I’m working on a art discussion question and need a sample draft to help me learn.
There are two-part to this question.
Below are images of two large scale sculptures of buddhas and the temples in which they sit, each created during a different era in Japanese history. Both are covered in Chapter 13 of your textbook so be sure to read about them before completing the assignment!
BUDDHA ROSHANA (VAIROCHANA), TODAI-JI, NARA
Buddha Roshana, Nara period, 8th century, reconstructed 17th century, bronze (53’)
The Great Buddha Hall (Daibutsuden), Todai-ji, original structure completed Nara period, 752, destroyed 1180, rebuilt and restored
JOCHO, AMIDA BUDDHA, PHOENIX HALL, BYODO-IN
Jocho, Amida Buddha, Phoenix Hall, Byodo-in, Heian Period, c. 1053, gold leaf and lacquer on wood (9’8”)
Phoenix Hall, Byodo-in, Uji, Kyoto prefecture, Heian period, c. 1053
Compare and contrast these sculptures with a focus on the experience of viewing each of them. Think of the spaces that they inhabit and the position of the viewer in relation to the sculptures. How do these experiences compare? What do the differences reveal about the different purposes for the works and the different contexts in which they were made?
(at least 250 words; 10 points)
Read through your classmates’ responses and engage with at least one of them. Is there anything you feel that they missed? Are there ways you could have improved your own response based on reading others’?
The first Buddha sculpture is located in Todai-ji and was first built in 752. The temple was “designed to impress” and is ranked as one of the largest wooden buildings in the world. Even with that, it is only two-thirds the size of the original eighth-century temple. Despite its smaller size, Todai-ji still engulfs the visitor and, as said in the textbook, “overwhelms the believer and nonbeliever alike with its monstrous beauty”. Inside the its temple resides the gigantic bronze Buddha. Buddha’s left hand is lying open in his lap and performs the gesture of welcome. His right hand has his palm facing outwards which expresses the wish to end suffering. This temple and statue would have those who visited it experience feels of wonder and awe. Additionally, with the Buddha’s hand placements, visitors would’ve felt safe and welcomed and I think that is a very important aspect for a religious building to have. Especially for those that visit with the intent of religious purposes, it must also be an extremely enlightening experience. In comparison, the second Buddha sculpture would accomplish the same feeling. The Amida Buddha is located in Kyoto on the banks of the Uji River in the Byodo-in temple. This temple overlooks a lotus-filled pond and depicts an earthly vision of Amida Buddha’s Western Paradise. In the textbook, it is described as “a perfect place to contemplate the pleasures of Amida Buddha’s Western Paradise.” The main difference between these sculptures is that the Amid Buddha more of a religious context behind it. As said in the textbook, “devotees believe that when a follower dies, Amida Buddha will descend from his Western Paradise to welcome the soul into Paradise.” So while these sculpture had similarities in the sense of a religious viewing experience, the Amida Buddha has definitely more centered around that.
The image below shows a detail from one of the most famous Japanese handscrolls, the Gaki Zoshi, which features hungry ghosts in a variety of situations. While beliefs regarding hungry ghosts differ over time and in different places, generally speaking in East Asian Buddhism these creatures are beings that exist in the human world but are invisible to humans. They have an insatiable hunger, usually for shameful things, such as rotting human flesh or feces. Typically, they are understood to have formerly been humans who are now being punished in this incarnation for actions (usually greedy actions) taken in their previous lives. Hungry ghosts are also sometimes understood to be the ghosts of people whose descendants have ceased to honor them by bringing them offerings.
‘Hungry Ghosts in a Graveyard’ from the Gaki Zoshi, late Heian period, 12th century, handscroll, ink and color on paper (103/4” x 12’52/3”)
So far, most of the Buddhist works we’ve looked at have been positive – that is, they’ve shown beautiful places and examples of ‘good’ beings – Buddhas, bodhisattvas, great monks and nuns of the past, the Buddha in his previous lives, etc., which the viewer is meant to look up to and emulate. This work is clearly different.
What do you think is the purpose of a work like this? What ideas is it meant to convey, what emotions is it meant to provoke, and what response is the viewer meant to have after viewing this work? How does the work achieve these aims?