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Non-Western aesthetics

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Chinese aesthetics

Buddhist temple in the mountains, old copy after Li Cheng(Buddhist temple in the mountains, old copy after Li Cheng.)

Chinese art has a long history of evolving styles and designs. In ancient times, philosophers were already discussing aesthetics. Confucius (551-478 BCE) emphasized the role of arts and letters (especially music and poetry) in developing virtues and strengthening li (etiquette, rites), in order to get closer to the human essence. Challenging these arguments, however, Mo Zi argued that music and fine art were expensive and inefficient, benefiting the wealthy but not ordinary people.

In writings from the 4th century BCE, artists debate the purposes of art. For example, three works by Gu Kaizhi on painting theories are known. Several later works, written by literate artists, also deal with artistic creation. The influence between religion and philosophy on the one hand, and art on the other, was common, but not pervasive; thus in every period of Chinese history, it is possible to find arts that largely ignore philosophy and religion.

Around 300 BC, Lao Tseu formulates materialistic and aesthetic conceptions in connection with Taoism and the laws of nature. These conceptions are in obvious contradiction with the interests of the ruling minority.

The most important representative of the transition to medieval Chinese aesthetics is the first-century philosopher Wang Chong. It adopts a purely material substance, qi, as the principle of a natural evolution and as a fundamental characteristic of human perception. He thus regards the material world as the source of all beauty or ugliness; artistic truth comes from conformity with facts.

Cao Pi (187-226) followed these previous considerations, however he does not only include criteria of beauty, but also artistic forms. Xie He (479-502) embodied these ideas in the Six Principles of Painting: expressing the essence of life manifestations; the art of brush painting; the use of colors in accordance with the nature of the subject; the composition ; the concordance of the form with the real thing; imitation of the best examples of the past.

In the 11th century, the writer Su Shi drew attention to the role of inspiration and talent.

Despite the multiplicity of reflections, the evolution of Chinese aesthetics in the period that followed was strongly hampered by the weak development of the productive forces and the rigidity of social relations, in feudal or later forms.

Japanese aesthetic

Japanese aesthetics is the approach to aesthetic notions close to beauty or good taste in traditional and modern Japanese culture. Although this approach is considered in Western society primarily as a philosophical study, in Japan it is considered an inseparable part of daily and spiritual life. Through its religious aspects, Japanese aesthetics are strongly influenced by Buddhism. It is particularly developed in Zen Buddhism and chanoyu. The chanoyu has many aspects: construction, garden and use of plants, fabrics, kimono, pottery, bamboo crafts, calligraphy, foundry, cooking… Aesthetics are also evaluated through ideals, traditional such as wabi- sabi, mono no aware, iki, or modern such as kawaii.

Arab-Islamic aesthetics

Arab-Islamic aesthetics, or Islamic aesthetics, does not relate exclusively to religion, but to all thought of Islamic culture and context, and to religious and secular practices. For lack of texts, it is not possible to know the aesthetic theories of the pre-Islamic period. Islamic philosophers did not write works relating strictly to aesthetics, but in their discussions about God, they approach different debates whose themes (arts, beauty, imagination…) are studied today in this discipline.

Ideas about beauty were inspired from the 9th century, by Neoplatonic doctrines, notably those of Plotinus, with an Arabic text distributed under the name of Aristotle’s Theology, which influenced the philosophers Al-Kindi (801-873), Al -Farabi (872-950) and Avicenna (980-1037). These philosophers notably take up the distinction between sensible beauty and intelligible beauty, and the links with perception, love and pleasure. In The Virtuous City, Al-Farabi introduces the idea of ​​intelligible beauty into discussions of the names of God. He invokes the beauty and perfection of God, to justify the relationship of transcendence between perfection, beauty and pleasure. Human works are thus inherently imperfect (compared to those of God); over the centuries, there will be debates in Islamic society on the relevance of figurative representation in art. In his Treatise on Love, Avicenna further details the distinctions between intelligible and sensible beauty, and forms of pleasure or attraction, also considering psychological and spiritual elements. Avicenna affirms, for example, that the desire for sensible beauty can be a noble thing, as long as its purely animal aspects are subordinated, and the intelligible retains the faculty of influencing the sensible.

An important part of philosophical discussions concerns the arts, more particularly Arabic or Persian rhetoric and poetry. Inspired by the Greek commentators of Aristotle, this approach to the arts is less aesthetic than linguistic and logical. Philosophers wonder about the effectiveness of language, its linguistic mechanisms, its uses (religious, political), its cognitive capacities (to persuade, to make people imagine). The existence of rhetoric and poetry also remains essential for philosophers, in their explanations of the complementary links between religion and philosophy (Al-Farabi, Averroes 1126-1198).

Music is the subject of several interpretations according to the schools: if the ulemas consider it with a certain mistrust, the sufis grant it an important spiritual role. Al-Ghazâlî (1058-1111) devotes many pages to the effects of hearing music, poetry and prayer on the soul, and philosophers like Avicenna develop mathematical theories on sounds, related with the music of the spheres.

Hindu aesthetic

Aesthetic reflections, produced from the 8th century in India, have theater as their subject, which brings together several arts (dramatic play, poetry, music, dance). In the tenth and eleventh centuries, Abhinavagupta, in his commentary on the Abhinavabhāratī, synthesized aesthetics. The philosophy of aesthetics is a secular domain. Central to Hindu aesthetics, the concept of Rasa, Sanskrit for “essence”, “taste” or “flavor” (literally “sap” or “juice”), is attributed to Bharata and developed by Abhinavagupta, who refers to it as “essence of poetry”. This abstraction suggests that human feelings (each feeling corresponds to an artistic register) permeate the embodied forms. The rasa, found in theater and poetry, constitute the components of aesthetic experience. Wonder and bliss, superior to any daily joy, represent the essence of rasa. Causes and effects actualize permanent dispositions of mind, which result both from the experience (including artistic) of life and past lives. The combination of dramatic elements (in the theatrical work) thus makes it possible to awaken feelings, to make them rasa (these same dispositions are at the origin of ordinary feelings in a non-aesthetic conception).

Thus, the material of art has its own power to reveal the rasa, which leads to an experience of jubilation. Abhinavagupta compares theater to rites, in the arrangement of actions carrying power. This art is opposed to everyday life, to the satisfaction of a need or an interest where the limits of time, space and causality enslave consciousness. The time of aesthetic delight is the present, which corresponds to eternity. It is not a question of representing (a form of reiteration of the past), but of jubilant.

The term pratibh means both inspiration and sensitivity. It corresponds to ineffable perceptions. Bliss is the essence of consciousness accessed by the artist (yogin). Hindu aesthetics thus takes on a metaphysical dimension.

(Includes texts from Wikipedia translated and adapted by Nicolae Sfetcu)

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