Cleverness and Clumsiness
“Cleverness” is a synonym for ingenuity, intelligence or exquisite skills. “Clumsiness,” on the other hand, means awkwardness, dullness of the mind or lacking in skill. In the field of art, “cleverness” refers to an ingenious, effortless state of creation whereby general layout, wording, and writing techniques together are at their natural best. It stresses the ornamental function of artistic form. Many theorists favor the idea of retaining “clumsiness” but oppose deliberate manipulation of skill. “Clumsiness” here isn’t the same as shoddy or of a low grade. It means a perfectly natural state of being, or a piece of writing so excellent by its own right as to lose all traces of artificial ingenuity. However, this “clumsiness” should be attained naturally. If a writer deliberately pursues clumsiness, it will only backfire. Cleverness and clumsiness are complementary to each other. Any pretense should be abandoned in favor of what is natural. Only then can artistic excellence be achieved.
The truly straight will appear crooked; the truly skillful will appear clumsy; the truly eloquent will appear impeded. (Laozi)
Better clumsy than deliberately exquisite, better plain than gorgeous, better coarse than dainty, and better rarely seen than conventional – this applies to both poetry and prose. (Chen Shidao: Houshan’s Understanding of Poetry)
The difficulty in writing lies not in cleverness, but in clumsiness; not in being meandering, but in being straightforward; not in being meticulous, but in being crude; and not in being gorgeous, but in being plain. This kind of truth can be discussed only with intelligent people, not with the vulgar. (Li Qiqing: The Essentials of Writings)