Rev. Ken Yamada is a minister at Berkeley Higashi Honganji Buddhist Temple in Berkeley, Calif. He began with the following caveat: “As a Buddhist minister, I’m not an expert on art, but I do have a personal interest in Buddhist art and I sometimes refer to art as a means to teach Buddhism, which is the whole point of ‘Buddhist art.’ So that is my humble perspective in trying to provide feedback to your questions.”
MW: To what extent, if at all, is creating art a religious experience in Buddhism, as opposed to simply an act of creating works that then take on religious significance?
RKY: Both approaches represent two sides of the same coin. Artists create work meant to take on religious meaning. And the creation of art is also meant to be a religious experience.
For example, an artist skilled in his craft, may carve a statute or paint a picture meant to depict a Buddha or a scene of a story in a sutra, which are then seen by others for their religious meaning.
For those people who see the art only in terms of a beautiful object (such as viewers at a museum), the artwork is not really “Buddhist” in my opinion.
The creation process ideally also is a religious experience. When a carver works on a statue, one form of practice is to perform a simple chant, such as “Nam Am Da Bu” while carving, over and over. This practice cultivates a calm, clear mind of appreciation. Consequently from this mind, a peaceful-looking Buddha emerges from the block of wood. The mind of the carver is just as important as skill in creating a statue of the Buddha.
MW: Is there a such thing as Buddhist art per se? If so, what does it entail? Are there any subjects that are off limits to Buddhist artists?
RKY: Traditionally, Buddhist art are representations of the symbols and images found in the sutras, which are the scriptures based on the historic Buddha’s sermons. For example, they will be different Buddhas, specific symbols such as lotus blossoms (which represents “wisdom”), or devil-like images (which represent anger and ignorance).
However, Buddhism is very liberal in the sense that anything can be a teaching (Dharma) to us. Therefore, nothing is really off limits in terms of what subject or image form the basis of the art, as long as it expresses Truth as taught by the Buddha, such as “interdependence” or “nirvana” or “impermanence,” etc. Sometimes these teachings are deeply buried in the symbolism expressed by the art, so artwork must be studied, analyzed and meditated upon before these truths are realized by the viewer. This process too, of using art to move a person to think about life in a deep and profound way, is another means by which art serves its religious purpose. Mandalas are an obvious example of this process, as they are meant to be stared at and reflected upon continuously.
Continue reading ‘Interview: Rev. Ken Yamada’
According to his biography on Earth Sanctuary, Chuck Pettis is a “visionary, designer, eco-artist, and author” and founder and owner of “Earth Sanctuary, a 72-acre nature reserve and meditation parkland on Whidbey Island, Washington.” He is a “dedicated practitioner of Tibetan Buddhism, he deeply believes in the value of meditation,” and is the author, most recently, of Secrets of Sacred Space: Discover and Create Places of Power. Pettis is also the president of the Seattle-based Sakya Monastery. The image is from his site.
MW: What is Sakya Monastery, and how is it different from other Buddhist monasteries?
CP: For people seeking spiritual and personal growth, Sakya Monastery provides access to the Buddha’s teachings and guidance in a community of practitioners. Sakya Monastery provides a place to learn from highly qualified and spiritual Tibetan Lamas in a beautiful traditional setting.
Sakya Monastery provides people the opportunity to learn and practice authentic and traditional Tibetan Buddhist teachings.
MW: When did you first get involved with the monastery?
CP: I became involved with Sakya Monastery in 1995.
MW: To what extent does Sakya promote the arts?
Sakya Monastery does not promote the arts. Artwork in the form of paintings, statues, calligraphy and other media are a fundamental part of Tibetan Buddhist spiritual practices.
MW: What is Earth Sanctuary?
CP: Earth Sanctuary combines exemplary ecology with art and spirit to create a sanctuary for birds and wildlife and a peaceful place for personal renewal and spiritual connection. Earth Sanctuary is open every day of the year, rain or shine, during daylight hours. $7/person fee.
MW: To what extent is your eco-art based on Buddhist principles?
CP: Earth Sanctuary’s eco-art is universal in nature, being based on universal symbols and archetypes. We do have a number of Buddhist-based artworks. For example, we have a number of Tibetan Buddhist prayer flags around the property and also two Tibet-Tech prayer wheels.
MW: More generally, to what extent, if at all, is creating art a religious experience in Buddhism, as opposed to simply an act of creating works that then take on religious significance?
CP: At Sakya Monastery, we just had a workshop to create over 1,000 Tsa Tsa’s. ‘Tsa Tsa’ is a Tibetan term used to describe Buddha statues and relief images that are made as part of a particular meditation practice. Making tsa tsas is a preliminary spiritual practice used to eliminate obstacles, purify negativities, and create positive energy (merit). The tsa tsas were made with clay, that are then dried, and painted. These tsa tsa’s will then be placed inside a stupa to be build at the Tara Meditation Center at Earth Sanctuary, as a Tibetan Buddhist sacred space.
Continue reading ‘Interview: Chuck Pettis, Founder, Earth Sanctuary’
[Dallas Morning News] Another great religion and art story from the DMN. “Traditional Asian art draws little distinction between religious observance and artistic creation,” observes Kevin Richardson, “and there are Buddhists, Hindus and others who believe that a deity’s spirit resides in sculptures or carvings of his likeness.”
[Stamford Times] The Jewish Community Center (JCC) of Stamford is showing the work of “17-year-old artist Stanislav (Stass) Shpanin,” who “was listed in the Guinness Book of World Records as the youngest professional artist in the world.” Evidently Guiness hasn’t read about Freddie Linsky.
[mynews.in] Vidya Bhushan Rawat writes on “Art as medium of protest against powerful Brahmanical values” in Savi Savarkar’s work. The article is a bit dense.
Image: “Photo: Savi Sawarkar painting– Ambedkarite Monk.” From Vidya Bhushan Rawat’s article.
[Jerusalem Post] “I bring Arab and Jewish art here so that people can see another kind of dialogue between artists in Israel,” says Abu Shakra, who directs the Israel-based Umm el-Fahm Art Gallery.
[Skidmore College] Art history professor Rob Linrothe has won a Getty grant to study “Esoteric Buddhist (Tantric) deity Vajrasattva within South, Southeast, and East Asian social and religious networks during the eighth through 12th centuries.”
[Tomah Journal] Score: The Tomah Area School District - 0, students who want to use religious art symbols - 1. Thank God this argument from one of the art teachers did not fly: “Gangs have been a concern at Tomah High School. Because of the myriad of gang symbols, some of which use religious type symbolism [we] felt that it would be impossible to differentiate between certain gang symbols and religious symbols.” (HT: Ed Brayton)
[SF Chronicle] Here’s a peculiar lede from David Ian Miller: “If I asked you to name the major artists who have produced a body of work with strong religious themes, Leonardo da Vinci, Michelangelo, Botticelli and Rembrandt would probably come to mind. Whomever you chose, chances are that Andy Warhol wouldn’t make the list.” Am I too involved in this religious art business that I am making assumptions, or don’t most folks know Warhol made a ton of religious works?
Image: “Jane Dillenberger, Berkeley art historian and author of “The Religious Art of Andy Warhol.” Photo by Nicholas Ukrainiec. SF Chronicle.”
[WorldNetDaily] Wisconsin is still ironing out why its schools permit drawing Buddhist and Hindu symbols and the devil, but not Christian ones. This explanation will be fun to see.
[Press Enterprise] Big claims from Leslie A. Brown, director of the Quad Art Gallery (whose site seems to be down): “I’ve read every major religious book from the Bible to the Torah to the cabala to books about Buddha. That’s what I read. That’s what turns me on … I love Hindu imagery. The supreme being in Hindu mythology is a black woman holding the head of rationality, a man, in her hand.”
[Bostonist] The Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum is showing “Luxury for Export,” which tells how “Indian goods and art were being shipped to Portugal, and Mughul rulers began collecting European/Christian art. The Indians and Portuguese cultures influenced each other for a few centuries, then many from both regions eventually settle in Massachusetts.” (More here.)
[Express India] Filmmaker Nidhi Tulli’s “Art in Exile” explores “the art styles of Tibetans that are slowly dying out or are fighting a losing battle against extinction.” Incidentally, “Tibetan art is primarily sacred art, with an overriding influence of Tibetan Budhism.”
[Jewish Press] Richard McBee reviews Archie Rands 613 canvas series.
Continue reading ‘Gardner Museum, Nidhi Tulli, Archie Rand, Qatar’
CBC has the story on a pretty costly wooden, seated Buddha, which set a record for most expensive piece of Japanese art. The piece is by Unkei, “considered one of the best carvers of the early Kamakura period in the 1190s.”
The pre-auction estimate was $1.5-2 million, so the piece has certainly exceeded expectations. But am I crazy to find it a bit strange that Buddha, who is said to have been quite critical of materialism, is selling so well?
[Daily News Journal, Tenn.] Bible Park USA is seeking governmental help to build the $175 million operation.
[Chicago Tribune] Amy Irvine, whose “family tree reaches back to one of the original Mormon saints,” simultaneously mourns the loss of her “paternal grandmother, Ada, [who] was an atheist and an artist enthralled by the dramatic beauty of southern Utah’s red-rock desert” and Utah’s landscape in her book “Trespass: Living at the Edge of the Promised Land. (Image: Amazon)”
[Woodland Witchery] Why is it, wonders Rev. Patrick McCollum, “Depictions of Jesus and Mary in prison chapels are commonplace, as are other symbols of Christian faith and deity,” yet Wiccans and other minority faiths get no religious allowances. “It’s because the administrators and security staff see the dominant faith’s use of these items as normal, and the minority faith’s use of these exact same items as weird or dangerous, because the services in which minority faiths utilize these items look different to them than those that they are used to.”
[CCTV] The National Museum of Fine Arts, Beijing, is reporting record numbers (20k/day) for Buddhist art exhibit “The Lights of Dunhuang.” The show includes, “ten recreated caves, thirteen replicas of ancient sculptures, nine originals and one hundred mural copies, all from the Mogao Grottoes.”
Continue reading ‘Roundup: Religious Prison Art, Building Bible Park USA’
[New Media Alliance] Are individuals affiliated with the UN defacing sacred art? Even a UN official is “appalled” at the vandalism.
[Sun-Herald] Port Charlotte, Fl.-based St. Charles Borromeo Catholic Church’s mosaic, purchased from Moroneys’ Religious Art, arrived in “tiny little boxes” and took five months to create. But this “very expensive jigsaw puzzle” was worth it. The pastor calls it “a reminder of what we celebrate.”
(Image: Wayne Berube, who only reads newspapers and the Bible, says “The Bible is so unexplored by artists of this generation … Every artist does his little Christ on the cross, maybe, and then beyond that, they run out of inspiration. A lot of times, it’s an irreverent Christ on the cross, too. And there’s the elephant-dung Madonna.” Photo: New Mexico Daily Lobo.)
[Christian Post] Christians build ugly churches, writes Chuck Colson, which “reveals how far Christians have strayed from the place beauty and art are meant to have in our lives.” In the end, to Colson, religious art isn’t a tool for getting folks in to church, it’s praising God.
[News Press] Even as a Benedictine monk painter, Jerome Tupa doesn’t consider his work religious. “He prefers the word ’spiritual.’ He’s not, for example, seeking to convert anyone. He just wants them to feel the same awe he feels inside these buildings.”
Continue reading ‘Ugly Churches, Disappearing Buddhas, UN Vandalism’
[Image: The Lawrence Journal-World] Alan Detrich beside his work “Resurrection,” a “6-foot-4 statue of Jesus with a curled-up dinosaur at his feet.” Detrich says he sees the piece as an inspiration for people to “ask more questions about our origins,” rather than an answer to nonbelievers.
[America: The National Catholic Weekly] America has a profile of religious artist Alfonse Borysewicz. The profile is only available to subscribers, but see the great slide show here.
[Jewish Chronicle] Jasper Joffe is perhaps most surprised that his painting of Heinrich Himmler sold for £3,000 to “Iraqi-born Jewish art collector Charles Saatchi.” The Jewish painter adds, “I was focused on the process of painting, rather than the character I was depicting.”
Continue reading ‘Jesus with a Dinosaur, Selling Himmler’s Portrait’
(Right) Jusepe de Ribera’s “The Immaculate Conception” (1637), from the Columbia Museum of Art. David Steel, European art curator at the Mint Museum of Art, says, “This painting tells you everything you need to know about high Catholic art at the time.” [The State, SC]
In “Hamzanama,” the Sackler brought together “the long-dispersed pages of what is probably the most ambitious single artistic undertaking ever produced by the atelier of an Islamic court.” [NY Times]
Many think they have evangelicals pegged, but Eileen Flynn insists it’s not so simple, with reference to “a local arts festival that challenges stereotypes many hold about Christian art.” [The Statesman]
Though many think of Buddhists as pacifists, Karen Rosenberg points out, “In ancient Himalayan paintings, deities brandish weapons, including the Sword of Wisdom, in defense of religious doctrines.” [NY Times]
According to legend, Bishop Camillus Paul Maes picked 10th and Madison for the site of St. Mary’s Cathedral Basilica of the Assumption, because he thought it’s proximity to the railroad tracks would lead to soot stains on the façade “and make it look ancient.” [The Enquirer, Cincinnati]
Continue reading ‘Deities with Weapons, a Soot Stained Church’
In twins Brennon and Alonzo Edwards’ tag team, pictured, Alonzo makes religious art, which Brennon sells. Alonzo says of his piece on Amnon’s rape of Tamar, “I started praying on it, and I got a vision of how to paint it.” [The Flint Journal]
Andrea Useem, creator and publisher of ReligionWriter, writes on “What Makes a Movie ‘Christian?’” with an interview of Phil Vischer. Veggie haters beware. [ReligionWriter.com]
The Met is looking for a new director to replace Philippe de Montebello. One candidate is MOMA director Glenn Lowry, whose specialty is Islamic art. [NY Times]
Mel Alexenberg posts a blog on his “Aesthetic Peace Plan for the Middle East.” I’ve written about Mel here and interviewed him here. [Aesthetic Peace]
Leah Ollman writes on “two landmark exhibitions” of Kitaj’s works “focusing on Kitaj’s prolific obsession with things Jewish.” [LA Times]
The traveling show “Hidden Afghanistan” at Amsterdam’s Nieuwe Kerk (New Church) offers tells the “engrossing tale” of remnants of Afghanistan’s art were saved from the Taliban. [TIME magazine]
Continue reading ‘Afghani Remnants, 2 Kitaj Shows, Aesthetic Peace Plan for the Middle East’