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Papers on this website:

The 1993 AHP Transcript-Part One

The 1993 AHP Transcript-Part Two

Selections from the 1993 AHP transcript

Evolution, Time & Order Paper

PhD Commentary

An Open Letter to Sam Harris

Art & the MOQ by Robert Pirsig

An Introduction to
 Robert Pirsig’s Metaphysics of Quality

An MOQ Summary by Robert Pirsig

Khoo Hock Aun's Paper

David Buchanan's Art & Morality Paper

Pirsig Annotations on Copleston

Gavin Gee-Clough's "Brisbane Winter" Paper 

 Henry Gurr's MOQ presentation


Sneddon Thesis

- Part One


Sneddon Thesis - Part Two

David Buchanan's 2006 Paper

Observer Interview

Notes on the tetralemma

The MOQ & Education

Pirsig & Pragmatism

Chai at the Lazy Lounge


MOQ Conference Papers:

Robert Pirsig's Welcome Speech

Dr McWatt's Handout

Henry Gurr's Handout

Ian Glendinning's Paper

David Buchanan's Paper

Mati Palm-Leis's Paper

Gavin Gee-Clough's Paper

Khoo Hock Aun's Paper





Art & the Metaphysics of Quality


by Robert Pirsig


July 2009

The transcript of the second film on the "The MOQ at Oxford" DVD





[Robert Pirsig sits on a couch with Lily, his grand daughter, on his lap]
"Ok, here we go!"
"This is Lily and I am Robert Pirsig, and she is my granddaughter.  I 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  that 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 Dharma."
"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."

"Then 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.  Yeah, hopefully!  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]."
"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 makes perfect."
"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 literature.  I 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 ZMM."
"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."  [Laughter]  

With thanks to Mary Friend






The MOQ at Oxford DVD


"The 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.



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