Art & the Metaphysics of Quality
by Robert Pirsig
transcript of the second film on the "The MOQ at Oxford"
Pirsig sits on a couch with Lily, his grand daughter, on
"Ok, here we go!"
"This is Lily and I am Robert Pirsig, and she is my
read that films are always much more successful when they
have a beautiful woman in it, and I thought I'd include
her to start with."
"She is Nell's daughter, and Nell was about this age
when you may remember that I wrote an addendum at the end
of Zen and the Art
of Motorcycle Maintenance with Nell tapping on the typewriter.
I thought maybe
this time, Lily could be in an international film and that
would be her start in life.
But now I'm laughing a little because Nell and Wendy
are on the other side of the camera waving at Lily to get
her to smile. [Pirsig to Nell and Wendy] Did she smile?
Is she smiling?"
[Lily is smiling as Pirsig hands her off camera]
"Ok, Lily. You're
gonna go to your Momma.
Here you go!"
"Now last January, I think it was, Anthony McWatt asked
me to do a short film for this meeting at Oxford, and I
made an effort, but I just didn't like it and I junked it.
But I made a lot of notes and I gave them to Anthony
and I said ‘Here, you can do what you want with them‘. What
he wanted to do with them was give them right back to me
and tell me, ‘Make that film!’
So, that's what I'm doing right now."
"He's also typed up my notes in a way that I can just
read them and ad-lib. This is not a formal presentation.
This is just a series of little, good ideas I've
had from time to time.
I think you should really use them as starting points
of thought rather than ending points of thought, which is
what Art is all about anyway."
"The use of film has both advantages and disadvantages…
The advantage is that if I say something really stupid,
I can edit it out before anybody finds out about it, and
I can take a coffee break between paragraphs, or stop and
think about something before going on.
I've done that for several months and now I guess
I can go on. The
disadvantage really is that it's difficult for me to guess
how much of you already know about the Metaphysics of Quality.
So I may be oversimplifying something or omitting
something without realizing that nobody knows what I'm talking
about. I can't
answer questions and I can't read from faces whether what
I'm saying is getting across or not the way I would in a
discussion, so I'll have to leave that part to Dr. McWatt,
and Patrick Doorly, and David Buchanan.
All good men…"
"To begin with, I have here, my best line concerning
Art is in chapter 21 of
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, where it
says, quote, ‘Art is high-quality endeavor.’
That's all that really needs to be said.
Or, if something more high-sounding is demanded,
‘Art is the Godhead as revealed in the works of man.’
In the MOQ, those two statements are identical, and
if you can get from one to the other you will have understood
Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance."
"I agree with Patrick Doorly that this corresponds
to [Ernst] Gombrich’s notion of ‘Art as mastery’.
He does not think of Art as an object (I think that
was his first sentence) and neither does Zen
and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance or my ideas of
the Metaphysics of Quality.
Art is endeavor.
Whether it's gonna come out right or not, it's still
Art. It's what
you do. It's
who you are as a person
makes it Art or not Art."
"Now, I also added that there are fundamentally two
types of Art, which I don't think Gombrich had, at least
I didn't notice them, and one is static Art, which is [Art]
according to the rules, and can be achieved according to
careful study and ability to do as you're told.
And then there's Dynamic Art, which is another whole
different story, where there are no rules at all, and you
just do it according to your own inner - not even your own
inner self – you do it to what Orientals would call the
"Now, Dharma is one of the most difficult words to
translate into English because it's usually translated as
meaning ‘law’, but that's only half of Dharma.
The other half of Dharma is ‘duty to oneself’, or
‘duty to a perfect self’.
If you, through enlightenment, become a perfect self,
then all you'll ever do is Dharma, but if you're living
in the world of illusion, then you better follow the law
and not just do as you damn please."
"When I was a child, my Mother bought me a whole series
of - this was in 1930 or so - my Mother bought me a whole
series of Book House, and one of the stories,
which was one of my favorites, was about a Russian boy.
He was a prince, and he lived in a magic room that was surrounded
with mirrors. And
he kept looking at the mirrors day after day, admiring himself
this way and admiring himself that way and thinking he was
the most wonderful person in the world.
But what he didn't notice was that every day the
windows closed a little...
and he still didn't notice until there was almost
no light in the room at all. They almost completely closed
and then they did close.
And then all of a sudden he panicked!
He couldn't find himself in the mirrors anymore and
he didn't know
what to do. So he sobbed and cried
and rested and he sat around for a few days and repented
the fact that he'd been looking in mirrors all this time,
when he should have watched the windows and everything."
one day as he sat in his tears and silence, the windows
opened a crack and he looked out and it was the most beautiful
thing he'd ever seen in his life.
He was seeing something he really wanted to see for
the first time. Well,
the windows knew about that and they opened another crack.
And so they opened wider and wider and and wider
and wider as the boy, the prince, never realized
they were doing so until they were wide open and when he
looked out, he was a complete person who was ready to be
the Czar of Russia. And the story, the legend, goes that
he was the greatest czar in Russia's history."
"The idea, as it ties into Zen is that the most deadly
enemy of Zen is egotism, and I would say that's the most
deadly enemy of Art.
If you do Art for your own sake, it isn't gonna be
any good. It's
gonna be hammy. It's
gonna be artsy-fartsy it's sometimes called.
It'll reflect not what you see, but an illusion of
who you think you are.
And a lot of artists get away with that, I guess,
but it's not good Art from the standpoint of Zen."
"Ok, now I'm gonna get to page two."
"Oh, Art in its place in the levels of evolution.
Well, if you read the Metaphysics of Quality, you
know there are four levels of evolution: the inorganic,
the biological, the social, and the intellectual.
And Art is a mixture of all of those with Dynamic
Quality if it's really Art - I don't say it's completely
Dynamic Quality. Finger
painting by a two year old is Dynamic.
But it's a mixture of somebody who knows how to satisfy
the Art traditions of history but at the same time has a
direction that he wants to go on his own to some extent,
so he's not a complete copy-cat and he's not a complete
wild-man - he's in between.
And, the amount of Dynamic Quality should not be
overcome by intellectual quality, by these static patterns.
At the same time, the static patterns or the intellect
- the Dynamic Quality should not overcome your static patterns
to a point where it's meaningless to a person who writes."
"Now there've been extreme cases, like say, Picasso,
who, when he first came out shocked everybody with these
strange paintings, but if you look back at Picasso's history,
you find that he was a very talented artist by the rules.
He didn't do that because he didn't know any better, he
did it because he knew better and he wanted to go further.
So that's what I'm talking about there."
"It's important to keep in mind that the Dynamic beauty
of a piece of music can be recognized before reading any
static analysis explaining why the music is beautiful.
A lot of people who are immersed in static patterns
and do not see Dynamic Quality clearly will say, ‘What's
it all about? I
don't understand it.
I don't, I don't know what he's trying to do.’
What they're doing is they're looking for static
patterns when they should just be
responding to the Art itself."
"People immersed in science often regard Art as rather
trivial because they think it's ‘subjective’ (that's the
word they'll use for it) and [in their mind] it doesn't
really deal with the reality of the world.
However, metaphysics is that which deals with the
fundamental reality of the world, which is not subjective.
So, if you change the metaphysics that I've done on the
MOQ, then you've changed the evaluation of Art and beauty.
I would say that Art is the highest of human endeavors
under the defin - not definition - but the description of
Art as I've given it in ZMM (Zen
and the Art of
Motorcycle Maintenance) and particularly in LILA."
"Now, ‘it's not a footnote to Plato’, it says here.
Plato didn't like Art very much, and he didn't like
poets, and he didn't like Sophists, and what he wanted to
do was take a world which was all Art, ancient Greece, and
improve it by giving it some intellectual direction.
And he did - enormously.
I wrote in one introduction to Coffee
with Plato that we live inside the mind of Plato.
That Plato is the man who invented reason, almost,
as we see it today.
If you look at cultures outside of America, or if
you look at cultures before Plato, you find there wasn't
much reason in them.
They settled disputes by revenge rather than by law
and so on."
"’For serious artists’, it says here, ‘Quality should
not be considered subjective, Quality should be considered
as reality itself.’
That's very important.
And if you can get that reality itself which is free
from subjectivity, free from ego, you have Art."
"Now it says [here], ‘Art and social quality’. The
MOQ elevates Art from a socially isolated activity to a
socially central activity.
But it's in competition with science and industry
and everything else, and I think it has to fight those things.
But, you know, it's carried on the fight pretty well.
When people go to see movies they don't want movies
about technical processes so much.
They want movies that are artistically done."
"There are a lot of people who will become artists
and they're kind of honored for that, except by the really
traditional static people, the scientist types.
I shouldn't abuse scientists because there are plenty
of artists in science. In fact, I did a lecture in
Belgium pointing out that science is an Art if it's done
in a certain way, and I used the examples of Werner Heisenberg
and Neils Bohr as two artists trying to plough into something
they'd never dealt with before. And I recommend that to
you if you can find it somewhere. I think it's on the internet
[on the Forum Section at www.moq.org]."
"Now Art and biological quality, yeah, it's such as
the skill of a painter, a sculptor, a musician has in controlling
how a brush or a musical instrument is held.
It's obvious you're not gonna paint just by hearing
intellectual discussions of the matter, but physical practice
"Now, ok, concluding thoughts."
"Experience in Bozeman...
My thoughts are not a theoretical deduction from
what someone else has said about Art.
It was derived from direct experience in the classroom
where the Art of writing was being taught.
If one considers creative writing to be an Art form,
then ZMM is about the teaching of Art itself rather than
the teaching of the intellectualization of Art known as
can talk for hours about experiences I had doing this, and
how classes, once they saw what I wanted. I
used to tell them, ‘I don't care what you do, just so it's
good.’ And some
of them were terribly confused by that.
‘Well, how do we know what's good?’
I said, ‘You know what's good!
We proved it, because we read all these papers and
we all agreed what was good.
So you just write something that's good.’
And some of them just loved that, and these were
the artists, of course, and some of them hated it, and these
were the static people.
But generally the classes were much happier when
they all knew what I wanted."
"It says here, ‘The mark of an artist is that he sees
Quality as a reality - not something superficial.’
For example, jazz musicians such as Charlie Byrd
or John Coltrane as opposed to the squares mentioned in
"I'll leave you with this final thought.
George Orwell said, ‘To see what is in front of one's
nose requires a constant struggle.’ I really like that.
Quality is right in front of everyone's nose all the time.
Some see it, some don't, but once one sees that Quality
clearly and takes it as a guide for his whole life, then
he becomes an artist, a real artist, regardless of what
he happens to be doing at the moment."
"Now Anthony has put in some parentheses here saying,
‘loud applause and cheers!’ So you can do that if
you want to."
"Ok, that's it."
With thanks to Mary Friend
The MOQ at Oxford DVD
MOQ at Oxford"
features Robert Pirsig in three films specially made for
2009's MOQ Study Day at Oxford University together with
the lecture that David Buchanan presented on the day. This
is Pirsig's assessment of the compilation:
We have just watched your film and think it’s
exceptionally professional. No one else could have done
it because they wouldn’t have known what to select and what
to leave out the way you do. I think it will have a long
life. There is no doubt about its Quality.
is priced at $25/£16 for all regions. Postage and packing free!