In emptiness, forms are born. When one becomes empty of the assumptions, inferences, and judgments he has acquired over the years, he comes close to his original nature and is capable of conceiving original ideas and reacting freshly.
The painter of this picture, Niten, was a noted swordsman as well as a great painter; hence we should not be surprised at the utter simplicity and directness of the painting. The main stem of the withered tree must have been made with two sure, sweeping strokes of Niten's brush as sure and sweeping as were his sword strokes. No wavering or wobbling. Second thoughts, wondering, would mean death in combat, failure in painting—failure in expressing with brush and ink the simple directness required for a calm and poised inner posture.
Does this simplicity seem kin to simplemindedness or to barrenness of imagination? In the ascetic theme set by the fiercely intent bird and withered dead tree, do you note the humorous touch? Do you see the caterpillar climbing up the stem?
A fearless, furry fellow, feeling his way blindly upward, quite possibly to an unexpected dinner engagement with the shrike.
Notice the seemingly blank background against which the tree and bird stand. While most of the picture is void, empty, can you imagine that this void is, potentially, teeming with images—trees, woods, mountains, clouds, grasses? Go ahead and imagine something, and it's there.
But at this moment there exist primarily and simply one withered tree, one bird, one caterpillar. Or rather, there exist a few deft, incisive strokes which enable us to create a three-item picture that brings us up straight, concentrated, intense. One-pointed. Simple. All else is pregnant emptiness.