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Understanding Zenga as Painting-Meditation

Bustin, Wayne (2023) Understanding Zenga as Painting-Meditation. Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) thesis, University of Kent,. (doi:10.22024/UniKent/01.02.102712) (Access to this publication is currently restricted. You may be able to access a copy if URLs are provided) (KAR id:102712)

Language: English

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This thesis constitutes a study of zenga, or ink-wash paintings created by Zen Buddhist monks that were used as a means of teaching, testing, and embodying enlightenment. They originated in China as Chan (Chinese Zen) paintings, but in the 13th century, local religious and cultural traditions influenced them to become a distinct art form in Japan (Addiss 9). More than artwork alone, these paintings are an expression of a Zen practitioner’s self-cultivation and vehicles for disseminating Zen teachings to the public. Given their purpose, non-monk practitioners rarely produced zenga. This research investigates the philosophical and aesthetic foundations of zenga, demonstrating how they function as painting-meditations for Zen monks to embody and teach enlightenment. The study is structured into six chapters.

Chapter One traces the history of Zen and the parallel history of zenga, introducing the philosophical, cultural, and historic influences responsible for zenga’s conception and utilization. Chapter Two examines the various modes of zenga, their structural origins in Chinese painting and calligraphy, how they function, and how the influences discussed in the previous chapter dictated their form. Chapter Three examines the artistic and aesthetic values of zenga, rooted in enlightenment, and discusses their appearance, use, and appreciation. It is argued that appreciation of zenga is particularly significant within the Zen arts, as viewers are believed to complete works of art through their own selfcultivation. The viewer and painter are meant to use zenga to support meditation and the realization of enlightenment. Chapter Four defines and analyzes enlightenment as the core concept expressed in zenga and argues that it is the chief and underlying aesthetic value. Chapter Five applies this analysis of enlightenment and demonstrates how it is embodied through zenga and how, through meditation, it can be realized. The final chapter, Chapter Six, reflects on the arguments presented throughout the thesis and suggests future directions for research inspired by this project. Each chapter addresses an aspect of zenga, viewing each aspect in isolation to better understand how enlightenment is manifested and ultimately spread through zenga.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctor of Philosophy (PhD))
Thesis advisor: Friday, Jonathan
DOI/Identification number: 10.22024/UniKent/01.02.102712
Subjects: N Visual Arts > ND Painting
Divisions: Divisions > Division of Arts and Humanities > School of Arts
Funders: University of Kent (
SWORD Depositor: System Moodle
Depositing User: System Moodle
Date Deposited: 06 Sep 2023 12:28 UTC
Last Modified: 06 Sep 2023 12:28 UTC
Resource URI: (The current URI for this page, for reference purposes)

University of Kent Author Information

Bustin, Wayne.

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