Buddhist Art: Origins to Modernity
As a part of the ongoing discourse on the tripartite interrelation among art, religion and modernity, this class investigates "Buddhist art,” the visual culture of one the world religions, rooted in the premodern societies of India, Central, South East and East Asia and Tibet, from which its distinctive material forms, visual principles and ritual practices developed. More recently, the presence of Asian Buddhist material/visual cultures has asserted itself anew through transnational exchanges and confrontations, particularly between Asia and the modern and contemporary West. This course attempts to historicize this phenomenon by taking a macro approach to Buddhist art (without sacrificing specifics related to individual cases) by investigating two possible constituents of modern/contemporary Buddhist art: its core historical principles carried over from its origins, which have been considered “timeless,” and its uniquely “timely” complication of or deviation from its original systems.
We will spend half of the course studying some original principles of historical Buddhist art in areas such as visuality, representation, copy, agency, function and performativity, while quickly tracing the geo-historical spread of the religion throughout Asia over a period of more than 2,400 years. In this section, we will visit selected works and sites that represent some typologies of premodern Buddhist art, such as relics, icons, mandala, pagoda, gardens and “Zen art,” and examine them in “context,” i.e., concerning their relations to the ritualistic/symbolic practices and fundamental philosophy of the religion. The latter half of the class will explore the issue of collisions in modernity between two claims: an insistence on the immutability and authenticity of persistent premodern systems of Buddhist art and experimentations reflecting the ever changing globalizing identities of the religion and regions in Asia, corresponding to recent social, political and cultural landscapes, including museum displays, temple politics, Orientalizing commodification and appropriation by avant-garde artists.
Course Code: HTA 221
Instructor(s): Yasuko Tsuchikane