Why Zen Photography is B&W

“Why are Zen paintings done in ink? Zen philosophy holds the following to be true: “Spiritual awakening is transmitted outside of the sutras. It cannot be experienced through words or letters.” What this means is that the essence of Zen teaching cannot be put into words—neither written nor spoken. Zen painting is an example of this. Multiple colors are not used in Zen painting—only the single hue of the ink. The reason? It is believed that true beauty cannot be expressed through colors and that colors are an imperfect expression of the ineffability of beauty. And so colors are avoided. Each of us experiences the splendor of the setting sun differently. Even if we all describe the color as crimson, we might each perceive that color in a different way. By using only ink, the painter allows every viewer to experience the crimson of the sunset however they like. This is why it is said that Zen painting uses ink to express all five colors—green, blue, yellow, purple, and red. An infinite range of colors can be found within ink’s hue. Depending on the viewer, the ink takes on various tints and layers. What you can see is not all there is.”

— The Art of Simple Living: 100 Daily Practices from a Japanese Zen Monk for a Lifetime of Calm and Joy by Shunmyo Masuno


  1. Jean Alwine

    John, If you get upstairs in the Community Center, I have the showcase across from the art room, filled with my ZenTangle black ink artwork. I hope you take the time to see it. Of my many specimens, I have only displayed my animals…tame and wild!!!