Exquisite Skill Looks Simple and Clumsy.

The term means that ingenuity and skill at their best look simple and clumsy. The greatest ingenuity should be something completely natural and that it has not been painstakingly worked on. The term comes from the book Laozi. Laozi the philosopher believed that everything should be in keeping with nature. He advocated non-action and was against any form of excessive act. Later, the term came to mean the highest possible level of skill and perfection in artistic and literary creation. In Chinese literary theory, “exquisite skill looks simple and clumsy” does not mean the clumsier the better, nor is it a rejection of skill. Rather, it rejects excessive embellishment and over-pursuit of the exquisite, and encourages well-founded simplicity and naturalness. The phrase represents the highest possible level of perfection in artistic beauty and skill and is also what the people in pre-modern China strove to achieve in calligraphy, painting, gardening, and other forms of art.

The truly straight will appear crooked; the truly skillful will appear clumsy; the truly eloquent will appear impeded.