THE THEORY OF ART IN ASIA *

Ananda K. Coomaraswamy

Tadbhavatu krtaârthataā vaidagdhyasya, Maālatiīmaādhava, I, 32 f.

In the following pages there is presented a statement of Oriental aesthetic theory based mainly on Indian and partly on Chinese sources; at the same time, by means of notes and occasional remarks, a basis is offered for a general theory of art co-ordinating Eastern and Western points of view. Whenever European art is referred to by way of contrast or elucidation, it should be remembered that "European art" is of two very different kinds, one Christian and scholastic, the other post-Renaissance and personal. It will be evident enough from our essay on Eckhart, and might have been made equally clear from a study of St. Thomas and his sources, that there was a time when Europe and Asia could and did actually understand each other very well. Asia has remained herself; but subsequent to the extroversion of the European consciousness and its preoccupation with surfaces, it has become more and more difficult for European minds to think in terms of unity, and therefore more difficult to understand the Asiatic point of view. It is just possible that the mathematical development of modern science, and certain corresponding tendencies in modern European art on the one hand, and the penetration of Asiatic thought and art into the Western environment on the other, may represent the possibility of a renewed rapprochement. The peace and happiness of the world depend on this possibility. But for the present, Asiatic thought has hardly been, can hardly be, presented in European phraseology without distortion, and what is called the appreciation of Asiatic art is mainly based on categorical misinterpretations. Our purpose in the present volume is to place the Asiatic and the valid European views side by side, not as curiosities, but as representing actual and indispensable truth; not endeavoring to prove by any argumentation what

____________________
*
[Reprinted by permission of the publishers, from Ananda K. Coomaraswamy , The Transformation of Nature in Art ( Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, copyright 1934, by the President and Fellows of Harvard College). Extensive notes have not been included here. The reference numbers following Chinese words are those of Giles Chinese-English Dictionary ( London: Quaritch, Ltd.).]

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