Daoism in the West: Art and Architecture

Joseph Bertino, Joshua Malone, Kaitlyn Menefee, Ryan Pipan
April 14, 2012
 "If our youth seriously listen to such unworthy
representation of gods, instead of laughing at them as
they ought, hardly willing of them deem that he
himself, being but a man, can be dishonored by similar
actions- and instead of having any shame or selfcontrol, he will always be whining and lamenting on
slight occasions." (Republic 388d)
 The Painter is therefore three times removed from the
 "The art of imitation is a far cry from the truth. the reason
it(the painter) can make everything, apparently, is that it
grasps just a little of each thing- and only an image at that...
paint us a carpenter, he knows nothing of the man's skill
and yet he is a good painter, from a distance his picture of
the carpenter can fool children and people with no
judgement because it looks like a carpenter" (598b-c).
 "All in all, then, what people in this situation would take
for the truth would be nothing more than the shadows of
the manufactured objects" (515c).
 "Well I imagine that audiences and spectators can take
pleasure in beautiful sounds and colors and shapes,
and in everything which is created from these
elements but that their minds are incapable of seeing
and taking pleasure in, the nature of beauty itself"
 Uneducated and easily swayed led astray
 Art should be used for education of great citizens
 “…to imitate is natural to humans from childhood, so
also it is natural for everyone to take pleasure in
imitations” (On Poetics 1448b5-10)
 Often made solely for profit; an ends
to a means
 Void of truth, or underlying meaning
 Simulacrum  Mostly copies, with
no originals
 Only valued for entertainment 
video games, movies, cartoons
 To explain or reveal something deeper about the
relationship between mankind and the environment
 Not about profit or utility
 Illustrate an ultimate truth (the Dao), the secrets of
 Primary goal  capture nature’s spirit, rather than
imitate its physical characteristics
 Truly great artists reveal the subject’s inner qualities
 Energy, movement, essence, spirit
 qi (the manifestation of Dao)
 Woodworker Ching’s Bellstand
 From the Zhuang Zi, “For there to be life, a necessary
prerequisite is that it not be separated from the
physical form”
 Blank spaces indicate wu 无  nonaction
 Focus attention on main subject
 Allow the viewers mind to wander
 Often black and white  presence, absence
 Seeing largeness in smallness
 Man not the center, unlike Old Testament
 Rivers bend, weave  symbol of water
 Shan Shui  “mountain-water”
 Style of painting emphasizes nature, uses 5 elements,
in proper pairs
木 mu
火 huo
土 tu
金 jin
水 shui
 Too big!
 Imposes on landscape,
susceptible to natural
 Dominates the environment
 Depends upon many foreign
 In respect to Daoist principles pertaining to Chinese
architecture, a structure is considered an artwork that
is lived in
 Furthermore, the building should leave a place or
clearing for truth to reveal itself to its inhabitants
 Promote positive, orderly human relations
 This concept is absent in Western architecture due to
Le Corbusier’s “Machine Aesthetic Principle”
Charles-Edouard Jeannerette “Le Corbusier”
Believed architecture had to keep up with the
technological advancements of the time
Contemporary architects now needed to
1. incorporate industrial technology into
buildings such as plumbing and heating
2. Have the building’s aesthetics resonate
with contemporary technological
 The architect is now the artist
 The artist is inspired by the universal laws of nature
 Coincides with the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle in
that there is an abstraction of forms
 Forms are easily copied
 Corbu takes an abstraction of these forms into what he
calls “the architectural plan”
In the 19th Century, businesses wished to
maximize production
People held responsible for mass
production, and are products of mass
Unlike the Daoist conception of
architecture, buildings are not
necessarily artworks to be lived in.
Rather, they are like factories that house
human productivity
The machine aesthetic of these
buildings is easily copied and
Thus the shape and function of the
building is replicated from city to city
 The shape of a building should be based on
the intended the purpose and function of
the building
Corbu believed the plan in drawing up a
building is an austere abstraction
Form should not be restricted to what form
is supposed to do
Because the plan is very abstract, the
function of the building did not always work
Example  the new science center
The apparition of these faces in the crowd;
Petals on a wet, black bough.
-Ezra Pound
And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful,
and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and
have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of
the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the
earth. And God said, Behold, I have given you every herb
bearing seed, which is upon the face of all the earth, and
every tree, in the which is the fruit of a tree yielding seed;
to you it shall be for meat. And to every beast of the earth,
and to every fowl of the air, and to every thing that
creepeth upon the earth, wherein there is life, I have given
every green herb for meat: and it was so.
-Genesis 1:28-30
Heaven and Earth are not
They regard all things as straw
The sage is not humane.
He regards all people as straw
-Dao De Jing, 5
Tao is empty (like a bowl),
It may be used but its
capacity is never
It is bottomless, perhaps the
ancestor of all things.
It blunts sharpness,
It unties its tangles.
It softens its light.
It becomes one with the
dusty world….
-Dao De Jing, 4
 Building merges with site
 Form follows function…and nature
 Nature as model
 Borrowing
 Yin/yang
 Interior/exterior
 Man-made/natural
 Space is filled with qi
 Fengshui
 Geography, Climate, Aesthetics
 Cities and Houses
 Balancing qi from nature with bodily qi
 Harmony and Flow
 Superstitious?
 Practical!
 (Exploited)
 Understanding the reciprocal relationships between
nature and architecture:
 High and Low
 Protruding and Retreating
 Open and Closed
 Sunny and Shady
 Exterior and Interior
 South and North
 Scattered and Condensed
 A and ~A
When Man is born, he is
tender and weak.
At death, he is stiff and hard.
All things, the grass as well as
trees, are tender and
supple while alive.
When dead, they are withered
and dried.
Therefore the stiff and the hard
are companions of death.
The tender and the weak are
companions of life.
Therefore if the army is strong,
it will not win.
If a tree is stiff, it will break.
The strong and the great are
inferior, while the tender
and the weak are superior.
-Dao De Jing , 76

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