Eastern Philosophy and Western Art from Monet to Today
Jacquelynn Baas, with a foreword by Robert A. F. Thurman
University of California Press, $45, 312 pp.
In the twenty-first century there remains little doubt that Eastern philosophy and religion have impressed themselves deeply on the consciousness of Western artists. It is a global world, after all, and anyone who knows the work of composer John Cage, installation artist Robert Irwin, painter Ad Reinhardt, or musician and performance artist Laurie Anderson will not be surprised to read of their various immersions in Buddhism. In Smile of the Buddha, Jacquelynn Baas explores the ways in which these and other modern and contemporary artists are indebted to the insights of the Buddha. Finding a connection to the Buddha comes easily to contemporary artists-not simply because the Buddha’s smile is an original piece of performance art, as scholar and Buddhist layman Robert Thurman astutely points out in his foreward, but also because the Buddha’s search for enlightenment is a potent metaphor for the modern artist’s search to pass beyond a mere reproduction of reality toward the comprehension of a greater truth.
Unlike Christianity, Judaism, and Islam, Buddhism is not a revealed religion, as Baas notes in her excellent introduction, but a philosophy of living, “realized from within.” It traces its origins back five centuries before Christ to India, where Siddhartha Gautama left his privileged life to seek an answer to the suffering he witnessed in the world. After years of deprivation, he found the answer in...