- and there just seems to be no way for me to be un-controversial- and I always have to stand up to male-bashing. Dear Mike, 1- My being a very hard working artist bent on financial success is in no way hindered by my mystical experience related to envisioning- designing- creating and manifesting my art. My manifestation experience is enhanced by its spiritual aspect. So- sorry- but even some of Robert’s letters engage that perspective. To be Whole one must be both down-to-earth- and spiritual. Why else would we be here? 2- Actually- to date- most of my buyers have ended up being people who decided to buy something PRECISELY BECAUSE they got to know me for the dedicated artist/mystic that I am. 3- Right now I’m not starving. For the last 10 years I’ve had a patron- who recognized my unflinching focus to succeed financially at one of the most difficult things on earth. But I have a patron because I gave everything up. Until June of this year most of my stuff was in a storage garage. I was creating right over the top of someone else’s living space. I had a bed to sleep in and enough to eat- and art supplies- as necessary. And that’s it. I acquired an occasional new garment when something else became unwearable. I own no car and no property. I have- finally- just managed to create a new studio space. But the 20 years that pre-dated the last 10- in those I often was starving. 4- I’ve had to accept- logically- that I don’t know when my work will sell- but piece by piece- much of it has- over the years. But I’ve also given a lot of it away. But like so many others- it will one day be seen as a stunning achievement of a single individual artist over the course of one lifetime. Since I KNOW I’ve had hundreds of them- I am this point- accepting that- and am in the process of (mystically and metaphysically) manifesting until the day I die (this time). I often suggest to people that I’ll still be working on something the day after I die. Because I will. 5- I cared enough to balance my yin/yang. Because I did that work- and believe me it was a lot of work- that balance is reflected in my work. Because I did that work- my buyers can usually sense that balance- even if it remains unspoken- unlikely because most of my buyers have spoken to me first. Also- because I did that work it makes hanging out with unbalanced individuals less than satisfactory. Would that apply to you? 6- I work in every size- shape & color- so I might actually have something that goes with your paint color or over your sofa. And I’ve worked in the design industry- so I know that reality inside out. And even more than an art painter- I’m a house painter- so I occasionally turn houses into art. The one I’m living in has most rooms on both floors painted at least 3 different colors. 7- Predating the patriarchic male-oriented god structure that so outrages so many women- (and quite frankly me as well) people worshiped the EARTH MOTHER as God. You’ve likely heard of them. Christians call them Pagans. 8- In the mid-1980s I went to hear a Jungian psychologist- Jean Shinoda Bolen- speak about her new book- “Goddesses in Every Woman” published on the heals of her book “Gods in Every Man”. It was a long time ago- but I still remember how clearly she spoke about the time before the patriarchal god structure- more or less- took over- when God was Feminine. 9- Kim Weber- and his/her response- is so anti-mysticism- that a religion is implied- even if that religion is atheism. My artistic perspective is 100% Mystical. And I KNOW that I’m not the only Artist/Mystic on the planet. 10- I’m not doing faith. Faith became irrelevant in the late 1980s. I threw out my religion in the 1960s. There was a time when I was a Seeker. But I did my work and I found what I was looking for- and I grew UP. NOW I’m having a Direct Experience- which I can in fact share with people. Though for a full hands-on experience- you kinda need to be in the same room with me. I’m in Denver. Would you like to come over? 11- In order to follow my art path I had to give up everything. In order to follow my art path I had to climb out of a hell-on-earth depression around succeeding financially as an artist. In order to follow my art path I had to do whatever it took to come to a new understanding around why I- or anyone else- might have chosen to incarnate at this time on Planet Earth. In doing that- I found myself immersed in the Energy/Light/Love of the BIG (non/gendered- cosmically energized- physically illuminated- mentally and spiritually enlightened) GOD. I and the Father are ONE. I and the Mother are also ONE. 12- Though I do it rarely- I had a buy-one-get-one-free coupon for a McDonald’s hamburger- so last week I ate 2 of them. Yours sound much much better. Maybe you should invite me over. J.B. Wilcox Award Winning Fiber Artist artdialogue@jbrucewilcox.com

From: Bob Sheridan — Sep 26, 2007

How I envy those who are able to visualize a subject and actually paint from an image in their “mind’s eye”. I, for one, do not have the ability to retain an image for any length of time. As soon as I look away from a subject the image is gone, absolutely. I have to work almost exclusively from my own photographs or slides. I hope to hear that there are other painters out there who suffer from this lack of ability to visualize a subject. Regrettably not all of us have that gift.

From: Ann Rose — Sep 30, 2007

I want to share some of your letters with an artist friend who has no computer. When I choose “Print Letter” I get the letter, but not the title or the date of that particular letter. Could that be fixed?? Thanks.

From: LuAnn Sims — Oct 05, 2007

to Bob Sheridan – I am right there with you! the only thing I think I could paint from memory are daisies, and then only if they are lit from the front! Mike Hill, thank you for the sane moment. Mr Wilcox, it’s obvious that you strongly believe everything you wrote, but I don’t think this is the place to convince others of your beliefs. I’ve heard a lot of this before. In person you might be able to have a good discussion, but in here you come across like a wing-nut. Sorry, but you really do.







Bermuda Triangle

watercolour painting on canvas
by Teyjah K. McAren, Salmon Arm, BC, Canada


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Paul Kane of Bloomington, IN, USA who wrote, “Yin and yang are the essence of every creation. It never ceases to amaze me that our basic tools are so simple and, out of this, wondrous things are created, infinitely.”

And also Kim Weber of Irvine, CA, USA who wrote, “Since you opened the door… I appreciate your art letters, but I am not interested in reading about mystical belief systems that have nothing to do with art.”

And also Lillian Wu who wrote, “Whether in art or food, the association of the light and dark, spicy and mild, relaxation and stress are balances to enhance our life. They are the invisible energies in my paintings.”

And also Joe Faith who wrote, “Check out the Ying Yang in the sky of Van Gogh’s Starry Night. My understanding is that this is no happy accident.”

And also B. J. Adams of Washington, DC, USA who wrote, “Many of us find struggling with the contrasts an everyday occurrence. I need much more of the ‘neural switching’ for the good stuff to rise to the surface and push that mediocrity out of my circle.”

And also Paul Uhler of Dallas, TX, USA who wrote, “My artistic inclinations are towards music, in particular the piano. You have no idea how thought-provoking and inspirational your painter emails have been for me, a pianist. I have also subscribed to your YouTube videos. Please keep up your extraordinary work.”



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