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The Art of Death Asian Style

Dramatically Different from Western Ideas

In the art of death (meaning art that focuses on the theme of death), its obvious that there is a remarkable overall contrast between how Asian and Western cultures view death. These differences are a reflection of the almost opposite outlooks that the two cultures hold regarding life itself. Since most readers of this article are likely to come from Western culture, it is interesting and useful to consider why Asian art dealing with death differs so markedly, from what Western art offers on the topic.

Many Asian cultures recognize death as a transition, not a lossTo begin our quest into this topic, let us start with an overview of how the two traditions treat death in art.

In the art of death, Western style, macabre images of the grim reaper, skeletons and disfigured humans are often the main attraction. These representations of death are inspired by age-old biblical interpretations (from the likes of Milton and his “Paradise Lost”). And, typically being horrific, they come from Western society’s general fear of death, an attitude that stem’s from Christianity’s idea of death being a punishment for the Original Sin.

When death does not appear as a horrifying character in Western style art, it usually comes as the opposite – peaceful images of heavenly, eternal peace, offering the type of comfort that cannot be experienced in life. This idea, again, comes from biblical interpretations of what the best of afterlife is like.

No matter which of these depictions of death, Western Style art is considerably different on a number of fronts from the art of death Asian style.

Asian style art depicts death as something that should be aspired toAsian style art tends to avoid depicting death as an entity in itself. And this is because, in Asian cultures religions such as Hinduism and Buddhism do not focus on death as an entity in itself. In Asian society, death is so much a part of life that it is something that honorable people spend most of their years preparing for. The “afterlife” for many in Asian cultures is, in fact, another round of human life for those whose souls are not adequately prepared for an eternal, “heavenly” experience. To avoid the drudgery (and even pain) of another human life, a person must decide to spend his or her entire life preparing - or perhaps, connecting is the better word.

Unlike the Western view of death as something that is to be avoided at all costs (even though we all know that it cannot be), Asian culture views the perfect death as something to aspire too. So the art of death Asian style is akin to the social romantic style of western art. It celebrates an ordered, peaceful, even conservative, lifestyle that one must lead in order to avoid the pain and drudgery of being born again. It is not wild, fantastic, or even necessarily creative. It features the idea that a life well-lived (in other words a life lived in connection with the highest spirits of the Universe) is, in itself, the ultimate reward. And, from that point of view, death seems, sometimes to be missing from Asian art (at least from the Western perspective).

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