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Dehejia, Harsha V., , Makarand Paranjape (eds.). Saundarya: The Perception and Practice of Beauty in India.
2003, Samvad India Foundation.
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Publisher’s Note: A peculiar feature of the classical aesthetic thought in India has been the emphasis on the art experience as a special state of being, defined not so much by saundarya or beauty as by ananda or beatitude. Yet, saundarya has been a crucial ingredient in the aesthetic experience, prevalent not only in traditional art objects but also in articles of daily life. The discourse of saundarya, as distinct from its experience, was however conducted by or on behalf of the cultivated aesthete and was carried out within the ambit of classical thought. In contrast, modernity, understood not merely as modernisation but as a departure from traditional modes of thinking and behavior, has opened new vistas of human experience and creativity, some of them in total opposition to traditional aesthetic norms. But even as modernity opens new discourses and initiates fresh debates on saundarya, we are reminded that the experience of beauty is a primal need, not easily overcome or substituted by another Can a renewed quest for an understanding the perception and practice of saundarya in India ensure that it is not relegated to the status of an archaic relic or curio, but restored as one of the bindus or foci of our lives?This volume, perhaps the first of its kind, is a unique contribution to the history of Indian aesthetic analysis. Its eminent contributors, ranging from aestheticians, linguistics, philosophers, historians, literary critics, art collectors, curators, performing artists, painters, and musicians of the highest calibre, are drawn from across three continents and diverse countries. Profusely illustrated, this visual and textual treat on the craft and culture of beauty in India, promises to be a collector’s item.

Comment: Wide-ranging volume on the concept of beauty (saundarya) in both traditional and modern Indian aesthetics. Includes essays on the ontology, expression, politics, and embodiment of beauty. This text is appropriate for a focused course or module on Indian or Asian aesthetics in which the students have some introduction to Indian philosophy and art.

Related reading:

  • K. Krishnamoorthy, Indian Theories of Beauty. Bangalore: Indian Institute of World Culture, 1981 (Transaction No. 53).
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Meager, Ruby, , . Art and beauty
1974, British Journal of Aesthetics 14 (2):99-105.
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Added by: Chris Blake-Turner, Contributed by: Christy Mag Uidhir

Abstract: The concept of beauty is itself still obscure to us; the power and the modus operandi of the beautiful is as mysterious, if not as terrible, to us as to Plato (unless indeed one allows Kant some credit here). But does it not have more to do with what we have chosen and valued as art through the ages of human production than individual sophistication, autonomy, originality, spontaneity, etc., in the artist? It.is not, after all, R. because Shakespeare is superior in these, or in political or practical wisdom, or in self-awareness, or in many-layered ambiguity, to, say, Dr. Johnson, that Shakespeare’s poetry is memorable and the articulate and learned Doctor’s is forgettable.

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Saito, Yuriko, , . The aesthetics of unscenic nature
1998, Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 56 (2):101-111.
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Abstract: Revolution in the aesthetics of nature often takes place when people start appreciating the parts of nature formerly regarded as aesthetically negative. One such example is the change in the aesthetics of mountains which occurred during the early eighteenth century. We are witnessing another revolution in this country which started a century ago. Its primary purpose is to overcome the pictorial appreciation of the natural environment, a legacy left by the picturesque aesthetics established during the latter half of the eighteenth century. The picturesque emphasis on vision as the vehicle for appreciating the natural environment has led us to regard nature as a series of scenes consisting of two- dimensional designs. This approach to nature has also encouraged us to look for and appreciate primarily the scenically interesting and beautiful parts of our natural environment. As a result, those environments devoid of effective pictorial composition, excitement, or amusement (that is, those not worthy of being represented in a picture) are considered lacking in aesthetic values. Consider, for example, John Muir’s experience of encountering two artists on Mt. Ritter in the High Sierras. Muir complains that they were satisfied only with a few scenic spots affording spectacular, startling views. However, other parts that attracted Muir, such as the autumn colors of the surrounding meadows and bogs, were “sadly disappointing” to the artists because they did not make “effective pictures.” Half a century later, Aldo Leopold echoes Muir’s complaint. “Concerned for the most part with show pieces,” Leopold claims, we are “willing to be herded through ‘scenic’ places” and “find mountains grand if they be proper mountains with waterfalls, cliffs, and lakes.” Because we expect to be entertained by the grand, amusing, and spectacular parts of nature (such as in national parks), we find the Kansas plains “tedious” and the prairies of Iowa and southern Wisconsin boring. Against such a common tendency, Leopold reminds us that “in country, as in people, a plain exterior often conceals hidden riches,” and urges us to develop the aesthetic sensitivity to penetrate the “plain” exterior to reach the hidden riches. The same sentiment is expressed by a contemporary painter, Alan Gussow. While not objecting to the popular appreciation of the “crown jewels” in the National Park system, he calls for “the cultivation of an ability to see beauty in more modest, less aggressive settings,” such as tidal wetlands and wildlife habitats. According to Gussow, their beauty is primarily based upon health and sustainability and is more subtle, less visible, than the grandiose splendor of the Grand Canyon, Yellowstone, or Mt. Rainier. Holmes Rolston III, a contemporary writer on environmental ethics, reiterates this concern for the common inclination to depreciate the scenically challenged parts of nature. In defending the positive aesthetic value of a rotten carcass of an elk full of maggots (not our typical example of scenic beauty), he advises against our tendency to look for pretty objects and picturesque scenes fit for a postcard. ‘At the beginning,” Rolston claims, “we search for something pretty or colorful, for scenic beauty, for the picturesque. Landscapes regularly provide that, but when they do not, we must not think that they have no aesthetic properties.”‘ In his recent writings on nature aesthetics, Allen Carlson also challenges the pictorial approach to nature. According to Carlson, considering nature as a series of landscape paintings is inappropriate, simply because that is not what nature is. This landscape model for appreciating nature “requires us to view the environment as if it were a static representation which is essentially ‘two dimensional.’ It requires the reduction of the environment to a scene or view.” Experiencing nature as a static, representational, two-dimensional scene, however, “unduly limits our appreciation …, it also misleads it.” Carlson claims that with a proper approach (to be specified later), even pictorially challenged natural objects would appear aesthetically positive, confirmed by the change of people’s attitudes regarding mountains, jungles, insects, and reptiles.

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Toshihiko Izutsu, , Toyo Izutsu. The Theory of Beauty in the Classical Aesthetics of Japan
1981, The Hague: Martibus Nijhoff Publishers.
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Publisher’s Note: The Japanese sense of beauty as actualized in innumerable works of art, both linguistic and non-linguistic, has often been spoken of as something strange to, and remote from, the Western taste. It is, in fact, so radically different from what in the West is ordinarily associated with aesthetic experience that it even tends to give an impression of being mysterious, enigmatic or esoteric. This state of affairs comes from the fact that there is a peculiar kind of metaphysics, based on a realization of the simultaneous semantic articulation of consciousness and the external reality, dominating the whole functional domain of the Japanese sense of beauty, without an understanding of which the so-called ‘mystery’ of Japanese aesthetics would remain incomprehensible. The present work primarily purports to clarify the keynotes of the artistic experiences that are typical of Japanese culture, in terms of a special philosophical structure underlying them. It consists of two main parts: (1) Preliminary Essays, in which the major philosophical ideas relating to beauty will be given a theoretical elucidation, and (2) a selection of Classical Texts representative of Japanese aesthetics in widely divergent fields of linguistic and extra-linguistic art such as the theories of waka-poetry, Noh play, the art of tea, and haiku. The second part is related to the first by way of a concrete illustration, providing as it does philological materials on which are based the philosophical considerations of the first part.

Comment: The authors clarify key aspects of what they consider to be the Japanese sense of beauty and artistic experience in terms of their philosophical structures. The first part of the book theorizes the major philosophical ideas related to beauty, while the second part is an illustration of these ideas by way of representative Japanese arts, including waka-poetry, n? drama, the art of tea, and haiku. This text provides a sophisticated overview of beauty in the classical Japanese aesthetics. It is accessible to readers without familiarity in aesthetics or Japanese philosophy, however it would be optimal for readers to have introductory knowledge in these areas.

Related reading:

  • Dōgen, Sanshōdōei. In Steven Heine, Japanese Poetry and Aesthetics in Dogen Zen. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 1989.
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Yoshida Kenkō, , . Essays in Idleness: The Tsurezuregusa of Kenkō
1998, Columbia University Press.
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Publisher’s Note: Despite the turbulent times in which he lived, the Buddhist priest Kenkō met the world with a measured eye. As Emperor Go-Daigo fended off a challenge from the usurping Hojo family, and Japan stood at the brink of a dark political era, Kenkō held fast to his Buddhist beliefs and took refuge in the pleasures of solitude. Written between 1330 and 1332, Essays in Idleness reflects the congenial priest’s thoughts on a variety of subjects. His brief writings, some no more than a few sentences long and ranging in focus from politics and ethics to nature and mythology, mark the crystallization of a distinct Japanese principle: that beauty is to be celebrated, though it will ultimately perish. Through his appreciation of the world around him and his keen understanding of historical events, Kenkō conveys the essence of Buddhist philosophy and its subtle teachings for all readers. Insisting on the uncertainty of this world, Kenkō asks that we waste no time in following the way of Buddha. In this fresh edition, Donald Keene’s critically acclaimed translation is joined by a new preface, in which Keene himself looks back at the ripples created by Kenkō’s musings, especially for modern readers.

Comment: The writings of Kenkō, a 14th century court poet turned Japanese Buddhist priest, reflecting on a wide range of ordinary and extraordinary subjects in the random style of zuihitsu (“follow the brush”) Japanese composition. His essays were highly influential on Japanese aesthetics, especially the value placed on impermanent, irregular, and imperfect beauty, and the place of understatedness in a turbulent world. This text is best accessed by a reader with a basic understanding of Japanese aesthetics and Buddhism.

Related reading:

  • Robert E. Carter The Japanese Arts and Self-Cultivation. Albany: State University of New York Press, 2008.
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