Research: Eastern Philosophy in Art

While I'm in Thailand, I'll be taking an independent course in research along with a studio art course. Even before the the Spring semester ended I was reading constantly on the subject! I get a little excited about books and the reading part always ends up being much longer than necessary...

My goal in this research is not to write a traditional academic paper. To be quite honest I don't know what the end product will be.

My interests in philosophy and art have felt separated or disconnected for a long time. I often approach making art the way I would checking off a to-do list. Because the mental state of the artist manifests itself in the work, I often am left dissatisfied with the outcome. My hope is to link together the many years I've spent exploring Eastern thinking and artistic thinking, and discover ways in which I already combine these perspectives with ones I can use to deepen and enrich my practice. Ultimately, finding a platform or end product to present this research to others that could be of use to them. This could be my new manifesto.

In my schooling, I've been trained to write papers in a very logical and methodological manner. As strange as this may feel at first, I've decided to embrace a more Eastern writing style, which is fluid and undulating, with the occasional tangent here and there. I want to embrace the fact that not everything can be explained in a black and white manner. That sometimes the beginning and the ending are the same and don't have a conclusion. These are easy concepts for me to grasp, but difficult to accept as a Westerner who wants everything to be sure.

I have a feeling it will be much easier to embrace this approach while being here. One can just walk down the street in Chiang Mai and understand that there is no right or wrong way to go. At first I tried to walk on the 'right' side of the street but eventually I was running into pedestrians anywhere I stood.

In the culture, plans tend to be last minute and spontaneous, so there was no real way to prepare living here from Arizona. But it was perfectly okay. I've come across so many beautiful places hidden away in an alley or sidestreet. (Yelp is pointless when you can just wander and find your new favorite cafe that has no Yelp reviews and barely any advertisement.) I love this approach to life. Nothing has to be figured out until it comes to you in the right moment. I think I'll stick with that. "Flow" would be the official word for Chiang Mai, if I had to choose.

So for now, I thought the best approach or starting point would be to write blog posts of interest and reference readings within them. Here are the books I've been enjoying for the past few months. Perhaps you'd like to take a look?


1. Traditional Eastern art (block-printing, papermaking, sculpture)

Paper and Threshold: The Paradox of Spiritual Connection in Asian Culture

Technical and conceptual research of handmade paper and its many uses in Asian cultures - both practical and ritualistic. Special emphasis on Japan - but touches on Thai paper. Also includes information about hand printing on Eastern paper… “relationships between spirit and fiber”.

2. Influence of Eastern philosophy in contemporary art

Where the Heart Beats

John Cage, “beat” generation, Zen Buddhism’s influence on experimental American art/music/writing/performance of the 1950’s-1960’s

Buddha Mind in Contemporary Art

Short essays and artist interviews on the relationship between Buddhism, mindfulness and contemporary art practice. Relationship between Buddhist practice and contemporary art.

Grain of Emptiness: Buddhism-Inspired Contemporary Art

Biographies and writings on various artists (both Eastern and Western) influenced by Buddhist principles of impermanence and emptiness.

3. Eastern vs. Western philosophy & spirituality

Reasons for Knocking at an Empty House

A selection of Bill Viola’s essays, notebook entries, interviews, drawings and descriptions of projects that map his personal course through the readings, observations, experiments, and associations that form the groundwork for his art. (Stream of consciousness, illustrated)

In Praise of Shadows

An essay on Japanese aesthetics by the Japanese author and novelist Jun'ichirō Tanizaki - most notably on balance, and the appreciation of darkness and shadows in Japanese art and architecture. (Stream of consciousness)

Living Buddha, Living Christ

Thich Nhat Hanh, in a lucid, meditative prose, explores the crossroads of compassion and holiness at which Buddhism and Christianity meet, and reawakens our understanding of both.

The Tao of Physics

Eastern spirituality, philosophy, consciousness and it's relationship to the physical structure of the Universe.

Each Moment is the Universe

Japanese Zen Buddhist (roshi) Dainin Katagiri Roshi explains the Zen view on the nature of time, change and the relationship between our inner and outer worlds.