Buddha Amida (part 4) and Musings about kitsch

December 30, 2008

I have more detailed images of the Buddha Amida relief to share with you. From these details you will understand that my main request was to realize something beautiful – as simple as that. The world can be so ugly, especially when humans try to manipulate and dominate other humans for whatever reason. People hurt other people and when that happens everything beautiful is on the verge of disappearing. People in pain and desperation don’t have an eye for the pretty and beautiful things in life.

Although it is important to show both sides of the coin I decided that my main goal is to elevate the viewer and not to drag him down. There are already too many things which can drag you down each day. This does not mean that I do not address problem issues from time to time. But transforming the burden into a piece of creative work can save your soul from becoming addictive to pills or even worse – the therapist.

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In order to heal the soul it is necessary to realize that there is a different world out there. One alternative is to discover your natural environment if you are ready to open your eyes and if you don’t forget that there is a whole living cosmos outside your appointments and commitments. Real life does not take place in the office or in the gym, not in a bar and not in the movies. Life occurs in nature not in manmade installations. When you start watching other living beings besides your neighbours or collegues at work you will soon realize how fascinating this can be, how much there is to learn about real life and also how precious life itself is.

This cognition produces a whole lot of serotonin, bypasses depression and acts as an immediate stimulant for relaxation – in other words – go out for a walk, take the bicycle and your problems will go away for a while. And when you come home again you will have new energy to find a solution for your problems.

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But there is another alternative. Besides nature there is also a world of the spirit and images. Art is part of this world, which primarily does not deal with neccessities and the daily machinery.

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It is quite astonishing for how many people Buddhist depictions such as Buddha statues, wall hangings, represent – often subconsciously without really knowing anything about Buddhism at all – a world of contemplation, even if these “objects” are only decoration at first place. There seem to be a special magic in those depictions.

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I could not deprive myself from this magic. The consquence was a body of very distinctive work depicting Buddhist and Hinduist representations. Overall the tales and legends from the Mahabharata (Indian epos) and the Ramakien (Thai epos) are very vivid and reminiscent of our European fairy tales, sagas and legends. Gods and goddesses are displayed with ample human characteristics, which do not rank behind the human attributes such as cruelty, vengefulness and longings at all.

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Perhaps it is the liveliness which is so attractive for Europeans, the touch of the exotic, the foreign and unknown. In our western world many things seem to be so stiff and old, always moving along the same tracks. Much of the childlike phantasies have been lost. Asian characters love to play much more than European characters.

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While working on this paravent I had much fun. Especially working on the ornaments let the creative juices flow. The great variety of forms you can find in southeast Asian culture and art can hardly be excelled. Maybe it’s the tropical climate and the exuberant flora that breeds such effervescent ornamentation in the arts and crafts, which would be considered even kitsch here in Europe.

But what is kitsch? How is kitsch defined? And why for heaven’s sake is kitsch so very much frowned upon?
I found one definition that says: “Sentimentality or vulgar, often pretentious bad taste, especially in the arts” (The free dictionary). Another definition says “inferior, tasteless copy of an existing style”… “any art that is pretentious to the point of being in bad taste, and also commercially produced items that are considered trite or crass” (Wikipedia).

“Bad taste” is another “soft” term that can hardly be defined and depends on very personal views. Many products which are produced exclusively for tourism are considered kitsch and bad taste. Things which obviously are nothing but dust collectors and finally end up in the bin. Besides adding to the pile of rubbish of this world what’s really so bad about them? People buy it, collect it and have their fun with it. I think this is a harmless “crime” as long as it does not break any law.

Back to the affinity for Buddhist art and craft. I think the attraction comes from the longing for the foreign and completely different. It’s curiosity. And sometimes it’s simply the very special smile of Buddha that always seems to find its path directly into the heart no matter what religion you adhere to.

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(continued…)
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