Undergraduate Degree

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DD8011

DD8011 Aesthetic Manifestations of Buddhist Devotion & Practice

 

[Lectures: 26 hours; Tutorials: 13 hours Pre-requisites: Nil; Academic Unit: 3.0] 

 

Academic Unit                         :           3 AU

 

Pre-requisite                            :           Nil

 

Course Description                 :

 

This course builds on and develops knowledge and theoretical skills acquired from Histories of Art II and III. It allows students acquainted with Buddhist art to deepen and widen their knowledge on the topic and to acquire critical frameworks for rethinking prevailing canons of Buddhist art. It covers a selection of artefacts, sites and works of art from over two millennia from ca 300BCE to the 21st century. The geographical scope echoes the internationalisation of Buddhism, from South Asia to the Far East and Southeast Asia since the first millennium, followed by the Western world since the last half-century. The exploration of Buddhist artefacts and sites from the premodern to the contemporary is concurrent with the critical study of modern theoretical frameworks imposed on these aesthetic manifestations of Buddhist devotion and practice. Strategies to circumvent their inadequacies will be proposed and tested.

 

Learning Objective

This course seeks to familiarise students with the highlights of Buddhist art over two millennia, as well as the art historical tools of analysis and frameworks applied to their study. Through the investigation of its theoretical arsenal’s strengths and weaknesses, it initiates critical approaches to seeing, understanding, experiencing and discoursing on Buddhist art. Students will be guided to rethink the construct of “Buddhist art” and to propose adapted theoretical frameworks which demonstrate sensitivity to the DNA of these aesthetic manifestations of devotion and spiritual practice.

 

Content

This course is an advanced-level critical study of Buddhist art on:

  1. Buddhist painting, sculpture, architecture, installation, performance art and new media art from 300BCE to the 21st century;

  2. Modern theoretical tools and frameworks of Buddhist art history;

  3. Ancient textual sources for the reconfiguration of “Buddhist art”; and

  4. Strategies to circumvent the inadequacies of a colonial “Buddhist art”

 

 


Course Outline

Wk

Topic

Lecture Hours

Tutorial Hours

1

Introduction

2

1

2

Fieldtrip to Asian Civilisations Museum & National Gallery Singapore:

Reflections on Aesthetic Manifestations of Buddhist Devotion & Devotion, Then & Now

2

1

3

What is a Buddha image?

Images: Sarnath, Gandhara, Pyu, Dvaravati, Srivijaya, Pala, Borobudur, Angkor, Bayon, Sukhothai, Longmen, Dunhuang, popular cult images, …

Texts: A. Foucher vs A. Coomaraswamy, …

2

1

4

Pictorial Narratives of the Buddha’s Lives

Images: Sanchi, Bharhut, Amaravati, Gandhara, Ajanta, Bagan, the Silk Road, Dunhuang, Ayutthaya, Bangkok, …

Texts: V. Dehejia & emerging Southeast Asian scholars, …

2

1

5

What is an (an)iconic symbol of the Buddha?

Images: Sanchi, Bharhut, Amaravati, Zen

Texts: D. Seckel, …

2

1

6

Buddhist Cosmoses

Images: Buddhas, bodhisattvas, arhats, gods & goddesses; mandalas, temple-mountains, temple-caves, stupas, …

Texts: Theravada, Mahayana & Vajrayana Buddhisms

2

1

7

Historiography of a Colonial Construct of “Buddhist Art”

Stories of the rise of Indian archaeology & Buddhist studies in the 19th and 20th century

2

1

8

What Scholars of Buddhism Have to Say About Buddhist Art

Historians, epigraphists, philologists, buddhologists & ethnographers

2

1

9

What Ancient Indian Treatises Have to Say About Buddhist Art

Citrasu

tras, Theravada & Mahayana sutras, …

2

1

10

Experiencing “Magic” through Technologies of Spiritual Transformation

Images: Meditation, mandalas & mantras

Texts: Buddhist tantric masters, physicists & neurologists, …

2

1

11

Fabrication & Reception

Media, ritual, perception,

Texts: J. Kinnard, darshan, …

2

1

12

Sites & Agencies

Patrons, craftsmen, devotees, curators, collectors; temples, museums, pilgrimage sites, …

2

1

13

New Bodies for the Three Jewels of Buddha, Dharma & Sangha

Performance, installation, new media art, …

2

1

 

Learning Outcome

Students will be equipped with an overview of the key works of Buddhist art from ca 300 BCE to the present, as well as the theoretical tools and discourses that have framed their reception. They will be initiated to critical ways of engaging with Buddhist art.

 

Student Assessment

Students will be assessed by:

Continuous assessment (100%)

  1. Written Assignment. Students are expected to respond to an essay question requiring them to make comparative studies of Buddhist art or/and art histories (35%)

  2. Oral presentation. Students are expected to make a 20-minute illustrated presentation of their analysis of a Buddhist artefact or site (35%)

  3. Visual Memory Exercise. Each week, students are expected to identify the name of artist, style, provenance and/or date of a selection of images seen in the previous class (15%)

  4. Class participation (15%)

 

Textbooks/References

Coomaraswamy, Ananda Kentish. The Origin of the Buddha Image. New Delhi: Munshiram Manoharlal, 2001.

Guy, John (ed.). Lost Kingdoms: Hindu-Buddhist Sculpture of Early Southeast Asia. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2014

Seckel, Dietrich. Before and Beyond the Image: Aniconic Symbolism in Buddhist Art. Zürich: Artibus Asiae Publishers, 2004.