Cultural Arts Review: Zen Buddhist Art

Posted on December 21, 2013 by


Zen Buddhism’s emphasis on simplicity, the sense of “no self” and the importance of the natural world creates a distinctive aesthetic. In Zen art simplicity means a small appreciation of simple moments and things. The simplicity of Zen art may be imperfect but not without quality. This notion of simplicity is relevant to the appreciation of Zen Buddhists basic wardrobe. Buddhist monks wear very plain red garments. These garments are used as everyday attire for them until the garments are worn-out. This concept symbolizes a life of detachment, simplicity, and vulnerability which is important in Buddhist philosophy.This aesthetic also stimulates the mind and emotions to consider the essence of reality. Zen art does not try to create the illusion of reality. It leaves behind a certain perspective, and works with hypothetical situations. This makes one think beyond about the essence of reality. The concept of essence is central to all of the different kinds of Zen art. This artistic responsiveness has had and still has an enormous impact on eastern culture. Zen artists try to infer through the simplest possible means the essential nature of the artistic object. Anything may be painted, or expressed in poetry and music. The job of the artist is to suggest the spiritual qualities of the object. The spiritual qualities Zen art possesses is a work of natural art before the artist even creates the piece of art. In order to accomplish this, the artist has to understand the true nature of the object. The true nature is also known as its Buddha nature. To portray its Buddha nature, the artist must master technique. However, though technique is key, the upmost imperative role of the art work is incredibly spontaneous. The spontaneity of the artwork allows the artist to capture the spiritual nature behind the artist’s vision. Zen Buddhist thought on clearing one’s mind and in essence becoming “no self” is found  through the spontaneity in eastern calligraphy. “No self” is the idea that the truth emerges when one empties themselves through observation. Through observation, one can realize that there is no reason to cling to worldly things because they are impermanent. The calligrapher, often times a Buddhist monk, only has one chance to create and execute the stroke with his brush. The artwork cannot be perfected if the artist has lack of confidence or concentration. Often times, after the artist completes the piece of art, they then destroy it. To write Zen calligraphy with mastery, one must clear their mind and improvise as the letters come to them, not practice and make a tremendous effort.  In order to achieve enlightenment, one must clear their mind and let energy flow out of themselves without an extreme amount of effort. Zen Buddhism puts a great deal of stress on the importance of the spiritual world rather than the physical world. In this case, eastern calligraphy portrays a distinct aesthetic of Zen Buddhism. This aesthetic captures the both the ideas of impermanence and of enlightenment.

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