Nancy K. Camp

Publication Date


Document Type


First Advisor

Merritt, Helen

Degree Name

M.A. (Master of Arts)

Legacy Department

Department of Art


Art; Japanese; Spiritual life in art; Art; Zen--Japan


This thesis poses the hypothesis that many of the aesthetic values which are commonly associated with, and in turn explained by, the ideals of Zen Buddhism can be identified outside of a Zen context.. Perhaps these ideals should be viewed as reflections of a fundamental Japanese spiritual tradition. This tradition nourished and sustained Zen but it can also be identified in pre-Zen art and in art not ordinarily associated with the Zen tradition. The introduction sets the stage with a discussion of the role of Zen in Westerners' interpretation of Japanese aesthetic values. In the body of the thesis the nature of Japanese spiritual tradition is explored. This discussion is indebted to Daisetzu Suzuki, who was an early and important interpreter of Zen ideas for Occidental readers. But Suzuki, when addressing Japanese readers in the depth of the war, also wrote about Japanese spirituality in a broad sense as a reflection of Japanese temperament. In this context he noted that a propensity for nondualistic grasp of reality, a tendency toward intuitive response, pragmatism and spiritual intimacy with the earth were all characteristics of Japanese temperament which, he believed, formed the bases of an indigenous spiritual tradition. This spiritual tradition is examined as it is present in Zen; in Shinto, the indigenous religion of Japan; and in Jodo, or Pure Land Buddhism, the most widespread sect of Buddhism in Japan and a form of Buddhism which, like Zen, has developed distinctly Japanese characteristics. This spiritual tradition is then related to a consideration of Japanese aesthetic values as they are reflected in specific works of art. Those values which are considered are those set forth by Donald Keene: suggestion, irregularity, simplicity, and perishability. The examination of several works of art demonstrates that certain traditional aesthetic values which are commonly associated with Zen can also be identified outside of the Zen context . Many works of art not commonly considered as reflections of Zen aesthetic ideas, but nonetheless recognized as uniquely Japanese in character, fit comfortably into this broader concept of a Japanese spiritual tradition.


Bibliography: pages [89]-90.


90 pages




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