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Zen Thesis


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Published in: Design, Spiritual, Education

Zen Thesis

  1. 1. 禪 ZEN DESIGN IN JAPAN AND AMERICA Thian Lim - 1260022 Ger Bruens Ton Hoogerwerf ZEN EN DE KUNST VAN HET ONTWERPEN - IO3025
  2. 2. CONTENTS INTRODUCTION 3 ZEN 4 JAPAN 6 Zen Buddhism 6 Opposites in harmony 6 Chanoyu 7 Japanese dining 9 Twentieth Century 10 23 Preserving the past 11 Tatami 12 AMERICAN ZEN 16 D.T. Suzuki 16 Loewy’s Streamline 18 Modernistic movement 18 The International Style 19 Christopher Dresser 20 Frank Lloyd Wright 21 Final words 22 SOURCE LIST 23
  3. 3. INTRODUCTION Zen has been around for a very long time and has steadily been making its way to the West. The men and women of the modern world are becoming increasingly busy and they are multitasking away. Answering the phone while typing an e-mail, people are constantly in touch with each other. After a while you realize you have to get in touch with yourself and create a moment of peace and reflection. This might be the 23 Statue of Buddha. reason that Zen design has become so popular in the Western world. In this essay I will talk about Zen influences in Japanese product design and how this translated into American product design. Eastern culture has inspired and influenced the Western world for a long time and in a lot of different ways. It is more than natural that the design world would notice the arts and crafts of the East as well.
  4. 4. ZEN What is Zen? I have found that it is very hard to formulate an accurate and concise definition. I think Zen is a philosophy which helps people to get rid of the stuff you don’t need; your worries, fears, preconceptions and attachments so you can lead your life without pain and sorrow. What does Zen have to do with design? Zen is a philosophy which the Japanese artists and 45 people in common, all embrace Zen garden (karesansui) with typical and express through their products rippling sand, which represents the and actions. “No ceramic artist, can sea. attain excellence without intense concentration and complete sharpness of mind. Technique is important, but keen mental awareness is the most important of all.” Quoted from Hajime Kato, a potter who is one of the 33 Living National Treasures of Japan. This is exactly what Zen is about. Sharpness of mind and mental awareness are fundamental elements of Zen philosophy. By embracing Zen and it’s teachings, artists are able to create works of art which combine exuberance and simplicity into a harmonious whole.
  5. 5. Traditionally Zen design always has a sense of elegance and peace around it. It is the harmony that the design forms with its surroundings. Zen inspired buildings for example, always fit in the environment and complements it, rather than occupying it. Zen design has come a long way and today it can be seen everywhere, from architecture to electronics. 45 Creative Zen MP3 player.
  6. 6. JAPAN Zen Buddhism Buddhism was introduced in Japan in the sixth century. In this time a lot of monasteries were made and countless paintings and sculptures were made. Zen Buddhism was introduced in Japan during the Kamakura period (1185-1333). The search for enlightenment “in the moment” led to the development of other derivative arts, such as the “Chanoyu” tea 67 ceremony or the “Ikebana” art of Gonroku Matsuda - Lacquer box. flower arrangement. This evolution went as far as considering almost any human activity as a form of art with a strong spiritual and aesthetic content. Handscroll: ink and color on paper. Opposites in harmony Night Attack on the Sanjo Palace from the Illustrated Scrolls Its dedication to the beauty of of the Events of the Heiji Era. simplicity had a profound influence on the handicrafts arts of Japan. During my literary research, I found that although Zen is all about modesty and simplicity, many Japanese designs contained ornamental features. You might think that ornamental and simplistic design could never coexist, but the Japanese prove us
  7. 7. otherwise. The products from Japan always carry a sense of elegance and simplicity, bringing the two opposites together in harmony. In the lacquer box, you can see Raku, Shino and Oribe tea bowls. that the ornamental features are in harmony with the rest of the box. You can also see that only natural things are portrayed on the lacquer box. This is something you see throughout Japanese design. Often things like 67 flowers birds and other aspects of nature are used as decoration. This love for nature can be attributed to the Zen philosophy. A lot of Zen principles concerning aesthetics, embrace nature as inspiration. “Shizen” (naturalness), “Fukinsei” (asymmetry) and “Shin, Gyo, So” (harmony between man-made and nature) are principles based on nature. Chanoyu Along with Zen the custom of drinking tea came to Japan. The Japanese were introduced with tea by China in the Nara period, but they haven’t developed a passion for it
  8. 8. until the Kamakura period. This means that tea-drinking had become more popular now and so are the tea utensils and equipment. This development led to an encouragement of the Japanese craftsmen. In particular the potters and the makers of iron teakettles improved their techniques. Iron was considered the plainest of metals and thus it would fit perfectly into the Zen tradition. Traditional Japanese tearoom. 89 It’s texture harmonized with that of the pottery tea bowls. The tea bowls were the main accessories, but they were no more decorative than the teakettle or the room itself. So due to the influence of Zen the bowls were mostly sober of color. Also, perfect symmetry was never a goal (Fukinsei), the more rustic in fact, the better. Tea ceremony utensils. The Japanese tea tradition exhibits a lot of Zen influences. The traditional arts and crafts of Japan reflect a sense of beauty and the essential element of this beauty is the harmony between the apparently individual parts. The tearoom is a very good example of this. There are a lot of different separate things to be
  9. 9. seen in such a room; there may be a painting, flowers, utensils and tea bowls. All these parts are beautiful by themselves, but they come together in a broader and more spiritual design. Japanese dining Another good example of this kind of harmony is seen at a Japanese Typical Western porcelain dinner set. meal. The primary attraction for 89 foreigners at such a meal is usually the ritual of serving the food, and not the food itself. At a traditional Western dinner, all the dishes are of the same pattern and shape. They unmistakably belong to a set and any dish that looks different will seem like an intruder Typical Japanese dinner set. to the set. At a Japanese dinner however, there is a variety of designs, colors and shapes. The craftsman adds a touch of richness and gives the objects their own identity. The harmonizing factor here is the “spirit” of the craftsman that the dishes express. The pictures seen on this page show the difference between the two styles. The Western style is very clean and the dishes do not exhibit any emotion or identity. The Japanese style
  10. 10. however is very rustic and full of spirit. Japanese products always possess a beautiful balance between the exuberantly decorative and the elegantly simple. This approach of creating balanced products has a strong connection with Zen tradition. Zen is all about finding your balance in life and living the middle way. The Japanese have perfected the expression of this idea in their 101 products. Sometimes they did tend Modern Tokyo. to go towards decadence, but the Japanese always found their balance in the end and sought their true refinement in quiet elegant design. Twentieth Century Asakusa Shrine pagoda, Tokyo. In the Twentieth century up till now the Japanese design changed with time. In the past you had the more traditional arts and crafts which were based on the strong links that exist in Japanese culture between aesthetics, religion and everyday life. These traditional arts & crafts include ceramics, architecture, paintings, swords and many more. On the
  11. 11. opposite side of these more traditional arts are the consumer products of post-war Japan. These products are the result of the enormous success of Japan as a mass-producer. Using imported techniques, they developed a range of new products which competed with the rest of Sony TR55 transistor radio (first export the world. These Japanese products product from Sony). were based on low costs and functionality and this is exactly why these products were so successful. 011 The appearance of these products did not come from a specific visual scheme thought up by manufacturers. Instead, the technological and economic effectiveness aimed at foreign markets determined the appearance of the products. Preserving the past Canon PC20 mini copier machine. At first glance you might think that these two periods can never come from the same culture and share no connections. But the Japanese kept a lot of their beauty standards despite influences from the West. This made sure the link with the past has not been broken and there can exist a cultural
  12. 12. continuity. This continuity is visible in everyday Japanese life, for example in the way traditional dishes are served and the way small gifts are wrapped. This is also noticeable in areas where individual styling plays a big role, like architecture, fashion, graphic design and arts and crafts. This is not so much the case with technological products, where the designer is mostly an anonymous member of a big organization. Here, design is a part 121 of a very complex formula that also consists of marketing and sales. But even here the cultural values have ensured the preservation of Japanese aesthetic aspects, like compact Packaging: traditional (above) and design (see picture Canon PC20), modern (below). mobility, multi-functionality, attention for the smallest details and decorative use of functional components. Tatami This might sound like the West has influenced Japan in a way so the Japanese would produce products that would fit in a Western setting. What seemed like a Western influence on Japanese culture, is in fact just another
  13. 13. way of Japan to put its traditional culture in an international context. One of the most important trademarks of a Japanese house are the standard measurements, which originates from “tatami” floor mats. These tatami usually measure 180 by 90 centimeters. In the time of the Shoguns, one tatami was the surface area that one samurai needed to put his possessions away and sleep on. 213 Six-mat room with tatami flooring and The measurements and proportions shoji. of each room are defined by these tatami. This way of looking at design and shapes, looking from inside to the outside, from details to the bigger picture, had a direct impact on the products which contains a lot of parts. This means electronics like hi- fi equipment or cars for example are designed from another viewing point than the West was used to. Westerners are used to look at the whole product first and then the detailing. These standard measurements were also seen in for example the Kimono. In this context decoration is also important and in traditional Japanese design it has a symbolic
  14. 14. function. The rules of color symbolism is very structured, for example only children and youngsters are allowed to wear light colors. The patterns and designs on the kimonos are always derived and then stylized from nature. They are used for decoration as well as alternating the strictness and uniformity of shapes and proportions and accentuating attractive shapes of women’s bodies. During the Edo period (1602-1867), when the 141 merchants became powerful, the use of decoration and color increased. Art forms like kabuki theater and ukiyo-e, which gave a suitable expression to the “bourgeois” mentality of the Typical layout of a 4 1/2-mat tea room merchants. Although the materialism with attached Tokonoma and Mizuya. of these art forms contradict with the asceticism of Japanese life, this Pachinko hall. became a very important aspect of the twentieth century aesthetic. In the contemporary urban setting this is seen in the vast varieties of billboards and neon signs and the complicated “technological” appearance of electronic products. The Edo period had two important effects on the Japanese cultural development. Firstly the
  15. 15. traditional aesthetic rules were coexistence of Western and Eastern carefully preserved as a result from ideas. The existence of this originates the strictly controlled lifestyle of the from the way cultural values are kept majority of the people. The second and developed instead of replaced effect is the new flamboyant style by others. When for example Buddhism which came to blossom when the made its entry in Japan, Shintoism West was granted access to Japan remained alive. Japan has always for the first time. This new style was absorbed foreign elements and is used typical for all available merchandise to make strange influences their own. like fans, kimono’s, lacquerwork and all kinds of luxury items. Today, both the austere and exuberant 415 Japanese style directions are still alive. The simplistic style stems from the traditional culture; the exuberant style from the more popular aspects from contemporary Japanese urban life, like the “pachinko” halls (see picture). The contemporary Japanese design is still based on the traditional aesthetic. Although this is true, there is not just one style visible today. For centuries Japan has succeeded in combining two contrasting styles. One is very colorful, decorative, exuberant and inventive, the other is monochrome, contains straight lines, austere and sophisticated. Japan is a country of continuous dualism, which expresses itself in for example the
  16. 16. AMERICAN ZEN D.T. Suzuki In America, Zen is cool and it is fashionable. The term is so frequently used in popular culture, that it has become part of the vocabulary of the people. In 1983, Soyen Shaku introduced Zen to America for the first time. At the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago, he among some others talked about karma, nonviolence, an end to war, and 161 tolerance of other religions. At this conference, he met Dr. Paul Carus, who asked him to send someone knowledgeable about Zen Buddhism to the United States. Shaku, asked his student and Tokyo University scholar D. T. Suzuki to go to the United States, Soyen Shaku (1859-1919). where he would eventually become the leading academic on Zen Buddhism in the West, and translator for Carus’s publishing company.
  17. 17. Since then, Zen has gone through a Western evolution in America making American Zen a unique kind of Zen. One of the first and the one who would shape the modernistic movement, was Christopher Dresser. He succeeded in applying the Japanese Zen principles in the Western world. 617 Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki (1870-1966).
  18. 18. Loewy’s Streamline Raymond Loewy was born in 1893 in France, and he spent most of his professional career in the United States where he became very successful. One of his best-known designs, are the works he did for the Pennsylvania Railroad. To the right you can see a series of locomotives Raymond Loewy designed for the PRR. 181 His designs would set the standard in American product design. His streamlined design was a hit in popular America, and you would see it in almost every product imaginable. I think it is this over saturation of his streamline design, that people wanted a new kind of design. Modernistic movement People often overlook the fact that the modernistic movement was largely based on essential Japanese principles. These principles were for example their love for unprocessed materials, a preference for open spaces without partitioning walls,
  19. 19. showing the supporting structure and the use of standard parts. The Japanese emphasis on a standard unit as a base for repetition, and the economic use of parts, was of enormous value for the frontiers of the modernistic movement. In the Japanese culture they saw possibilities for a new aesthetic. The techniques that were involved with mass- Above: Japanese shoji production led to a standardization of 819 Below: Seagram building with glass parts, which would fit the Japanese windows resembling the Japanese methods of designing perfectly. screens. What these frontiers overlooked though, were the Japanese views on the importance of materials, craftsmanship and the spiritual and moral context of these aesthetic rules. The International Style As soon the West was introduced with Japanese Zen design principles, they embraced it immediately. The industrial revolution called for a new aesthetic that would fit the new way of making products. The term “less is more” that everyone probably knows about, comes from the Zen principle
  20. 20. called Kanso. This was very popular, because people became more aware of the environment and overdecoration was put to a halt. Simplicity and functionality became more important terms in American design. Christopher Dresser Christopher Dresser was one of the first to really utilize the Zen principles 202 in a way it would fit in the Western society. He was one of the fathers of The International Style. Dresser was a big fan of the Japanese culture and has spread it’s principles in the artistic Kettle (above) and teapot (below) by circles during the 1880s. In 1876, he Christopher Dresser (1834-1904). became the first European designer to be commissioned to visit Japan, which had reopened its borders in 1854, in order to view craft and manufacturing techniques for the UK government. Dresser stressed the importance of function, simplicity and mechanical skill, believing that industrial and scientific progress would lead to an entirely new design aesthetic. He showed a lot of influences from Japan, for example, he promoted a rational attitude
  21. 21. to design, based on appropriate materials combined with suitable and restrained ornamentation. He was one of the first professionally trained designers for machine production. Also interesting is that Christopher Dresser was for an equal status between the designer and the manufacturer. He was one of the first designers to imprint his signature next to the maker’s mark. 021 Frank Lloyd Wright House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright. Frank Lloyd Wright was born in 1867 in America, in Wisconsin. His mother raised him and wanted him to become an architect, so she steered him into a career in architecture. He came in contact with engineering, at the University of Wisconsin, without finishing his high school. After he worked for Joseph Lee Silsbee, he joined the Adler and Sullivan firm, where he worked under Louis Sullivan. It is here that Frank Lloyd Wright really developed his own style which would be copied all over the world.
  22. 22. Final words I noticed that when I was doing my research, Japanese and Western design are fundamentally different. While Japanese more or less always had the same aesthetic fundamental principles throughout time, the Westerners follow each other up with “better” design. Also the Japanese people think more alike, while the Westerners show a lot 222 of diversity and individual designers, who influence the design world in their own way. The Japanese show a stronger common design aesthetic. This may be the reason why it was more difficult for me to find information about American design as a whole than Japanese design. Contemporary American design and Western design in general has all been influenced greatly by Zen principles of Japan. It is a shame that many people are not aware of this fact and are oblivious to where modern design came from. I was also unaware of this, until I started this course, and I am glad to know about the origins of today’s design.
  23. 23. SOURCE LIST Literature Penny Sparke. Japanse vormgeving in de twintigste eeuw. 1st ed. De Bilt: Cantecleer, 1988. Ger Bruens. Form / color anatomy. The Hague: Lemma publishers, 2007. Gary R. McClain, Ph.D., and Eve Adamson. Zen Living. United States of America: Marie-Butler Knight, 2004. Masataka Ogawa. The enduring crafts of Japan - 33 Living National Treasures. 1st ed. Japan: John Weatherhill, 1968. 223 Widar Halén. Christopher Dresser. 1st ed. Great Britain: BAS Printers Limited, 1990. Internet TokyoDay/photo#5072332767182685474
  24. 24. displayPicture.asp?id=285&venue=2 24 TorontoCanada/photo#5093948016882408082 fallingwater-pictures/F1SW-fallingwater-in-fall.html
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