Void Fuller than Matter

The ethereal character of Oriental art is not simply an aesthetic taste: it has a spiritual dimension. In Buddhism, every object or being is part of the cosmic whole, connected by an omnipresent energy that resides as much in physical things as in the empty space around them (Ma in Japanese) and in the silence. The invisible and the secrets space and silence contain hold more truth than the limited reality we can see, touch or hear.

Hence, Oriental landscape paintings are far from empty to the Buddhist viewer. The mountains and trees are not the focus of the picture; the apparent void between them is. The lightly silhouetted elements are only meant to outline the infinite surrounding space, this universal energy that wraps all things – the Ma – as the focus of meditation towards Enlightenment.

The still and vaporous landscapes of the East evoke the contemplation of Truth and Reality beyond the material, unlike the comparatively heavy, cluttered paintings of the West, which, by contrast, seem so devoid of spiritual meaning.

Landscape by Watanabe Shiko, 1683-1755

Photo: brooklynmuseum.org

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