Blog Four by Taylor Simard

February 2021

Introduction to the Author

My name is Taylor Simard, and I’m a 20-year-old student living in Canada. I study at Carleton in Ottawa, and double-major in Humanities and Art History, which both follow my life-long passions for books and art, and I’m completing a minor in Biology.

I’ve learnt a lot throughout university. The humanities program boasts the fact that they produce thinkers like no other program can, and I believe they have good founding for that, as I prove it more and more myself every day. I started out my university career in only this program; I was in love within the first week. There’s nothing like studying the literature of ancient civilizations and realizing that they’re just as ridiculous and emotional and funny as we are today. There’s something special about realizing the creators of great works of art are just people responding to their circumstance, and I know I’ll never stop learning about the funny quirks of ancient people’s that make them geniuses through the lens of time. In my second year of school I added a major in Biology, I thought maybe I’d become a physiotherapist if my arts dreams never fleshed out, it was like my back up plan. I’m too passionate a person to rely on a back-up plan, though, and instead I found a second love; within the humanities curriculum there was an art history year-long course that covered the emergence of art to the contemporary. I feel in love all over again with studying art, and I decided to drop the biology major to a minor, since it wasn’t my passion, and add an art history major instead. All of this was a mess by my third year, but I still added the major, even though it meant I’d have to add another year to the end of my degree, which was undoubtedly worth it.

And now you’re all caught up. I’m living through my third year of university in the time of Covid-19, and it’s hard, really hard compared to the love that I found in a classroom, the ease of chatting with professors about silly things after a confusing class. But it’s getting better, we’re all figuring out how to learn remotely, and how to teach remotely, and how to find our happiness in studying remotely. The world isn’t going to go back to being the same after this, we’re going to have to learn and adapt, and it’s quite possible that I’ll have to finish my degree partially online, but we’re getting better, and hopefully, that’ll be okay. I know that me and my generation are stepping into the world and the workforce in a very uncertain time, but I have faith in the world’s adaptation to the virtual, and I know that I’m following my passions, and I believe that everything will work itself out.

Blog Four

            This semester I’m taking a class on Asian Art. This is incredibly interesting to me, because throughout my degree so far, the focus has been on Western art as

A Chinese Urn depicting the Daoist heaven, surrounded by seated Buddhas

the forefront of the artistic world. That’s not true though, and it’s evident as I study antiquity in Asia, because they influenced the west just as much as the west was influenced by them.

I came into this class having already learnt about Daoism, Confucianism, Buddhism, and Hindu; in my first-year humanities core class we studied these texts, and I thoroughly enjoyed them and wanted to know more about the cultures that were skimmed over in more Western oriented classes. That was my reason for joining the class, simply a desire to learn a little more, but that wasn’t what I found in my classmates. So many of my classmates were of Asian descent, and in the introductory discussion forum, many wrote that they were eager to learn more about their culture and ancestor’s art.

So far, we’ve explored the concepts of ancestor worship, and early Buddhism, as well as their paths of spreading and their differences throughout different parts of Asia. We learnt specifically about the different regional iconographies of depictions of the Buddha and his different lives and variants. All of these iconographies vary slightly, because as the religion reached a new area, it mingled with the pre-existing religious practices that existed there, like Daoism, for example, which was what Buddhism integrated with in China. In China, there were depictions of the Daoist heaven, with Buddhas integrated into it as enlightened ones who lived within that paradise.

A reconstructed stupa, worshippers would pass through the decorated gate to leave the material world behind as they enter the meditative space

Another variant was found in architecture. In India, where Buddhism originated, there were stupas which were large mounds that were undecorated, surrounded by a walkway and fence where worshippers would walk in the cardinal directions around the relics. In Japan, however, Buddhism was integrated

into Shinto, which lead to Zen Buddhism and featured natural imperfections integrated into architecture. To do this they followed the aesthetic of balanced asymmetry, meaning the buildings were different in their worshipping, often having two, one tall and skinny and one s

A Japanese house of dharma, where Zen Buddhism was practiced, showing the two central buildings in balanced asymmetry

hort and wide, but they would still feature the circular walking around the relics in the center of the building.

Learning these things helped students in my class to understand where their religions originated from. One student had posted about how she specifically wanted to learn about the Buddhist temples that her grandmother had spent time in, so getting to learn about this would have been wonderful, and I think everyone deserves that opportunity.

 

A Buddha depicted in the earth touching gesture, used to depict his moment of enlightenment

Learning about art may not be the most important part of these student’s university journey, but they chose to take an elective class to learn about their history, and that’s commendable to me, but I think that they should have been given the opportunity earlier, to begin with. Learning about art is important to individual growth, it helps to give people a sense of culture, of empathy, and understanding cultural movements. To do this we need to have a base to provide a wider education, instead of just focusing on learning about Western art as a basis.

The arts need to be accessible to underdeveloped countries as well, it needs to be considered a fundamental part of education, because it teaches people not only about their history and the creators within it, but it tells students that that cultural history is just as important to learn as math and science. That knowing their own history and myths and art is relevant, something worthy of teaching beyond stories in the home. As I’ve reiterated again and again throughout these blogs, virtual learning is the key to this. Art can be distributed and explained across all places, and it can allow people to learn about their own culture, as well as other cultures, seeing how they interacted with and influenced people in the past, thus creating bridges between people that might’ve thought they were quite different. In my next blog I’ll be addressing this, and explaining how art can help groups of people to come together and understand each other.