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Zen Art Work

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Zen Art Work

The Chinese Zen strive to reach enlightenment through there life. This principal of enlightenment is an individual achievement, having neither a set path to take nor a final destination to arrive at. Reaching enlightenment, in a Zen belief, doesn't mean you have reached a state higher than that of the non-enlightened. You just have an understanding of what that enlightenment is. This Zen idea of enlightenment is expressed in all that the Zen followers do, and can be seen in the various paintings of the artists of the Sung and Yuan dynasties. In contrast to the beliefs of many scholars, these paintings do contain symbols and themes and are not presented only as is, therefore showing that many of the Zen followers went against suggested teachings and beliefs. Though simple and straightforward in appearance, when examining the art and artist' intentions for creating it, one can easily see the great amount of hidden features relating to the Zen culture and beliefs which is in essence, against its beliefs.

In order to present this case the sides must first be expressed. Watts in his The Way of Zen expresses great contrast in the paintings of the Eastern, primarily Zen, and Western artists. He starts by saying that the West depicts nature by man made symmetries and super imposed forms. In the east however, he states that the artist accepts the object as is and will portray whatever he is depicting for what it is rather than what he thinks it's supposed to be (Watts 174). Basically he is trying to say that if an artist of the west sees a bunch of apples, he is going to stress the pattern or however else he sees it. If he sees a field of grass believes it to look like an army of soldiers, he is going to paint with the thought of the grass looking like soldiers in mind. In the east on the other hand, if an artist sees a apple, he is going to draw an apple, if he sees a field of grass, he is going to draw a field of grass with no underplayed meaning on the back of his mind. The artist draws what it is, not what he sees. West is saying that the artist of the east will not look deeper into the make up of objects. An eastern artist will first understand what it is he is drawing, and then try to recreate this object exactly as is, not try to represent it.

In light of this we can also take a look at what Gulick says but more specifically on nature. He states that West will focus on the contrast between man and nature. The physical world is an objective reality to be analyzed, used and mastered. He states that westerns believe Nature is there to attribute to their life and not be associated as a part of it. The Zen artists of the East however, focus on the affinity between man and nature. Nature is a realm of beauty which should be admired, but as well a realm of mystery and illusion that should be pictured by poets and painters, explained mythmakers and mollified by priestly incantations (Gulick). So as you can see, the argument already arises in what the Zen artist believes while he is recreating the vision in mind. Is it depicted as is, or is it pictured by the artist and explained through myths? To answer this we have to look at the art itself.

I believe that both of these scholars are correct in some way or another. You can see that with Watts, we have the idea that the Zen artist paints what is there and nothing else. Instead of entertaining in a sense, the artist is documenting, for when the audience sees the painting, there should be no shock of what he or she sees. There should be something in front of them that exists in real life. As you will see later on in my thesis, the art for the most part is seen as is in terms an apple looks like an apple and grass looks like grass, but the art is not as is in terms of interpreting and what it represents. In contrast to what Watts believes, when an artist draws a bamboo stick, the bamboo stick will look exactly as it appears in life. However, in most cases with Zen artists, bamboo for say, would represent strength and fortitude of some type and in no way what so ever be just bamboo. For the most part, because the Zen believed that enlightenment could not be illustrated, when a painter would try to depict this and other beliefs, it could be nothing more than a symbol or a stand for.

Gulick focuses more on the values of nature in a Zen artist's palette. In my research I have found that most if not all of the paintings I have come across in the Song and Yuan dynasties have been in some way or another about or containing a large amount of nature. You won't find people in many of the paintings and if you do, they are very small and not featured at all. They will usually be in the distance and pretty much small dabs in comparison to the rest of the objects. The Zen especially weren't that interested in depicting people in there paintings. They believed that no man should be given the ability to be idolized or

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