Contents Page




Contents Page



                 Introduction to the Art of Eastern Asia


                                                          Ananda K.Coomaraswamy   



            To look for the first time at the art of Asia is to stand on the threshold of a new world.  To make ourselves at home here will require sensibility, intelligence, and patience.  It is the business of the historian of art to disengage the intrinsic character of an art, to make it accessible.  This can be done in various ways, complementary rather than alternative.  All that has been attempted here is to state a philosophy of Asiatic art; what is said takes into account all the arts.  Comparisons have been avoided as far as possible.  But in writing mainly for non-Asiatic readers, some reference to Europe has been inevitable, and it must therefore be pointed out that there are two different Europes, the one "modern" or "personal," the other "Christian."  The former, roughly speaking, begins with the Renaissance, the latter includes the "Primitives" and a part of Byzantine art; but the two Europes have always overlapped and interpenetrated.  One might say in the same way that there have been two Greeks arts, Helenic and Hellenistic.  On the whole, Asiatic art is quite unlike that of "modern" Europe, in appearance and principle, but very like that of Christian Europe, in both respects.  Two work on the principles of Christian art might be described as adequate introductions to the art of Asia, and may serve to make the latter more comprehensible, because the principles enunciated are so near to those of Asiatic art.1


            It has been unavoidable to neglect the earlier art of Asia; what has been said applies chiefly to the art of the last two thousand years, which will include the greater part of what will be most readily accessible to the reader.  The scope of the present essay excludes also the art of Western Asia, more specifically Muhammadan art, though it would have been interesting and well worth while to show to what extent Muhammadan art is truly Asiatic.  It would be obvious, of course, that Sufi thought provides a near equivalent to Zen, and to Vaisnava mysticism, and could easily have inspired a like visual art, notwithstanding that historically speaking, the Sufi point of view has found expression only in poetry and music and in the Persian love of gardens.2  This reflection will call to mind the aniconic and iconoclastic character of Muhammadan art: it would have been attractive to expound the sources of this attitude in certain aspects of Mazdean religion and the analogy which it presents with Indian and Far Eastern tendencies aniconic in effect.  It might have been shown, in particular, that the traditional Muhammadan interdiction of the representation of the forms of living things really involves no more than a confusion as to what is meant by "imitation," a subject which is discussed at some length below.  The Doctors of Islam held that the painter would be condemned on the Day of Judgment because in imitating the forms of life he has presumptuously reproduced God's work, but is not himself like God able to endow the forms with sentient life.  When we consider, however, the ideal character of the Indian or Chinese icon, which is not designed "as if to function biologically," it will appear that the use of such idols offends against Muhammadan doctrine only in the letter, not in the spirit; and, on the other hand, when we examine what has been said about art in India and the Far East, we find many and clearly expressed condemnations of the merely illustrative and illusionary aspects of art.3  Christian art, regarded by orthodox Muhammadans as idolatrous, in the same way by no means makes its criterion the likeness of any created things; as one of its exponents has said, "Naturalism has always and everywhere been a sign of religious decay."  Thus Muhammadan, Hindu-Buddhist, and Christian art all in reality meet on common ground.


            That Asia, in all her diversity, is nevertheless a living spiritual unity, was first and eloquently affirmed by Okakura in 1904.  This diversity in unity embraces at the very least one half of the cultural inheritance of humanity.4  Yet it is still customary in Europe to compile histories of art, aesthetics, or philosophy in general with tacit claims to universality, while in fact such works are restricted in contents to the history of Europe.  What has been learned about Asia remains at best a series of disconnected facts, apparently arbitrary, because not exhibited in relation to human will.  It will be self-evident, then, that the true discovery of Asia represents for the majority an adventure still to be achieved.  Without some knowledge of Asia, no modern civilization can come into maturity, no modern individual can be regarded as civilized, or even [be] fully aware of what is properly his own.  Not that Asia can have importance for Europe as a model - in hybrid styles, authentic forms are merely  caricatured, whereas a genuine assimilation of new cultural ideas should and can only result in a development formally altogether different from that of the original mode.  What Asia signifies for Europe is means to the enlargement of experience, means to culture in the highest sense of the word, that is, to an impartial knowledge of style; and this implies a better understanding of the nature of man, a prerequisite condition of cooperation.


            It must not be supposed that we can take possession of new experiences without effort or preparation of any kind.  It is not enough to admire only what happens to appeal to our taste at first sight; our liking may be based on purely accidental qualities or on some complete misunderstanding.  Far better to begin by accepting for the time being the dicta of competent authority as to what is great and typical in Asiatic art, and then to seek to understand it.  We must particularly remember that no art is exotic, quaint, or arbitrary in its own environment, and that if any of these terms suggest themselves to us, we are still far removed from any understanding of what is before us.  It is hard for most people to appreciate even the art of mediaeval Europe.  Edification and theology are so far from the interests of the majority that the once indivisible connection of religion with art is now conceived as an infringement of human liberty.  Moreover, to the modern consciousness, art is an individual creation, produced only by persons of peculiar sensibilities working in studios and driven by an irresistible urge to self-expression.  We think of art, not as the form of our civilization, but as a mysterious quality to be found in certain kinds of things, proper to be "collected" and to be exhibited in museums and galleries.  Whereas Christian art and the arts of Asia have always been produced, not by amateurs, but by trained professional craftsmen, proximately as utilities, ultimately ad majorem gloriam Dei.


            We approach the essential problem, what is art?  What are the values of art from an Asiatic point of view?  A clear and adequate definition can be found in Indian works on rhetoric.  According to the Sahitya Darpana, i.3, Vakyam rasatmakam kavyam;5 "Art is a statement informed by ideal beauty."  Statement is the body, rasa the soul of the work; the statement and the beauty cannot be divided as separate identities.  The nature of the statement is immaterial, for all conceivable statements about God must be true.  It is only essential that a necessity for the particular statement should have existed, that the artist should have been identified in consciousness with the theme.  Further, as there are two Truths, absolute and relative (vidya and avidya), so there are two Beauties, the one absolute or ideal, the other relative, and better termed loveliness, because determined by human affections.  These two are clearly distinguished in Indian aesthetics.


            The first, rasa,6 is not an objective quality in art, but a spiritual activity or experience called "tasting" (asvada); not affective in kind, not dependent on subject matter or texture, whether lovely or unlovely to our taste,7 but arising from a perfected self-identification with the theme, whatever it may have been.  This pure and disinterested aesthetic experience, indistinguishable from knowledge of the impersonal Brahman, impossible to be described otherwise than as an intellectual ecstasy, can be evoked only in the spectator possessing the necessary competence, an inward criterion of truth (pramana); as competent, the true critic is called pramatr, as enjoyer, rasika.  That God is the actual theme of all art is suggested by Sankaracarya, when he indicates Brahman as the real theme of secular as well as spiritual songs.8  More concretely, the master painter is said to be one who can depict the dead without life (cetana, sentience), the sleeping possessed of it.9  Essentially the same conception of art as the manifestation of an informing energy is expressed in China in the first of the Six Canons of Hsieh Ho (fifth century), which requires that a work of art should reveal the operation of the spirit in living forms, the word here used for spirit implying the breath of life rather than a personal deity (cf. Greek pneuma, Sanskrit prana).  The Far Eastern insistence on the quality of brush strokes follows naturally; for the brush storkes, as implied in the second of the Canons of Hsieh Ho, form the bones or body of the work; outline, per se, merely denotes or connotes, but living brush-work makes visible what was invisible.  It is worth noting that a Chinese ink painting, monochrome but far from monotone, has to be executed once and for all time without hesitation, without  deliberation, and no correction is afterwards permissible or possible.  Aside from all question of subject matter, the painting itself is thus closer in kind to life than an oil painting can ever be.


            The opposite of beauty is ugliness, a merely negative quality resulting from the absence of informing energy; which negative quality can occur only in human handiwork, where it plainly expresses the worker's lack of grace, or simple inefficiency.  Ugliness cannot appear in Nature, the creative energy being omnipresent and never inefficient.  Relative beauty, or loveliness (ramya, sobha, etc.)10 on the other hand, that which is pleasing to the heart, or seductive (manorama, manohara, etc.), and likewise its opposite, the unlovely or distasteful (jugupsita), occurs both in nature and in the themes and textures of art, depending on individual or racial taste.  By these tastes our conduct is naturally governed; but conduct itself should approximate to the condition of a disinterested spontaneity, and in any case, if we are to be spiritually refreshed by the spectacle of an alien culture, we must admit the validity of its taste, at least imaginatively and for the time being.


            Aesthetic ecstasy, as distinct from the enjoyment of loveliness, is said to arise from the exaltation of the purity (sattva) of the pramatr, which purity is an internal quality "which averts the face from external appearances (bahyameyavimukhatapadaka)"; and the knowledge of ideal beauty is partly "ancient," that is to say, innate, and partly "present," that is to say, matured by cultivation.11  This ideal delight cannot vary in essence, or be conceived of as otherwise than universal.  Apprehended intuitively, without a concept, that is, not directed to or derived from specific knowledge (Kant), id quod visum placet (St. Thomas Aquinas), and consisting, not in pleasure, but in a delight of the reason (nandicinmaya), it cannot as such be analyzed into parts, discoursed upon, or taught directly, as is proved both by the witness of men of genius and by experience.  In any case, the ecstasy of perfect experience, aesthetic or other, cannot be sustained.  Returning to the world, its source becomes immediately objective, something not merely to be experienced, but also to be known.  From this point of view, a real indifference to subject matter, such as professional aesthetes sometimes affect, could only be regarded as a kind of insensibility; the "mere archaeologist," whose impartiality is a positive activity far removed from indifference, is often, in fact, nearer to the root of the matter, humanly speaking, than is the collector or "lover" of art.


            The work of art is not merely an occasion of ecstasy, and in this relation inscrutable, but also according to human needs, and therefore according to standards of usefulness, which can be defined and explained.  This good or usefulness will be of two main kinds, religious and secular; one connected with theology, adapted to the worship and service of God as a person, the other connected with social activity, adapted to the proper ends of human life, which are defined in India as vocation or function (dharma), pleasure (kama), and the increasing of wealth (artha).  Even were it maintained that Asiatic art had never attained to perfection in its kind, it would not be denied that a knowledge of these things could provide an absorbing interest, and must involve a large measure of sympathetic understanding.  It is actually a knowledge of these things which alone can be taught; explanation is required, because the mind is idle, and unwilling to recognize beauty in unfamiliar forms, perhaps unable to do so while distracted by anything apparently arbitrary or capricious, or distasteful in the work itself, or by curiosity as to its technique or meaning.  All that man can do for man, scholar for public, is to disintegrate those prejudices that stand in the way of the free responses and activity of the spirit.  It would be impertinent to ask whether or not the scholar himself be in a state of grace, since this lies only in the power of God to bestow; all that is required of him is a humane scholarship in those matters as to which he owes an explanation to the public. Only when we have been convinced that a work originally answered to intelligible and reasonable needs, tastes, interests, or aspirations, whether or not these coincide with our own (a matter of no significance, where censorship is not in view), only when we are in a position to take the work for granted as a creation which could not have been otherwise than it is, are conditions established which make it possible for the mind to acknowledge the splendor of the work itself, to relish its beauty, or even its grace.


            If, then, we are to progress from a merely capricious attraction to selected works, possibly by no means the best of their kind, we shall have to concern ourselves to understand the character (svabhava) of the art; more simply expressed, to learn what it is all about, to comprehend it in operation.  This is tantamount to an understanding of our neighbor; he alone, for and by whom the art was devised, affords a valid explanation of its existence.  To understand him, we require not merely a vague good will, but also real contact: "Wer den  Dichter will verstehen, / muss in Dichters Lande gehen."  But the homelands of the Poetic Genius are often remote in time as well as space, and in any case mere travel on the part of those who have neither eyes to see nor ears to hear is rather worse than useless.  Generally speaking, one who has not been educated for travel, will never be educated by travel; he who would bring back the wealth of the Indies, must take the wealth of the Indies, must take the wealth of the Indies with him.  We are not making too great a demand; in any case the man of today can hardly be called educated who knows no other literature than his own, can hardly be regarded as a "good European" who knows only Europe.  The normal man, without proposing to become a professional scholar, or what is essential for research, to control any Oriental language, can obtain what he most needs merely from the reading of Oriental literature in the best translations (despite their inevitable shortcomings), and certain selected works by more specialized scholars.  As Mencius said in giving advice to a pupil, "The way of truth is like a great road.  It is not difficult to know.  Do you go home and search for it and you will have an abundance of teachers."


            I am well aware that an art requiring literary interpretation is now discredited; so for that matter is art in any way connected with human life.  However, the comparison is false.  We are not suggesting that study should be confined to a search for the literary sources of the themes of particular works, but that literature can provide the most readily available guide to an understanding of the entire background against which the art has flowered, and without which it could be regarded only as a tour de force.  We must in one way or another acquire a sense of terre a terre, if the art is to be a reality in our eyes.  We admit and repeat that the art of Asia requires explanation, nor is this a disparagement in any sense.  A man can expect to understand without effort and at first sight only the art of his own day and place; it is only the art of today that can be condemned as arbitrary or pathological if it remains impenetrable to the man of average intelligence and education.  Everyone does, in fact, understand the lines of motor cars and the subtleties of current fashions, contemporary dance music, and the comic strips; all of which seem difficult, abstract, and mysterious to an Asiatic not versed in these arts.  For the rest, it will be only a strictly naturalisitc art (to use a contradiction in terms) that can dispense with explanation; we can recognize a horse whenever we see it, in a film from Tibet or one from the Wild West, and if the Chinese language consisted entirely of onomatopoetic words, we should be able to understand a good deal of it without effort.  But the more absolute the beauty of an alien work, the more fully it is what it is intended to be, the less intelligible will be its functioning; but to call it, therefore, mysterious would be only to give a name to our ignorance, for such works were never obscure to those for whom they were made.  The alien work cannot even be approached as a phenomenon isolated from the life in which it arose; only when it has become for us an inevitable fact, born of human nature, having a given inheritance, and acting in a given environment, and through those very conditions enabled to achieve universal values, can we begin to feel that it belongs to us.


            "Who paints a figure, if he cannot be it, cannot draw it."  These words of Dante (Canzone xvi), utterly alien to the assertions of those who now maintain that art can be successfully divorced from its theme and from experience, are alone sufficient to establish a fundamental identity of European and Asiatic art, transcending all possible stylistic difference, and all possible distinction of themes.  But whereas Europe has only rarely and rather unconsciously subscribed to this first truth about art, Asia has consistently and consciously acted in awareness that the global is only reached when the knower and the known, subject and object are identified in one experience.  In European religion, the application of this doctrine has been a heresy.12  In India it has been a cardinal principle of devotion that to worship God one must become God (nadevo devam arcayet: Sivo bhutuva Sivam yajet).13  This is, in fact, a special application of the general method of yoga, which as a mental discipline proceeds from attention concentrated upon the object to an experience of the object by self-identification in consciousness with it.  In this condition the mind is no longer distracted by citta-vrtti, perception, curiosity, self-thinking and self-willing; but draws to itself, akarsati, as though from an infinite distance14  the very form of that theme to which attention was originally directed.  This form jnana-sattva-rupa, imagined in stronger and better lineaments than the vegetative mortal eye can see, and brough back, as it were, from an inner source to the outer world, may be used directly as an object of worship, or may be externalized in stone or pigment to the same end.


            These ideas are expanded in the ritual procedure which we find enjoined upon the images in the medieval Sadhanamalas.  The details of these rituals are most illuminating, and [,] though they are enunciated with special reference to cult images [,] are of quite general application, since the artist's theme can only be rightly thought of as the object of his devotion, his devata for the time being. The artist, then, purified by a spiritual and physical ritual, working in solitude, and using for his purpose a canonical prescription (sadhana, mantra), has to accomplish first of all a complete self-identification with the indicated concept, and this is requisite even though the form to be represented may embody terrible supernatural features or may be of the opposite sex to his own; the desired form then "reveals itself visually against the sky, as if seen in a mirror, or in a dream," and using this vision as his mode, he begins to work with his hands.15  The great Vision of Amida must have revealed itself thus, not withstanding that the subject had already been similarly treated by other painters; for the virtue of a work is not in novelty of conception, but intensity of realization.


     The principle is the same in the case of the painter of scenic, animal, or human subjects. It is true that in this case Nature herself provides the text: but what is Nature - appearance or potential? In the words of Ching Hao, a Chinese artist and author of the T'ang period, the Mysterious Painter "first experiences in imagination the instincts and passions of all things that exist in heaven or earth; then in a style appropriate to the subject, natural forms flow spontaneously from his hand." On the other hand, the Astounding Painter, "though he achieves resemblance in detail, misses universal principles, a result of mechanical dexterity without intelligence... when the operation of the spirit is weak, all the forms are defective"16 In the same way Wang Li, who in the fourteenth century painted the Hua Mountain in Shenshi, declares that if the idea in the mind of the artist be neglected, mere representation will have no value; at the same time, if the natural form be neglected, not only will the likeness be lost, but also everything else_ "Until I knew the shape of the Hua mountain, how could I paint a picture of it? But even after I had visited it and drawn it from nature, the 'idea' was still immature. Subsequently I brooded upon it in the quiet of my house, on my walks abroad, in bed and at meals, at concerts, in intervals of conversation and literary composition. One day when I was resting I heard drums and flutes passing the door. I leapt up and cried, 'I have got it.' Then I tore up  my old sketches and painted it again. This time my only guide was the Hua mountain itself".17


     Similarly in literature. When the Buddha attains Enlightenment, in yoga trance (samadhi), the Dharma presents itself to him in entirety and fully articulate, ready to be uttered to the world. When Valmiki composes the Ramayana, though he is already quite familiar with the course of the story, he prepares himself by the practice of yoga until he sees before him the protagonists acting and moving as though in real life.  As Chuang-tzu has said, "The mind of the sage, being in repose, becomes the mirror of the Universe, the speculum of all creation": nothing is hidden from it. Though the idea of literal imitation is in no way essential to or even tolerable to Christian art, it has played a large part in popular European views about art, and further, it cannot be denied that European art in decadence has always inclined to make of literal imitation a chief end of art. In Asia, however, views about art are not propounded by popular thinkers; and decadence finds expression, not in a change of principle, but either in loss of vitality, or what amounts to the same thing, excessive elaboration, rococo. It will be useful, then, to consider just what is meant in Asia by words denoting imitation or resemblance, used with reference to art, though the discussion will have a familiar ring for students of Aristotle. Just as in Europe, from the time of Aristotle onwards, "imitation" has had a dual significance, meaning (1) empirically the most literal mimicry attainable, and (2) in aesthetics the imitation of Nature in sua operatione (St. Thomas Aquinas), or "imaginative embodiment of the ideal form of reality" (Webster's dictionary); so in Asia, Sanskrit sadrsya, "resemblance", and loka-vrtta anukarana, "making according to the movement of the world," and Chinese hsing ssu, "shape-likeness", are used both empirically and in aesthetics, but with an essential difference.18


     As to Chinese hsing ssu, a multitude of texts could be adduced to show that it is not the outward appearance (hsing) which is to be exhibited as such, but rather the idea (i) in the mind of the painter, or the immanent divine spirit (shen), or breath of life (ch'i), that is to be revealed by a use of natural form directed to this end. We have not merely the First Canon of Hsieh Ho, that the work of art must reveal "the operation of the spirit (ch'i) in life movement," but also such sayings as "by means of natural shape (hsing), represent divine spirit (shen)", "the painters of old painted the idea (i) and not merely the shape (hsing)," "those [painters] who neglect natural shape (hsing) and secure the normative idea (i chih) are few," and with reference to a degenerate time, "what the age means by pictures is resemblance (ssu)". Thus none of the terms cited by any means implies a theory of art as illusion: for the East, as for St. Thomas, ars imitatur naturam in sua operatione.


     The proper connotation of these words as used in aesthetics can be deduced from the actual procedure of artists, already alluded to, from actual works of art, or from their employment in treatises on aesthetics. As to the actual works, we may be deceived at first sight. When Oriental art impresses us by its actuality, as in Japanese paintings of birds or flowers, in Pallava animal sculpture, or at Ajanta by what seems to be spontaneity of gesture, we are easily led to think that this has involved a study of Nature in our sense, and are too ready to judge the whole stylistic development in terms of degrees of naturalism. Yet, if we analyze such work, we shall find that it is not anatomically correct, that the spontaneous gestures had long since been classified in textbooks of dancing, with reference to moods and passions equally minutely subdivided in works on rhetoric; and that with all these matters the artist had to be familiar, and could not have helped being familiar, because they formed an integral part of the intellectual life of the age. We may say indeed, that whenever, if ever, Oriental art reproduces evanescent appearances, textures, or anatomical construction with literal accuracy, this is merely incidental, and represents the least significant part of the work. When we are stirred, when the work evokes in us a sense of reality akin to that which we feel in the presence of living forms, it is because here the artist has become what he represents, he himself is recreated as beast or flower or deity, he feels in his own body all the tensions appropriate to the passion that animates his subject.



BECAUSE theology was the dominant intellectual passion of the race, Oriental art is largely dominated by theology. We do not refer here only to the production of cult images, for which India was primarily responsible, but to the organization of thought it terms of types of activity. Oriental art is not concerned with Nature, but with the nature of Nature; in this respect it is nearer to science than to our modern ideas about art. Where modern science uses names and algebraic formulae in establishing its hierarchy of forces, the East has attempted to express its understanding of life by means of precise visual symbols. Indian Siva-Sakti, Chinese Yang and Yin, Heaven and Earth, in all their varied manifestations are the polar opposites whence all phenomenal tensions must arise. In this constant reference to types of activity, Oriental art differs essentially from Greek art and its prolongations in Europe: Greek types are archetypes of being, ding an sich, external to experience, and conceived of as though reflected in phenomena; Indian types are acts or modes of action, only valid in a conditioned universe, correct under given circumstances, but not absolute; not thought of as reflected in phenomena, but as representing to our mentality the informing energies to which phenomena owe their peculiarity. Historically, the latter mode of thought might be described as an improvement of animism.


     The corresponding Indian theory of knowledge regards the source of truth as not mere perception (pratyaksa), but an inwardly known criterion (pramana),19  which "at one and the same time gives form to knowledge and is the cause of knowledge" (Dignaga, karika 6) ; it being only required that such knowledge shall not contradict experience. We can make this doctrine clearer by the analogy of conscience (Anglo-Saxon "inwit"), still generally regarded as an inward criterion which both gives form to correct conduct, and is its cause. But whereas the Occidental conscience operates only in the field of ethics, the Oriental conscience, pramana, chih, etc., orders all forms of activity, mental, aesthetic, and ethical: truth, beauty, and goodness (as activities, and therefore relative) are thus related by analogy, not by likeness, none deriving its sanction from any of the others, but each directly from a common principle of order (rta, etc.) which represents the pattern of the activity of God, or in Chinese terms, of Heaven and Earth. Just as conscience is externalized in rules of conduct, so aesthetic "conscience" finds expression in rules or canons of proportion (tala, talamana) proper to different types, and in the physiognomy (laksanas) of iconography and cultivated taste, prescribed by authority and tradition: the only "good form" is sastra-mana. As to the necessity for such rules, which are contingent by nature, but binding in a given environment, this follows from the imperfection of human nature. Man is, indeed, more than a merely functional and behavioristic animal (the gamboling of lambs is not "dancing"), but he has not yet attained to such an identification of the inner and outer life as should enable him to act at the same time spontaneously and altogether conveniently. Spontaneity (sahaja) of action can be attributed to Bodhisattvas "because their discipline is in union with the very essence of all Buddhas" (Asvaghosa); Ching Hao's "Divine Painter", indeed, "makes no effort of his own, his hand moves spontaneously"; but short of this divine perfection, we can only aspire to the condition of the "Mysterious Painter" who "works in a style appropriate to his subject". Or as expressed with reference to the strictly ordered art of the drama, "All the activities of the gods, whether at home or afield, spring from a natural disposition of the mind, but all the activities of men result from the conscious working of the will; therefore it is that the details of the actions to be done by men must be carefully prescribed" (Natya Sastra II.5). Objection to such rules has often been made, ostensibly in the interest of the freedom of the spirit, practically, however, on behalf of the freedom of the affection. But ascertained rules such as we speak of, having been evolved by the organism for its own ends, are never arbitrary in their own environments; they may better be regarded as the form assumed by liberty, than as restrictions.20


     An admirable illustration of this can be found in Indian music. Here we have an elaborate system of modes, each employing only certain notes and progressions, which must be strictly adhered to, and each appropriate to a given time of the day or particular season: yet where the Western musician is bound by a score and by a tempered keyboard, the Oriental music is not written, and no one is recognized as a musician who does not improvise within the given conditions; we even find two or more musicians improvising by common consent. In China and Japan, there are detailed and elaborate treatises solely devoted to the subject of bamboo painting, and this study forms an indispensable part of an artist's training. A Japanese painter once said to me, "I have had to concentrate on the bamboo for many, many years, still a certain technique for the rendering of the tips of bamboo leaves eludes me." And yet a finished bamboo painting in monochrome, executed with an incredible economy of means, seems to be wet with dew and to tremble in the wind. It is only when rules are conceived of as applied in an alien environment, when one style, whether of thought, conduct, or art, is judged by another, that they assume the aspect of regulations; and those modern artists who affect Primitive, Classical, or Oriental mannerisms, are alone responsible for their own bondage. What we have said by no means implies that anybody else's rules will serve to guide our hands, but rather that in any period of chaos and transition such as the present, we are rather to be pitied for than congratulated on our so-called freedom. A new condition of civilization, a new style, cannot be said to have reached a conscious maturity until it has discovered the criteria proper to itself.


     Let us now consider how the doctrine of pramana can be recognized in art itself. We have seen that the virtue of art does not consist in copying anything, but in what is expressed or evoked. The conception of a naturalistic art, though we know what it means in popular parlance, represents a contradiction in terms; art is by definition conventional, and it is only by convention (samketa) that art is comprehensible at all.21  Oriental art, all pure art, though it uses inevitably a vocabulary based on experience (God himself, using convenient means, upaya, speaks in the language of the world) does not invite a comparison with the unattainable perfection of Nature, but relies exclusively on its own logic and on its own criteria, which logic and criteria cannot be tested by standards of truth or goodness applicable in other fields of action. If, for example, an icon is provided with numerous heads or arms, arithmetic will assist us to determine whether or not the iconography is correct, agamarthavisamvadi, but only our own response to its qualities of energy and characteristic order can determine its value as art. Krishna, seducer of the milkmaids of the Braja-mandala, is not presented to us as a model on the plane of conduct.22


     Where Western art is largely conceived as seen in a frame or through a window, from a fixed point of view, and so brought toward the spectator, the Oriental image really exists only in our own mind and heart, and is projected thence onto space; this is apparent not merely in "anthropomorphic" icons, but also in landscape, which is typically presented as seen from more than one point of view, or in any case from a conventional, not a "real" point of view.23 Where Western art depicts a moment of time, an arrested action, an "effect" of light, Oriental art represents a continuous (though, as we have seen, not eternal) condition. The dance of Siva takes place not merely as an historical event in the Taraka Forest, nor even at Cidambaram, but forever in the heart of the worshipper; the loves of Radha and Krishna, as Nilakantha reminds us, are not an historical narrative, but a constant relation between the soul and God. The Buddha attained Enlightenment countless ages ago, but his manifestation is still accessible, and will so remain. The latter doctrine, expounded in the Saddharmapundarika, is reflected in the sculptured hierarchies of Borobudur. It is impossible that the same mentality should not be present equally in thought and art; how could the Mahayanist, who may deny that any Buddha ever, in fact, existed, or that any doctrine was taught, have been interested in a portrait of Gautama? The image, then, is not the likeness of anything; it is a spatial, but incorporeal, intangible form, complete in itself; its aloofness ignores our presence, for, in fact, it was meant to be used, not to be inspected. We do not know how to use it. Too often we do not ask how it was meant to be used. We judge as an ornament for the mantelpiece what was made as a means of realization, an attitude hardly less naive than that of the Hindu peasants who are said to have converted a disused steam plough to new service as an icon.


     The Indian or Far Eastern icon (pratima), carved or painted, is neither a memory image nor an idealization, but ideal in the mathematical sense, of the same kind as a yantra;24  and its peculiarity in our eyes arises as much from this condition as from the unfamiliar detail of the iconography. For example, it fills the whole field of vision at once, all is equally clear and equally essential; the eye is not led to range from one point to another, as in empirical vision or the study of a photographic record. There is no feeling of texture or flesh, but only of stone, metal, or pigment; from a technical point of view this might be thought of as the result of a proper respect for the material, but it is actually a consequence of the psychological approach, which conceives God in stone or paint otherwise than as God in the flesh, or an image otherwise than as an avatara. The parts are not organically related, for it is not contemplated that they should function biologically; they are ideally related, being the elements of a given type, Ingrediens einer Versammlung wesensbezeichnender Anschauungswerte. This does not mean that the various parts are unrelated, or that the whole is not a unity, but that the relation is mental rather than functional.


     All this finds direct expression also in composition. Even in the freer treatment of still definitely religious themes, at Ajanta in Vaisnava (Rajput) painting, or in Chinese landscape, the composition may seem at first sight to be lacking in direction; there is no central point, no emphasis, no dramatic crisis, apparently no structure, though we are ready to admit that the space has been wonderfully utilized, and so call the work decorative, meaning, I suppose, that it is not offensively insistent. Similarly in music and dancing, where the effect on an untrained Western observer is usually one of monotony - "we do not know what to make of music which is dilatory without being sentimental, and utters passion without vehemence."25 The paintings of Ajanta, certainly lacking in those obvious symmetries which are described in modern text books of composition, have been called incoherent. This is, in fact, a mode of design not thought out as pattern with a view to pictorial effect; yet "one comes in the end to recognize that profound conceptions can dispense with the formulas of calculated surface arrangement and have their own occult means of knitting together forms in apparent diffusion."26


     Similar phenomena can be observed in the [sic] literature. Western critics, who often speak in the same way of pre-Renaissance European writing, express this by saying that in Asiatic literature "there is no desire, and therefore no ability, to portray charcter,"27 Take one of the supreme achievements of the Far East, the Genji Monogatari of Murasaki: Waley, who made an English version by no means satisfactory to Japanese critics, but still embodying some part of the wonderful grace of the original, points out that "the sense of reality with which she (the author) invests her narrative is not the result of  realism in the ordinary sense.... Still less is it due to solid character building; Murasaki's characters are mere embodiments of some dominant characteristic." The Genji Monogatari might be compared with Wolfram von Eschenbach's Parsifal. In each of these great works we do sense a kind of psychological modernity, and no doubt the narration is more personal and intimate than that of Homer or the Mahabharata. Yet the effect is not a result of accumulated observation, nor of any emphasis laid on individual temperamental peculiarities. The characters, just as in Oriental paintings, differ more in what they do, than in what they look like. Oriental art rarely depicts or describes emotions for their own spectacular value: it is amply sufficient to put forward the situation itself, unnecessary to emphasize its effects, where you can rely upon the audience to understand what must be taking place behind the actor's mask. Oriental art is not a labor-saving device, where nothing can be left out, lest the spectator should have to exert himself; on the contrary, "it is the spectator's own energy (utsaha) that is the cause of aesthetic experience (asvadana), just as in the case of children playing with clay elephants or the like" (Dasarupa IV. 47 and 50).


     Before leaving the subject of literature it should be observed that what we have called lack of emphasis or dramatic crisis is expressed also in the actual intonation of Oriental languages. In all these languages there is both accent and tone: but Oriental poetry is always quantitative, and so little is the meaning brought out by stress, even in the spoken languages, that the European student must first learn to avoid all stress, before he can rightly employ such stress as is actually correct.


     What has been said will also apply to portraiture, little as this might have been expected: here too the conception of types predominates. It is true that in classical Indian literature we frequently read of portraits, which tough they are usually painted from memory, are constantly spoken of as recognizable and even admirable likenesses; if not at least recognizable, they could not have fulfilled their function, usually connected with love or marriage. Both in China and in India, from very ancient times onward, we find ancestral portraits, but these were usually prepared after death, and so far as we know have the character of effigies rather than likeness.28 In the Pratima-nataka of Bhasa, the hero, though he marvels at the execution of the figures in an ancestral chapel, does not recognize the effigies of his own parents, and thinks the figures may be those of gods. Similarly in Cambodia and Farther India generally, where a deified ancestor was represented by a statue, this was in the form of the deity of his devotion. It is now only possible from an inscription to tell when a portrait is before us.


     The painted portrait functioned primarily as a substitute for the living presence of the original; still one of the oldest treatises on painting, the Citralaksana contained in the Tanjur, though it refers the origin of painting in the world to this requirement, actually treats only of the physiognomical peculiarities (laksanas) of types. Even more instructive is a later case, occurring in one of the Vikramacarita stories: here a king is so much attached to his queen that he keeps her at his side, even in Council; this departure from custom and propriety is disapproved of by his courtiers, and the king consents to have a portrait painted, to serve as substitute for the queen's presence. The court painter is allowed to see the queen; he recognizes that she is a Padmini (Lotus-lady, one of the four physical-psychological types under which women are classed by Hindu rhetoricians) and paints her accordingly padmini-laksana-yuktam, "with the characteristic marks of a Lotus-lady," and yet the portrait, spoken of nor merely as rupam, "a figure," but as svarupam, "her very form," is felt to be a true likeness. Chinese works on portrait painting refer only to types of features and facial expression, canons of proportion, suitable accessories, and varieties of brush stroke proper to the draperies; the essence of the subject must be revealed, but there is nothing about anatomical accuracy.


     Life itself reflects the same conditions. At first sight even the most highy evolved Asiatics look all alike to a Western eye, presenting the same aspect of monotony to which we have referred above. This effect is partly a result of unfamiliarity; the Oriental recognizes actual variety where the European is not yet trained to do so. But it is also in part due to the fact that Oriental life is modeled on types of conduct sanctioned by tradition. For India, Rama and Sita represent ideals still potent, the svadharma of each caste is an ascertained mode of conduct; and until recently every Chinese accepted as a matter of course the concept of manners established by Confucius. The Japanese word for "rudeness" means "acting in an unexpected way". Where large groups of men act and dress alike, they will not only to some degree look alike, but are alike - to the eye.


     Here then, life is designed like a garden, not allowed to run wild. All this formality, for a cultured spectator, is far more attractive than can be the variety of imperfection so freely shown by the plain and blunt, or as he thinks, "more sincere" European. For the Oriental himself, this external conformity, whereby the man is lost in the crowd as true architecture seems to be a part of its native landscape, constitutes a privacy within which the individual character can flower unhampered. This is also particularly true in the case of women, whom the East has so long sheltered from necessities of self-assertion: one may say that for women of the aristocratic classes in India or Japan, there existed no freedom whatever, in the modern sense.  Yet these same women, molded by centuries of stylistic living, achieved an absolute perfection in their kind, and perhaps Asiatic art can boast of no higher achievement than this.  In India, where the "tyranny of caste" strictly governs marriage, diet, and every detail of outward conduct, there exists and has always existed unrestricted freedom of belief and thought.  It has been well said that civilization is style.  An immanent culture in this way endows every individual with an outward grace, a typological perfection, such as only the rarest beings can achieve by their own effort (this kind of perfection does not belong to genius); whereas a democracy, which requires of every man to save his own soul, actually condemns each to an exhibition of his own irregularity and imperfection; and this imperfection only too easily passes over into an exhibitionism which makes a virtue of vanity, and is complacently described as self-expression.


            We have, then, to realize that life itself, the different ways in which the difficult problems of human association have been solved, represents the ultimate and highest of the arts of Asia: he who would comprehend and enjoy the arts of Asia, if only as a spectacle, must comprehend them in this highest form, directly at the source from which they proceed.  All judgment of the art, all criticism of the life by measurement against Western standards, is an irrelevance that must defeat its own ends.


EVERYONE will be aware that Asiatic art is by no means exclusively theological, in the literal sense of the word.  India knows, if not a secular, at least a romantic development in Rajput painting; China possesses the greatest landscape art in the world; Japan has interpreted animals and flowers with unequalled tenderness and sensibility, and developed in Ukiyoye an art that can be called secular.  Broadly speaking, we may say that the romantic and idealistic movements are related to the hieratic art, which is on the whole the older art, as mysticism is related to ritual.29  Allusion may be made, for example, to the well-known case of the Zen priest, Tan-hsia, who used a wooden image of Buddha to make his fire - not, of course, as an iconoclast, but because he was cold; to the Zen doctrine of the Scripture of the Universe; and to the Vaisnava conception of the world as a theophany.  But these developments do not represent an arbitrary break with hieratic modes of thought: as the theology itself may be called an improvement of animism, so Zen represents an improvement of yoga achieved through heightened sensibility, Vaisnava painting an improvement of bhakti through a perfected sensual experience.


     In a "Meditation upon Buddha" translated into Chinese in A.D. 420, the believer is taught to see not merely Gautama the monk, but One endowed with all those spiritual glories that were visible to his disciples; we are still in the realms of theology.  A century later, Bodhidharma came to Canton from southern India; he taught, mainly by silence, that the absolute is immanent in man, that this "treasure of the heart" is the only Buddha that exists.  His successor, Buddhapriya, codified the stations of meditation: but Zen30 was to be practiced "in a quiet room, or under a tree, or among tombs, or sitting on the dewy earth," not before a Buddha image.  The method of teaching of Zen masters was by means of symbolic acts, apparently arbitrary commands or meaningless questions, or simply by reference to Nature.  Zen dicta disturb our complacene, as who should say, "A man may have justice on his side and yet be in the wrong," or "to him that hath shall be given, but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that he hath." Logically inscrutable, Zen may be described as direct action, as immediacy of experience.  Still, the idea of Zen is completely universal: "consider the lilies," "a mouse is miracle enough," "when thou seest an eagle, thou seest a portion of Genius," illustrate Zen.  There are many Indian analogies: for example, our conduct should be like that of the sun, which shines because it is its nature to shine, not from benevolence; and already in one of the Jatakas (no. 460), the evanescence of the morning dew suffices to enlightenment.


            The sources of the tradition are partly Taoist, partly Indian.  One might say that the only ritual known to Zen is that of the tea ceremony, in which simplicity is carried to the highest point of elaboration: but Zen is equally demonstrated in the art of flower arrangement; Zen priests lead an active and ordered life, and to say, "this is like a Zen monastery," means that a place is kept in the neatest possible order.  After the tenth century it is almost entirely Zen terminology that is used in the discussion of art.  Perhaps a majority of artists in the Ashikaga period were Zen priests.  Zen art represents either landscape, birds, animals, or flowers, or episodes from the lives of the great Zen teachers, of which last a very familiar aspect may be cited in the innumerable representation of Daruma (Bodhidharma) as a shaggy, beetle-browed recluse.


            Zen, seeking realization of the divine nature in man, proceeds by way of opening his eyes to a like spiritual essence in the world of Nature external to himself.  The word "romantic" has been applied to the art only for want of a better designation; the romantic movement in Europe was really quite otherwise and more sentimentally motivated, more curiously and less sensually developed.  In Europe, Christianity has intensified the naturally anthropomorphic tendencies of Aryan Greece, by asserting that man alone is endowed with a soul: the more remote and dangerous grandeurs of nature, not directly amenable to human exploitation, were not considered without disgust, or as ends in themselves, before the eighteenth century.  Even then, the portrayal of nature was deeply colored by the pathetic fallacy; Blake had only too good reason when he "feared that Wordsworth was fond of nature."


            But from a Zen point of view, every manifestation of the spirit is perfect in its kind, the categories are indifferent: all nature is equally beautiful, because equally expressive consequently the painting of a grasshopper may be no less profound than that of a man.  The use of paint and animal forms as symbols goes back to very early origins in sympathetic magic: even in Asia the full comprehension of animal life represents the result of a long evolution in which the most ancient ideas survive side by side with the expressions of an ever-heightened sensibility.  The two points of view, symbolic and sympathetic, are clearly seen together in a statement on animal painting made by an anonymous Chinese critic in the twelfth century:


            The horse is used as a symbol of the sky, its even pace prefiguring the even motion of the  

           stars; the bull, mildly sustaining its heavy yoke, is fit symbol of earth's submissive

           tolerance.  But tigers, leopards, deer, wild swine, fawns, and hares - creatures that cannot

           be inured to the will of man - these the painter chooses for the sake of their skittish

           gambols and swift, shy evasions, loves them as things that seek the desolation of great

           plains and wintry snows, as creatures that will not be haltered with a birdle not tethered by

          the foot.  He would commit to brush-work the gallant splendor of their stride; this would

          he do, and no more.31


     The greater part of this exactly corresponds to Zen; the same point of view is clearly presented in India still earlier, in the poetry of Kalidasa and in Pallava animal sculpture.  Centuries before this the sacredness of animal life had been insisted on, but mainly from an ethical point of view.


     When at last Zen thought found expression in scepticism -


            Granted this dewdrop world be but a dewdrop world,

            This granted, yet. . . 32


there came into being the despised popular and secular Ukiyoye33 art of Japan.  But here an artistic tradition had already been so firmly established, the vision of the world so approfondi, that in a sphere corresponding functionally to that of the modern picture-postcard - Ukiyoye illustrates the theater, the Yoshiwara, and the Aussichtspunkt - there still survived a charm of conception and a purity of style that sufficed, however slight its essence, to win acceptance in Europe, long before the existence of a more serious and classical pictorial art had been suspected.


     In Asia, where at least a partial nudity is too familiar in daily life to attract attention, the human figure has never been regarded as the only or even as the most significant symbol of the spirit.  Works, indeed, exist in which the power and dignity of man and woman are sublimely rendered.  But even in India, the nude body is seen in art only when and where and to the extent that the subject requires it, never as a study undertaken for its own sake; even the dancer is more, not less, fully clothed than her sisters.  On the other hand, India has always made free and direct use of sexual imagery in religious symbolism.  The virtue (virya) of Isvara as Father of the world retains the connotation of virility, and is expressed in art by the erect lingam; the infinite fecundity of the Great Mother is boldly asserted in litanies and images that emphasize her physical charms in no uncertain terms.  The representation of "fertile pairs" (mithuna) originally conceived only as general instigations of increase, later more lyrically treated, is characteristic of Indian art from first to last, many mediaeval temples are outwardly adorned with series of reliefs adequate to illustrate the whole art of love, which has never in India been regarded as derogatory to the dignity of man.  Already in the Upanisads the physical ecstasy (ananda) of union is an image of the delight of the knowledge of Brahman: "As a man united to a darling bride is conscious neither of within nor without, so is it when the mortal self embraced by the all-wise Self knows neither what is within nor what without.  That is his very form" (BU IV. 3.2I).  In the later iconography, both Hindu and Buddhist, the two-in-one of manifested Godhead is imitated in the pure ecstasy of physical forms enlinked, enlaced, and enamored.


     In Vaisnava mysticism, the Indian analogy of Zen, the miracle of human love reveals itself in poetry and art not merely as symbol, but as felt religious experience; the true relation of the soul to God can now only be expressed in impassioned epithalamia celebrating the nuptials of Radha and Krishna, milkmaid and Divine bridegroom.  She who for love renounces her world, honor, and duty alike, is the very type of Devotion.  Moreover, the process of thought is reversible: in the truly religious life, all distinction of sacred and profane is lost, and the same song is sung by lover and by monk.  Thus the technical phraseology of yoga, the language of bhakti, is used even in speaking of human passion: the bride is lost in the trance (dhyana) of considering the Beloved, love itself is an Office (puja).  In separation, she makes a prayer of the name of her Lord; in union, "each is both."  The only sin in this kingdom of love is pride (mana).34  In Rajput painting the life of simple herdsmen and milkmaids is denotion (abhidha), the sports of Krishna connotation (laksana), the harmony of spirit and flesh the content (vyanjana).  These, operating in the media available, have made the paintings what they are.  If we ignore these sources of the presented fact, the painting itself "unique in the world's art," how can we expect to find in the fact any more than a pleasant or unpleasant sensation - and can we regard it as worthwhile (purasartha) merely to add one more to the abundant sources of sensation already available?  Art is not a mere matter of aesthetic surfaces.


     If we are to make any approach whatever to an understanding of Asiatic art as something made by men, and not to regard it as a mere curiosity, we must first of all abandon the whole current view of art and artists.  We must realize, and perhaps remind ourselves again and again, that that condition is abnormal in which a distinction is drawn between workmen and artists, and that this distinction has only been drawn during relatively short periods of the world's history.35  Of the two propositions following, each explains the other: those whom we now call artists, were once artisans; objects that we now preserve in museums were once common objects of the market place.


     During the greater part of the world's history, every product of human workmanship, whether icon, platter, or shirt button, has been at once beautiful and useful.  This normal condition has persisted longer in Asia than anywhere else.  If it no longer exists in Europe and America, this is by no means the fault of invention or machinery as such; man has always been an inventive and tool - or machine-using creature.  The art of the potter was not destroyed by the invention of the potter's wheel.  How far from reasonable it would be to attribute the present abnormal condition to a baneful influence exerted on man by science and machinery is demonstrated in the fact that beauty and use are not only found together in the work of engineers - in bridges, airplanes, dynamos, and surgical instruments, the forms of which are governed by scientific principles and absolute functional necessity.  If beauty and use are not now generally  seen together in household utensils and businessmen's costumes, nor generally in factory-made objects, this is not the fault of the machinery employed, but incidental to our lowered conception of human dignity, and consequent insensibility to real values. The exact measure of our indifference to these values is reflected in the current distinction of fine and decorative art, it being required that the first shall have no use, the second no meaning: and in our equivalent distinction of the inspired artist or genius from the trained workman. We have convinced ourselves that art is a thing too good for this world, labor too brutal an activity to be mentioned in the same breath with art; that the artist is one not much less than a prophet, the workman not much more than an animal.  Thus a perverted idealism and an amazing insensibility exist side by side; neither condition could, in fact, exist without the other.  All that we need insist upon here is that none of these categories can be recognized in Asia.  There we shall find nothing useless (fine art) on the one hand, nothing meaningless (decorative or servile art) on the other, but only human productions ordered to specific ends; we shall find neither men of genius nor mere laborers, but only human beings, vocationally expert.


            Asia has not relied on the vagaries of genius, but on training: she would regard with equal suspicion "stars" and amateurs.  She knows diversities of skill among professionals, as apprentice or master, and likewise the products of different ateliers, provincial or courtly: but that anyone should practice an art as an accomplishment, whether skillfully or otherwise, would seem ridiculous.36  Art is here a function of the social order, not an ambition.  The practice of art is typically an hereditary vocation and not a matter of private choice.  The themes of art are provided by general necessities inherent in racial mentality, and more specifically by a vast body of scripture and by written canons; method is learned as a living workshop tradition, not in a school of art; style is a function of the period, not of the individual, who could only be made aware of the fact of stylistic change and sequence by historical study.  Themes are repeated from generation to generation, and pass from one country to another; neither is originality a virtue, nor "plagiarism" a crime, where all that counts is the necessity inherent in the theme.  The artist, as maker, is a personality much greater than that of any conceivable individual: the names of even the greatest artists are unknown.37


            "What are the paintings even of Michael Angelo compared with the paintings on the walls of the cave temples of Ajanta?  These works are not the work of a man; 'they are the work of ages, of nations.' "   Nor would the biographies of individuals, if they could be known, add anything to our understanding of the art.  What the East demands of the artist, as individual, is integrity and piety, knowledge and skill - let us say order, rather than peculiar sensibilities or private ideals; for man is a responsible being, not merely as maker, but also as doer and thinker.


            In all these ways the freedom and dignity of the individual, as individual, have been protected in a way inconceivable under modern conditions.  Where art is not a luxury, the artist is on the one hand preserved from those precarious alternatives of prestige or neglect, affluence or starvation, which now intimidate "artist" and laborer alike.38  Where ability is not conceived as an inspiration coming none knows whence, but rather in the same light as skill in surgery or engineering, and where eccentricity of conduct is neither expected of the artist nor tolerated in him, he is enabled to enjoy in privacy the simple privilege of living as a man among men without social ambition, without occasion to pose as a prophet, but self-respecting, and contented with that respect which is normally due from one man to another, when it is taken for granted that every man should be expert in his vocation.


Notes and References


[First published in The Open Court, XLVI (1932), this essay was issued as a pamphlet later in that year in the New Orient Society Monograph Series (No. 2).- Ed.]


1.Eric Gill, Art Nonsense (London, 1929); and Jacques Maritain, Art and Scholasticism (2nd Eng. tr., London, 1930) ("art is an undeviating determination of work to be done, recta ratio factibilium").


2.[Cf. "Note on the Philosophy of Persian Art," in this volume, for Coomaraswamy's later views. ed.]


3.Cf. Sukranitisara iv.73-76: "One should make images of deities, for those are productive of good, and heavenward-leading, but those of men or other (earthly beings) lead not to heaven nor work weal.  Images of deities, even with lineaments (laksana) imperfectly depicted, work weal to men, but never those of mortals, even though their lineaments (be accurately showns)."


4.Strzygowski's division of Asia into North and South, and exclusion of the South (ZDMG, X, 1897, 105), seems to me to be based on a mistaken conception of the sources and significance of Mazdaism.  It is valid only to this extent, that whereas in India the development of devotional (bhakti) theism involved a predominance of anthropomorphic imagery during the last two thousand years, the Far East, had it not been influenced by the iconographic necessities of Buddhism, might have remained predominantly aniconic from first to last.  Thus Central and Far Eastern Asia (the "North") may be said to owe their anthropomorphic art to a movement of southern origin: but it has also to be remembered that an aniconic style of animal, plant, or landscape symbolism originated in a long pre-Aryan antiquity and was a common property of all Asia, and that this style has survived in all areas, the Indian "South" by no means representing an exception.


5.Kavya, specifically "poetry" (prose or verse), can also be taken in the general sense of "art."  Essential meanings in the root ku include wisdom and skill.


6.Sahitya Darpana iii.2-3.  See also. P. Regnaud, La Rhetorique sanskrite (Paris, 1884), and other works on the Indian alamkara literature.  It should be noted that the word rasa is also used in the plural to denote the different aspects of aesthetic experience with reference to the specific emotional coloring of the source; but the rasa that ensues is one and indivisible.


7.Dhanamjaya, Dasarupa iv.90. Rasa is thus quite other than taste (ruci.)


8.Commentary on BrSBh i.i.20-21.


9.Visnudharmottara xliii.29.


10.Sobha, for example, is defined in drama as the "natural adornment of the body by elegance of form, passion, and youth" (Dasarupa ii.53)


11.Sahitya Darpana iii.2-3, and Commentary


12.When Eckhart says, "God and I are one in the act of perceiving Him," this is hardly orthodox doctrine.


13.Yoga is not merely rapture, but also "dexterity in action," karmasu kausalam, BG ii.50.  The idea that creative activity (intuition, citta sanna) is completed before any physical act is undertaken appears also in the Atthasalini; See Coomaraswamy, "An Early Passage on Indian Painting," 1931.


14.The remote source may be explained as the infinite focal point between subject and object, knower and known; at which point the only possible experience of reality takes place in an act of nondifferentiation.  (Cf. One Hundred Poems of Kabur [tr. Rabindranath Tagore, New York, 1961], No. xvi, "Between the poles of the sentient and insentient," etc.).


15.From a Sanskrit Buddhist text, cited by A. Foucher, L'lconographie bouddhique de l'Inde (Paris, 1900-1905), II, 8-ii.  Cf. Sukranitisara iv.4.70-71, tr. in Coomaraswamy, The Transformation of Nature in Art, i934, ch. 4, "Aesthetic of the Sukranitisara." [See also "The Intellectual Operation in India Art," in this volume._ED.]


16. A modern teacher in a school of art would say, when the pupil's forms are defective, "look again at the model."


17. The extracts from Ching Hao and Wang Li are from versions by Arthur Waley. However, the character i, rendered as "idea," does not, as Waley makes it, refer to an essence in the object, but to the "motive" or "form" as conceived by the artist. The reference of "idea" to the object affords a good example of the misapplication of European (ultimately Platonic) modes of thought in an Oriental environment.


18. Sanskrit loka-vrtta and Chinese hsing are the equivalents of English "Nature", including human nature; an expression often used is "By means of natural shape (hsing) represent divine spirit (shen)".


19. English "measure", "mete," "meter", etc. are connected etymologically and in root meaning with pramana.


20. "Representations become works of art only when their technique is perfectly controlled" (Franz Boas, Primitive Art, Oslo, 1927, p. 8I).


21. Sahitya Darpana II.4. Dogs and some savages cannot understand even photographs; and if bees are reported to have been attracted by painted flowers, why was not honey also provided?

The conventionality of art is inherent, not due either to calculated simplification nor to be explained as a degeneration from representation. Even the drawings of children are not primarily memory images, but "composition of what to the child's mind seems essential"; and "artistic value will always depend on the presence of a formal element that is not identical with the form found in nature" (Boas, Primitive Art, pp. I6, 74, 78, I40).


22. See the Prema Sagara, ch. 34.


23. See B. March, "Linear Perspective in Chinese Painting," Eastern Art, III (1931). Cf. also L. Bachhofer, "Der Raumdarstellung in der chinesischen Malerei," Munchner Jahrbuch fur bildenden Kunst, VIII (1931).

The two methods of drawing, symbolic and perspective, though often combined, are really based on distinct mental attitudes; it should not be assumed that there really tekes place a development from one to the other, or that a progress in art has teken place when some new kind of perspective representation appears. The methods of representing space in art will always correspond more or less to contemporary habits of vision. But perfect comprehensibility is all that is required at any given time, and this is always found; if we do not always understand the language of space employed in an unfamiliar style, that is our misfortune, not the fault of the art.


24. A yantra is a geometrical representation of a deity, composed of straight lines, triangles, curves, circles, and a point.


25. A. H. Fox-Strangways, The Music of Hindostan (Oxford, 1914).


26. [AKC's note as first published indicates that the passage is quoted from one of the major works of Laurence Binyon, without further identification. - ED.]


27. [Similarly, the quotation is ascribed to arthur Waley, without further information. - ED.]


28. True portraiture, as remarked by Baudelaire, is "an ideal reconstruction of the individual." The Chinese term is fu-shen, "depicting character".


29  Perhaps it should be added, as relativity to Euclidean geometry.


30  Japanese Zen, Chinese ch'an = Sanskrit dhyama, a technical term in yoga, denoting the first stage of introspection, in Buddhist usage (Pali jhana) referring to the whole process of concentration.


31  Version by Waley. Italics mine.


32  A Japanese haiku: in poems of this kind, the reader is required to complete the thought in his own mind; here, "Gather ye rosebuds while ye may."


33  Ukiyoye means "pictures of the floating world"; the Japanese color print is its typical product.


34  Not mana, "measure," referred to above, but etymologically related to mens, "mental," "mind," etc.


35  Cf. G. Groslier, "Notes sur la psychologie de l'artisan cambodgien," Arts et archeologie khmers, I (1921-1922), I25, "La difference que nous fasions entre l'artiste et l'ouvrier d'art - toute moderne d'ailleurs - ne semble pas etre connue en Cambodge."


36  "That anyone not a silpan (professional architect) should build temples, towns, seaports, tanks or wells, is a sin comparable to murder" (from a Silpa Sastra, cited by Kearns in Indian Antiquary, V, 1876); cf. BG. III.35.


37  This statement is almost literally exact so far as sculpture, architecture, the theater, and sumptuary arts are concerned.  The chief exception to the rule appears in Chinese and Japanese painting, where a somewhat fictitious importance has been attached to names, from the collector's point of view.


38  On the status of the craftsman in Asia, see Coomaraswamy, The Indian Craftsman, 1909, and Mediaeval Sinhalese Art, 1999    (ch. 3); Sir George Birdwood, The Industrial Arts of India (London, 1880); Groslier, "Notes sur la psychologie" ("eleve et grandi dans le renoncement, . . . s'il est artiste, c'est pour obeir"); G. Groslier, "La Fin d'un art," Revue des arts asiatiques, V (1928); and Lafcadio Hearn, Japan: An Attempt at an Interpretation (New York, 1994), esp. pp. 169-171, 440-443.