Sunday, December 25, 2011

Representation, Narration and Iconoclasm in the Zen Garden

by Drew Martin
I recently had the pleasure of meeting the director of the Mingei International Museum of folk art, craft and design in San Diego. Conversations about the museum's collection and then (less than two days later) flying over the Grand Canyon and other breathtaking western landscapes reminded me of a Princeton University lecture I watched/listened to online several years ago by Allen Weiss from the Tisch School of the Arts at New York University. Weiss went to Japan to study Zen gardens and became interested in tea ceremony pottery, the glazes of which he compares to the abstraction of aerial landscape photography and what the poet Gary Snyder called the 'gleaming calligraphy of the ancient riverbeds.' Pictured here is a detail of Fujisan, the world's most famous raku tea bowl, from the early 17th century by the potter Honami Koetsu, which captures the snow and fog on Mount Fuji. Weiss speaks of experience through a synesthetic matrix and Japanese aesthetics:
"Large revelations often occur in very, very small places and they are very often the result in a radical shift in scale and perspective.