Sunday, January 1, 2012

Jakuchu Ito

Two Gibbons Reaching for the Moon
Hanging scroll, ink on paper, Edo period, Japan
Kimbell Art Museum, Texas, USA

Jakuchu (1716 - 1800) was a Japanese painter of the mid-Edo Shogun period when Japan had closed its doors to the outside world. Many of his paintings concern traditionally Japanese subjects, particularly chickens and other birds. Many of his otherwise traditional works display a great degree of experimentation with perspective, and with other very modern stylistic elements.
He is said to have been very calm, restrained, and professional. He held strong ties to Zen Buddhist ideals, and was considered a lay brother.

Two Gibbons Reaching for the Moon, it plays an important role in coming to terms with the human condition. If you notice, the two gibbons are not reaching for the moon itself, but its reflection. Of course, many other philosophers have alluded to this phenomenon; cf., Plato, with his allegory of the cave in the Republic. As human beings, we naturally see things in a narrowing point-of-view. Some of us attempt to see the world as objectively as possible, given our human condition and the limitations of the body, but many seem quite satisfied viewing the world with blinders on.
This scroll represents all the best in Zen Buddhism, and really, all the best in most of western philosophy as well. As human beings, we will always have a limited ability to know anything empirically. But if we truly attempt to view the physical world, objectively, we may see the moon.