Philosophical Differences: Eastern And Western Approaches To Making Art

I am an artist with degrees in both Fine Arts and Science who, although exposed to Western values, was driven by life force to the Eastern way of perceiving and reflecting the world. In my numerous communications with fellow Western artists, including those I have encountered in my Sumi-e classes, I have found that the visual and philosophical differences between Western and Eastern art are not sufficiently understood. It is also important to note that I do not consider myself an expert in the subject matter, but a student who is on an infinite journey of exploring life and myself.

Dancing In The Sun by Lilith Ohan

Art in cultures has always represented the artist's reflection of the world he/she lives in. Throughout the centuries, the artist’s credo, i.e., his set of beliefs, has influenced his/her expression. The Western culture has been guided by the belief in an intelligent, judgmental creator, called God, a Superior Power who was always on the watch. This has alienated humans from nature and created states of inferiority. Accordingly, literature and art have depicted that state of human psyche, with great emphasis on worship and admiration of that superior power.

About To Leap by Lilith Ohan

In an effort to liberate themselves from the control of the omnipotent and omnipresent God, humans took a totally opposite direction and started to regard the world as an entity run by mechanical rules and lacking intelligence. In this world only humans possess intelligence and awareness. As a result, humans have taken the role of God into their hands, faced with the difficulties of assuming this powerful role, in an effort to give answers to the unanswerable. Where God was the judge, the individual becomes the authority. Trying to make sense of this, the world is seen in opposites: good and bad, right and wrong, black and white, disconnected from nature and lonely. This view is apparent in many works of Western modern art where you see the artist’s alienation from nature and his/her subjective and arbitrary interpretation of everything.

In the Eastern view, however, it is the Universe that is regarded as the intelligent force, and everything in it, including humans, as an integral part and manifestation of it. Where the Western tradition tends to view the individual disconnected from the Universe, in the Eastern tradition the individual is a vitally integrated part of it.

...Difficult and easy
bring about each other-

Long and short
reveal each other-

High and low
support each other...”
Tao Te Ching Verse2

Where in the Western view the world is seen in opposites, dual and separate in their nature, in the Eastern view those opposites are integral parts; they don't negate, but complete each other. This is the concept of yin and yang--if there was no ugliness there wouldn't be beauty, if there was no black, there wouldn't be white.

The goal of the Eastern individual is to dissolve the ego, to develop and cultivate inner values and understanding of one's true nature and experience it as part of the whole.

Remember Me by Lilith Ohan

Differences in techniques and approaches of Western and Eastern artistic expression can be understood only if these fundamentally different views are discerned. In the West, art is based on external values showing the detailed description of the subject matter as seen and experienced by the artist. Even paintings depicting the beauty of Nature are manifestations of the artist's technical skills, showing detailed description influenced by his/her own personal mood or ideas.

The Eastern artist is not preoccupied with Self. He/she does not try to depict the external descriptive qualities of the subject matter, but aims to understand the spirit, the essence and the inner meaning of it. Once the artist has comprehended the essence of the subject, he/she expresses this understanding with a seemingly effortless spontaneous gesture. As effortless as it seems, it is supported by extensive practicing of complex techniques .

Based on my familiarity with Western art, yet the affinity with the Eastern understanding of the world, in my artistic expression I have opted for Sumi-e (Japanese brush painting) style...with Western sensibilities.

“If we study Japanese art, we see a man who is undoubtedly wise, philosophical and intelligent, who spends his time doing what?... He studies a single blade of grass”  Vincent van Gogh

Lilith Ohan

  I am a Sumi-e, artist and teacher with Art and Science degrees. My life is inspired by oriental philosophies such as Taoism and Zen Buddhism, and my paintings and drawings are influenced by their teachings. In my Sumi-e paintings my pursuit is to render the spirit or chi in the subject matter rather than creating resemblances.

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13 Responses

  1. the world is seen in opposites: good and bad, right and wrong, black and white, disconnected from nature and lonely

    I think the stark difference is evaporating and people are sensitive of an expanding gray area. There are no easy answers anymore. Not at least among sensible people. A black/white class will always be there. I think the disconnect from nature is evaporating too as global warming and environmental issues are increasingly topping the priority list people want addressed.

    • That’s interesting to me Carl–that what we call opposites are actually part of the same scale. Yet we still see them as disparate.

      In society, one emphasis creates an “opposite” emphasis. So the “information age”, and all that that entails, is creating a longing for the “digital’s” opposite–that being a longing for the natural.

  2. elenaslc9 says:

    I found for myself a very interesting philosophy of art in this article. Thanks to you, Marcus, for keep involving me in this amusing group of your readers -writers.
    Thank you for Lilith Ohan for this article.
    The unity and struggle of an opposites – the most important
    part of the all trends an the world philosophy.
    That is why the discussion around this will be always very popular.

    • I like the way you phrase it Elena–“The unity and struggle”. I think the forces that make everything possible in our existence is probably made up of just that–unity and struggle. And struggle, though seen as such, is not a bad thing I don’t think.

  3. The quiet comes through in this sensitively written
    piece! Mindfulness, and the experience of being
    in the present…the experience of this minute or ten minutes
    of realizing how a stroke of ink can be the essence of a frog!

    I hope to practice more the gift of quiet and inquiry Lilith describes here in word and inked meditations.

    • I am trying so hard to be “in the moment”, especially when I’m with my two grand-boys. I can easily worry about everything I need to accomplish when I’m doing something else, but can there be anything more important than this? Maybe “trying so hard” is my problem! But I get so bored, easily, when I’m not in my brain.

  4. I enjoyed your blog. I do know many artists in Canada and the U.S.A. since I published art for twenty years.I have also traveled to many other countries, where I have toured galleries and studios. I know that the sculptures of Henry Moore are cold, but I visited Dali’s museum in Figaro Spain, Monet’s garden in France, and was a student of Shoji Hamada in porcelain, and I found that there was a cultural sharing of ideas and philosophy between the east and the west. Yes there is a huge difference when you view the styles where there is an extreme opposite, but I found wildlife and landscape artists to be very much in touch with nature, as even bronze sculptors of the old west themes. Separatism isn’t just cultural, it is of the mind of individuals who want it that way. Oneness is for those who see it.Many good returns to you, Cheers! Peter Daniels.

    • So flipping true–that separatism is in the mind of the individual! I think it is pride–and it manifests itself in many ways in society, not only the arts of course.

      “Oneness is for those who see it.” Worth repeating I think. Can there be oneness without humility?

  5. Lilith Ohan says:

    Thank you all for your thoughts and input. I would like to make it clear though that in this article I have put an emphasis on the differences in Eastern and Western way of creating. Myself being a follower of Eastern philosophies, I believe that there is never clear cut separation in anything . I talk about this in my post.
    There is indeed overlap in the ways of creating/seeing, based on different influences and on individual sensibilities of the artist.

    • Another interesting article Lilith–especially like the notion of “opposite yet mutually affirming forces”. I’m glad you came along in my life–sometimes we find what we need when looking for what we want (or think we need).

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  2. January 24, 2018

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  3. April 2, 2018

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