Texts without Comment for Chapter One
1. Lionel de Fonseka, in On the Truth of Decorative Art, a Dialogue between an Oriental and an Occidental: a
You are always trying to express yourselves. We never do—neither in art nor in life. You aim at expression and fail. We aim at repression and succeed—and incidentally achieve expression as well. . . .
We Orientals, though we look on our artists as our ministers, revere art to this extent, that we strive ever to preserve it impersonal and universal. For the intimate is pollution in art, and vulgarity speaks always in the first person. . . .
There is only one true way in art—the chaste and narrow way of convention; religion is its strait gate. . . .
The symbol, being a race product, and adequate only to the expression of race moods, prevents the artist from personal expression which is fatal to art and also to life. The symbol which is an abstract convention makes art always preserve its universal character—and so art reacts on life in this way, that we in turn become selfless and see in our lives only the working of universal laws. It is only in this way that we attain serenity in life.
2. Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, in Introduction to Indian Art :b
All Indian art has been produced by professional craftsmen following traditions handed down in pupillary succession. Originality and novelty are never intentional. . . . What is new arises constantly in Indian tradition without purpose or calculation on the part of the craftsman, simply because life has remained over long extended periods an immediate experience. . . .
It is of no importance that we know nothing of the painters' names: all India was richly painted in these days [of the Gupta period], and the art is the art of a race, and not of any individual.
3. Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, in Introduction to Indian Art:
In India, where no one discussed art (there is no Sanskrit equivalent for the modern concept of "art"); c where none but philosophers discussed the theory of beauty; and where sculptures and paintings were regarded, not as "works of art" but as means to definite ends—there, art was an integral quality inhering in all activities, entertained by all in their daily environment, and produced by all in proportion to the vitality (not the kind) of their activity.
4. Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, in The Theory of Art in Asia:d
Art is then defined as follows: Vākya Rasâtmakam Kāvyam, that is: "Art is expression informed by Ideal Beauty.".. .
In this theory of art, the most important term is Rasa, rendered above "Ideal Beauty," but meaning literally "tincture" or essence, and generally translated in the present connection as "flavor."
5. Olivier Lacombe, in L'Absolu selon le Védânta: e
Pour l'Indien, la forme prise en soi n'est rien qu'une limite instable tracée dans la pure dispersion du non-être et du devenir. Et la plasticité de la matière sous la main de l'artiste et de l’artisan est révélatrice non pas d'une indétermination négative; d'une potentialité ad omnia parata par privation et capable d'être actuée par des formes qui lui sont "imposées," mais d'une indétermination positive et de plénitude capable de se manifester par un certain nombre de formes en harmonie avec ses virtualités. Et l'image du travail d'art ne hante pas un Çankara —bien qu'il en use et précisément comme en Occident, pour aider à la démonstration d'une Intelligence ordonnatrice de l'Univers—elle n'a pas pour lui de valeur privilégiée parce qu’il pense que si l'artiste peut grace à son intelligence et à ses idées modeler la matière, c'est que celle-ci est en son fond ultime non pas seulement prête pour l'œuvre d'une intelligence, mais intelligence elle-même.
6. Olivier Lacombe, in L'Absolu selon le Védânta:
Si nous nous reportons maintenant aux données communes de l'esthétique indienne, nous pourrons en résumer comme suit les enseignements. L'art ne représente pas la nature, qu'on entende la chose à la manière du réalisme naturaliste ou de l'idéalisme dit classique, mais continue ou reprend le mouvement créateur immanent a la nature; sa fin est de suggérer à l’âme du spectateur et de l'auditeur, par un système de "signes inducteurs," des états et des tendances psychiques prégnants d'émotion esthétique (rasa).Et la question est si peu de leur conformité avec les sentiments naturels entendue comme adéquation de la copie à son modèle, qu'on oppose volontiers la qualité supérieure de leur artificialité (samskrtatva) à la grossièreté de l'émotion naturelle (prākrtatva), un peu comme on oppose le surnaturel à la nature et le sacré au profane. Il faut d'ailleurs noter que les arts de l'Inde sont dans une très large mesure des arts sacrés parce qu'ils sont au service de la religion: les traités assignent communément à la peinture, à la sculpture, à l'architecture la fonction de servir le culte et la méditation; ils enjoignent aux imagiers de construire de telle sorte leurs images qu'elles induisent au cœur du fidèle les dispositions nécessaires a l'oraison par l'expression de cette sorte de beauté propre au divin qui consiste en bienveillance, calme et charme (śiva, śānta, sundara). Et tout en leur fournissant les règles canoniques capables de leur faire atteindre ce but, ils leurs rappellent d'avoir à pratiquer d'abord eux-mêmes les méthodes de recueillement du yoga, faute de quoi, l'esprit n'étant pas purifié et rectifié, l'intuition génératrice ne pourrait se produire et l'habileté technique resterait impuissante. C'est en effet le second enseignement des esthéticiens indiens que l'œuvre d'art est le fruit de surabondance d'une intuition créatrice analogue à l’intuition suprasensible du mystique. Analogue seulement et non pas identique, car si l‘art humain peut être ordonné à des fins sacrées, il n'appartient pas de droit à leur domain et se place aussi bien en marge des valeurs religieuses que des valeurs naturelles, à ne considérer que sa nature propre. En troisième lieu quand it s'agit de l’art humain, dépendant et débile, l'accent tombe plutôt sur la nécessité a priori de sa règle que sur la liberté de son jeu; mais ce dernier aspect n'est jamais tout à fait aboli et nous le verrons passer en pleine lumière des que nous considérerons l’art divin. Enfin la conception de la beauté impliquée plutôt qu'exprimée par la pratique et la théorie de l’art indien semble se mouvoir entre deux plans, de même que la doctrine çankarienne de l'être et de la causalité: au plan inférieur du panthéisme et du parināmavāda correspondrait l'esthétique de l'ornementation où "souvent richesse passe pour beauté"; l'infini paraît alors jeter sa plénitude dans une prodigalité de "formes" intensément affirmées par l'excès de réalité qui se presse en leurs limites. Au plan supérieur du nondualisme et du vivartavāda correspondrait l'esthétique du calme et du renoncement. Les deux tendances se marient dans le grand art de l'Inde et contribuent à lui dormer son équilibre et son harmonie.
7. Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, in The Theory of Art in Asia:
The definition of aesthetic experience (rasâsvādana) given in the Sāhitya Darpana, III, 2-3, is of such authority and value as to demand translation in extenso; we offer, first,' a very literal version with brief comment, then a slightly smoother rendering avoiding interruptions.
Thus, (1): "Flavor (rasah)is tasted (āsvādyate)by men having an innate knowledge of absolute values (kaiścit-pramātrbhih), in exaltation of the pure consciousness (sattvôdrekāt),as self-luminous (svapra-kāśah),in the mode at once of ecstasy and intellect (ānandacin-mayah), void of contact with things knowable (vedyântara-sparśa-śūnyah), twin brother to the tasting of Brahma (brahmâsvāda-sahôdarah), whereof the life is a super-worldly lightning flash (lokôttara-camatkāra-prânah), as intrinsic aspect (svâkāravat-svarūpavat),in indivisibility (abhinnatve)."
And (2): "Pure aesthetic experience is theirs in whom the knowledge of ideal beauty is innate: it is, known intuitively, in intellectual ecstasy without accompaniment of ideation, at the highest level of conscious being; born of one mother with the vision of God, its life is as it were a flash of blinding light of transmundane origin, impossible to analyze, and yet in the image of our very being."...
Just as the original intuition arose from a self-identification of the artist with the appointed theme, so aesthetic experience, reproduction, arises from a self-identification of the spectator with the presented matter; criticism repeats the process of creation.
8. Ananda K. Coomaraswamy, in The Theory of Art in Asia:
The Indian or Far Eastern icon, carved or painted, is neither a memory image nor an idealization, but a visual symbolism, ideal in the mathematical sense. …
In Western art the picture is generally conceived as seen in a frame or through a window, and so brought toward the spectator; but the Oriental image really exists only in our own mind and heart and is thence projected or reflected onto space. The Western presentation is designed as if seen from a fixed point of view, and must be optically plausible; Chinese landscape is typically represented as seen from more than one point of view, or in any case from a conventional, not a "real" point of view, and here it is not plausibility but intelligibility that is essential.
9. George Rowley, Idealism and Naturalism: f
The Chinese shunned extreme naturalism, although, paradoxically, no artists ever spent so much time in contemplating the natural world; on the other hand, they distrusted extreme rationalization, although they insisted, more than any other people, on the value of learning for creative effort. The natural and the ideal were fused together in the ideational "essence of the idea." As Ch'êng Hêng-lo put it, "western painting is painting of the eye; Chinese painting is painting of the idea." His statement would have been complete if he had added, "of the idea and 'not of the ideal."
To what extent have the Chinese painters moved our senses? Certainly the Chinese loved things; the furniture, the screens, the potteries and porcelains are all fascinating works of art; the lowliest object is a craftsman's delight; the smallest detail shows both elaborate care and creative imagination. No other people, except the Japanese, have lavished such attention on the featheriness of birds, the furriness of animals, the intricacies of insects, the rhythms of plants or the textures of rocks. However, in spite of all this, our pleasure in the Chinese rendering of physical qualities seems to be more intuitive than sensuously emotional.
10. George Rowley, Simplicity, Emptiness, and Suggestion: g
The Chinese quest after the Tao implied something more than the most subtle and perfect design values. The importance of yün (resonance), with its rules and methods, assured great sensitivity to design values, and these values, in so far as they manifested the order and harmony of the universe, were vehicles for conveying the Tao; however, yün (resonance) was ever secondary to ch`i (spirit). As Shih Tao put it: "The method is complete when it is born from the idea, but the method of the idea has never-been recorded." In trying to express the unnameable ideas (miao i) the artist had to experience a communion with the mystery of the universe akin to that enjoyed by the Taoist "mystics." Accordingly, the creative process was described in terms of emptiness, simplicity and suggestion; and the painting itself presented a unique relationship between the known and the unknowable.
In the words of Li Jih-hua: "That which is called ch`i-yün must be inborn in the man. It is indeed in a state of emptiness (hsü) and tranquillity (tan) that most ideas are conceived." And when the ideas are carried out, the brush must possess the power of spiritual suggestion through emptiness (hsü); hsü meant that the "brush comes to an end but the idea is without limit (wu chiung)." Furthermore, "in employing the brush, it is necessary that every brush should hold within itself pictorial reality (shih) and yet at the same time emptiness (hsü), for by being empty, then the idea becomes spiritually alive (ling); by being spiritually alive, there is no trace of obstruction (chih); by being not obstructed, then there is wholeness of spirit (shên-ch`i hun-jan); by being hun jan, then it is a heavenly creation (t’ien-kung).". . .
In China the emphasis on intuition, imagination and the moods of nature led to the importance of the mysterious, the intangible and the elusively expressive. . . . We pass from the tangible and measurable into the intangible and incommensurable and yet experience the intelligibility of the whole which, at the same time, is the wellspring of the mysterious.
11. George Rowley, Categories of Greatness: h
The Chinese categories of greatness summarize their approach to painting. Although no single classification was accepted as the standard, they all agreed in ranging the grades of excellence from mere formal beauty up to the greatness of profundity. In general, four levels in the ladder of greatness were distinguished which roughly corresponded to four levels of human development; namely, formal skill, cultivation, wisdom and spiritual insight. . . .
At the lowest level, variously termed nêng (competent) or chiao (clever) the painter had acquired skill and knowledge of the rules of style. . . . The second level of experience, that of the cultivated painter, was characterized by personal taste. The painter had passed from acquiring and assimilating knowledge about his art to imbuing that ability with individual and expressive power. . . . Artistic truth was the goal of the next level of attainment, sometimes termed miao (wonderful), and at other times shên (divine). A "divine" painter "penetrated with his thoughts the nature of everything in heaven and earth, and thus the things flow out of his brush in accordance with the truth of the motif." At this level the "inspiration of heaven is very high" and "the thoughts harmonize with the spirit." Here the scholar-artist, through the breadth and depth of his character, begins to have "an understanding of all things.". . .
The fourth and supreme category of excellence defies definition. The same term "i" or effortlessness, which we encountered as the first fruit of ch`i (spirit), was also used for this highest level of experience because it most nearly suggested the relation between artistic creation and mystical oneness with the Tao. The "i" painters "grasp the self-existent, which cannot be imitated, and give the unexpected." They were absolutely free and natural. . . . This kind of excellence can only be found in the seers, the saints and the greatest artists. We recognize it in a person in whom we are aware of a rare presence, a pure creative force, or an untrammeled spirit. Perhaps untrammeled is the one word which comes closest to suggesting this ultimate quality. If the rules have become second nature to the painter, if he can lose himself completely in the conception, and if he has attained depth and breadth of character, then he is ready to aspire to that highest kind of freedom, the freedom of effortless creation. Then the imagination enjoys most profoundly the immediacy of the "wedding of spirit and matter."
a. London: Greening and Co., 1912.
b. Madras: Theosophical Publishing House, 1923.
c. There is only a seeming contradiction between this statement and the fact that in a subsequent book Mr. Coomaraswamy dedicated a chapter to "The Theory of Art in Asia"—precisely because the Asiatic notion of art is not equivalent to the "modern concept of art." The word vākya, used in the definition of art offered in the following text (No. 4) relates originally to what is produced by the energies of the spirit in quite a general sense (it meant for Çankara the product of the notional synthesis expressed in a judgment). And in this regard the distinction between art and nature was much less marked in India than in Greece (see Text No. 5).
On the other hand, when it comes to that beauty the notion of which "none but philosophers discussed," and which is, as Olivier Lacombe puts it (Text No. 6), "more implied than expressed by the practice and theory of Indian art," it would seem that the expression "Spiritual Savor" would render the word Rasa more genuinely than the expression "Ideal Beauty" used by Mr. Coomaraswamy (in Texts Nos. 4 and 7).
d. In The Transformation of Nature in Art (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1934).
e. Paris: Geuthner, 1937.
f. In Principles of Chinese Painting (Princeton University Press, 1947).
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