Fall 2023 Course Highlight | Transmitting the Flame: Zen & the Art of Insight

This fall, Professor Steffani Bennett will be teaching ART HIST 575/875 Transmitting the Flame: Zen and the Art of Insight | R 4:30–7:00pm| Instructor consent required to enroll, email: steffani.bennett@wisc.edu.Description: The notion of “Zen” art has always embodied an inherent paradox. As a sect of Mahayana Buddhism with a distinct doctrinal and philosophical tradition, Zen (Ch. Chan) espouses an ideology of “special” transmission outside the teachings, a form of intuitive, mind-to-mind dissemination of insight that theoretically eschews reliance on textual canons and religious icons. Nevertheless, as many scholars have noted, despite this theoretical stance, the Zen tradition has historically produced not only an abundant literary culture, but also given rise to a rich visual culture of objects and images. This seminar explores the constellation of artifacts and arts that have accrued within the physical and philosophical parameters of Zen Buddhism as it was practiced in China and Japan, from medieval to modern times. Over the course of the semester, we will consider a wide spectrum of material and contexts, including painting, sculpture, architecture, garden design, and calligraphy, to illuminate how these objects and sites reflected, enabled, and enriched the world of Zen thought and practice.