Zen Buddhism and Mid-Century American Art
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This thesis is an explanation of the influence of the theoretical thought of Zen Buddhism on American art in the 1950s and 1960s. Zen Buddhism came to the United States through the efforts of Daisetz Teitaro Suzuki, a scholar on Buddhism, whose influence on artists and intellectuals of the 1950s led to an enormous amount of interest in the religion during that time. This influence led to a Zen boom and to a particular strain of Zen-inspired expression that the philosopher Alan Watts labeled beat Zen. Composer John Cage took Zen ideas and converted them directly into a meditation on the moment: 4'33. Abstract painters such as Mark Tobey, Ad Reinhardt, and Robert Rauschenberg painted emptiness as an expression of the elimination of boundaries. In the 1960s Happenings and Fluxus emphasized the importance of direct experience and Korean-born artist Nam June Paik broke through the limits of duality by both a minimalistic and maximalistic means. In the end their importance lay in the unabashed desire to experience the world without filter and show that directness through their art. Although the art world moved into different areas by the late 1960s, away from unmediated experience of the world, their emphasis on this issue was the grounding of much of their work and was an expression of that particular time in art and culture.