Cultural Arts Review-Zen Art

Posted on October 11, 2012 by


Americans have a hard time recognizing and understanding our own culture’s art so it would be safe to assume that understanding other cultures’ art would be much more challenging. If Americans were to visit another country and view the art of that culture, many people would probably have a hard time comprehending it simply because they aren’t accustomed to it. Therefore, it is safe to say the same about Buddhists or those who believe in Buddhism, or another culture in general.

Zen Buddhism is known for its Zen art where Zen monks are known for their creativity. Japanese Buddhists embraced Zen in the twelfth century where it later became one of the dominant forms of Buddhism. Here, monks mastered the classical Chinese arts of painting and calligraphy. More often than not, Zen painting and calligraphy is exhibited as effortless and unstudied however, they are the results of many years of training. Of course not all forms of Zen art are the same.

Zen art expresses the mind that apparently exists within everyone. The paintings and calligraphy are known for their elegant simplicity, many which consist of black ink on white paper or silk. Zen monks are able to create expressions of enlightenment from a simple circle to an image of Zen’s indian founder, Bodhidharma. Zen art is often found to be exciting, bold, and direct. It has dynamic energy that celebrates life in many different ways. Sometimes the paintings and calligraphy are dramatic and powerful, playful and humorous, and even delicate and lovely. The art forms usually engage the mind whereas the poems and symbols engage the eye. The words of calligraphy can often be very inspiring and frequently down-to-earth and full of common sense.

  • Many other types of Buddhism share the same symbols as Zen:
  • One symbol is meditation. The act of painting is a moving meditation.
  • The enso is a symbol that represents Zen. It can symbolize emptiness or fullness, presence or absence. It can also symbolize enlightenment or the moon, which symbolizes enlightenment itself.
  • The poetry and calligraphy often represents realization, imagery referencing nature, as well as figures and places. Some poems also include references to certain practices as well.

Zen art seems considerably different from many other forms of art as well as other cultures’ and was interesting to learn about and research on. If you are interested in attaining more, check out some of the sources I used.

Posted in: Buddhism