Thursday, November 11, 2010

Review of "The Zen Art Book"

The Zen Art Book: The Art of Enlightenment
By Stephen Addiss and John Daido Loori

Reviewed by H. E. Davey

Paperback: 128 pages
Publisher: Shambhala; 1 Original edition (November 3, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 159030747X
ISBN-13: 978-1590307472
Dimensions: 8.9 x 7 x 0.5 inches
List price: $21.95 (US)

When a Zen adept, or indeed any artist, puts brush to paper, the ensuing image is a picture of the state of his or her psyche. Therefore in Zen, artistic expressions are “lessons,” intended to cause the viewer to pause and reflect on ultimate reality.

In this book, forty well-known examples of painting and calligraphy by celebrated Zen teachers such as Hakuin (1685–1768) and Sengai (1750–1837) are reproduced along with observations that shed light on both the artwork and its symbolism. In essence, opposite the photo of the artwork, readers will find remarks by the two authors listed as “Zen Commentary” and “Art Comment.” The writers’ essays at the beginning of the volume present a foreword to the artistic and educational aspects of Zen art.

Mr. Loori’s treatise Art as Teacher is especially valuable to anyone exploring the deeper meaning of art, but readers should realize that while Zen is often cited for using art as moving meditation, many people in Japan practice crafts like calligraphy as meditation, and they do so without any affiliation with Zen. In short, Zen does not have a monopoly on meditative Japanese art. With that noted, Zen certainly does have a lengthy tradition of integrating its philosophy with art, something this book explains well.

The ink paintings (sumi-e) and brush calligraphy (sho) in The Zen Art Book display elements that are at times insightful, impenetrable, serious, funny, and beautiful. Although bigger, more complete, and more beautiful books on Zen art are available, The Zen Art Book is less expensive than these works, providing a concise and effective introduction to this topic and an illuminating introductory essay by Zen practitioner John Daido Loori.

About the Reviewer: H. E. Davey, the Director of the San Francisco Bay Area-based Sennin Foundation Center for Japanese Cultural Arts, is also the author of The Japanese Way of the Artist, Brush Meditation: A Japanese Way to Mind & Body Harmony, Japanese Yoga: The Way of Dynamic Meditation, and other works. He is a direct student of the famed calligrapher Kobara Ranseki Sensei, and he holds the highest rank in Ranseki Sho Juku calligraphic art. His Japanese calligraphy and painting has been in numerous exhibitions in Japan, where he has received multiple top awards. For more information about H. E. Davey and his classes in Japanese arts and forms of meditation, visit