May 3, 2018

Zen Aesthetics

In recent posts I’ve written about  the Zen of Seeing as a mindfulness practice. Another way Zen figures into the quality of our seeing, and therefore our photography practice,  is that it offers a set of visual disciplines, or guidelines for aesthetic beauty.

Much of Japanese culture puts the value of beauty—the importance, articulation and incorporation of it—at the center of their daily practice. As a result they have perhaps created one of the richest frameworks for understanding beauty in it’s most expanded, timeless form as it relates to our physical environment.

ZEN can be an approach to life as well; subtly informing a way of being rather than a set of rules or dogma. At the heart of Zen is the need for personal awareness and the ability to see and discover fresh perspectives. Here are a few key tenets of Zen aesthetics:

WABI-SABI: The Japanese art of finding beauty in imperfection, accepting the natural cycle of growth, decay and death. Cracks, rust, patina, weathered wood. People.

KANSO: Simplicity, elimination of clutter, by way of clarity of expression.

SHIZEN: Naturalness, absence of artificiality, sponteneity.

SHIBUMI: Elegant simplicity, minimal. Less is more.

FUKENSEI: Balanced asymmetry or irregularity. Can be a more dynamic composition; speaks to the imperfection of life. This would be a strong argument for the use of negative space and ‘gaps’ in our compositions.

DATSUZOKU: Freedom from habit and routine. Certainly this speaks to the idea of ‘Fresh Eyes’.

SEIJAKU: Tranquility, calm, stillness, solitude. How can we bring a sense of calm, or energized stillness to our photographs?

I suggest studying these concepts and allowing them to inform your image making. And as a further bonus, I highly recommend The Zen of Creativity: Cultivating Your Artistic Life by John Daido Loori, a Zen Buddhist monk who founded the Zen Mountain Monastery in the Catskills in upstate NY, and recognized photography as a spiritual practice. It’s one of those books that I had to stop underlining passages, because every single one is a gem. I refer back to this book time and time again.

Have a beauty filled day!

You can also follow me on instagram @elizabethwattny for more insights into Seeing, Creating and Being. Please check out my upcoming workshops here.

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