ArtSEA: Summer Reading with Bruce Lee

Several stacks of Lee’s books are contained within a clever cutout of his leaping form. Some reveal his relentless pursuit of fitness: books on jogging, weightlifting, judo, Tae Kwon Do, Chinese weapons, Shaolin Temple Boxing Secretsyoga, wrestling, The art of foiling (a 1932 book on fencing) and an introduction to the exercise craze of the 1960s, Slimnastics.

Other titles reveal his quest to focus his mind and elevate his spirit: books on Carl Jung and Hermann Hesse; the ancient Chinese text Tao Te Ching, central to Taoism; by Kahlil Gibran rebel spirits; The key to your personality; and even How staging sells.

The exhibition text (written by Shannon Lee) tells us that Bruce Lee – a movement artist and actor – considered himself an “artist of life”. He also read art books: The history of the nude in photography, Dance and its creators; Stanislavsky: The Art of the Stage; and several books of classical poetry.

As a bibliophile, the glimpse of his collection of books is more fascinating to me than the high-tech room in which you can walk on circular “launch pads” that activate screens featuring vintage photos combined with quotes. he found meaningful. But that part is cool, too, and highlights Lee’s interest in being authentic in mind, spirit, and body. “For him, the goal of being ‘real’ was the highest personal achievement possible,” reads the exhibit text.

His quest for reality is also reflected in the books that are open for us to see what he underlined and annotated. Lee was an active reader – and his underlines are the straightest I’ve seen, done either with a ruler or a remarkably steady hand – writing his thoughts in neat cursive directly on the pages of the book. On one, he writes a comment that seems appropriate for the Internet age: “We should devote ourselves to self-sufficiency and not depend on external evaluation by others for our happiness.”

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