How do you define Art?

In the book Wabi Sabi: The Japanese Art of Impermanence by Andrew Juniper, the writer indulges the readers in a discussion on what qualifies something as Art.

Some observations –

  • “The scope of expression is so vast that no tangible barriers define the perimeters of what art is and what is just living. It has been suggested that everything we do, every gesture and every movement is in fact art..”
  • The term seishintouistu refers to the concentration of the mind and spirit on just one activity, and through this constant mental discipline the person is able to loose the dominance of the ego and become one with the activity.
  • The artistry is the result of a mind focused on the task in hand, whether it be polishing a floor, raking gravel, or cutting vegetables. By bringing the mind to bear on the here and now, everyday activities can take on profound meaning and in
    Zen these are considered key for the development of the mind.
  • This attitude can then transform the most mundane tasks into art. Zen teachers stress a state of mind called mushin, which could be likened to a state of total absorption in a task.
  • This concentration helps subdue the ego so that mind and body can work in a free, natural, and uninhibited way. This erasing of the importance of self is seen as key to producing art that is not tarnished with the hues of self-indulgence or self-promotion.
  • In other arts, too, the role of the artist is that of a medium rather than an individual.
  • This idea that the artist is not really the creating force is an underlying theme in the arts of Japan, and it is the supreme achievement of an artist to reach the levels where conscious effort and thought are abandoned to the dictums of the unseen forces that guide our lives.
  • It is therefore the spirit of the artist at the moment of performance that is the criteria by which art is judged in Japan.
  • From a Zen perspective, works of art that are done in moments of enlightenment are indeed mediums for others to grasp the ungraspable.
  • The three main functions that art serves fall into one of three categories: emotional expression, communication of ideas, or amusement—and some art may even satisfy all three at once.
  1. As an art based on a philosophy of disciplined nonmaterialism and nonrationalism, wabi sabi may be able to inject some  perspective on the unrestrained hedonism of today
  2. It is interesting to note that the ideas of taste advocated by Sen no Rikyu have remained almost unchanged for half a millennium, and the appreciation of wabi sabi doggedly remains despite the huge changes in culture and social values. Why has this style survived when almost all others of the same era have been relegated to art history? It may well be a testament to the fact that the beauty of wabi sabi will, because of its profound artlessness and purity, always strikes a chord in the spirit of man, affirming our insignificance in a world in constant flux.

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