New Oxford Handbook: Buddhism – Image as Icon, Image as Art by Charles Lachman
Feb 2014

Abstract:  Buddhism is characterized by considerable geographical and doctrinal diversity, but one feature shared by its many disparate strands is an emphasis on the ritual importance of images. These images constitute the core of the category of “Buddhist art” as it is commonly understood, but there is a significant difference between how such objects are viewed by Buddhist practitioners and how they are viewed by art historians and scholars of religion. This chapter investigates the role and status of images in Buddhism (beginning with the so-called “aniconic controversy”), the various critical approaches that have been used to interpret them, and the inherent tension between these two perspectives: the tension, that is, between images as “icons” and images as “art.” It also considers some of the ways in which such contemporary artists as Atta Kim and Montien Boonma have engaged Buddhist ideas and themes in their practice.

Charles Lachman holds an M.A. in Buddhist Studies (McMaster) and a Ph.D. in East Asian Studies (Toronto), and taught at York University and Dartmouth College prior to joining the faculty at the University of Oregon, where he is chair of the History of Art and Architecture department. In addition to teaching, he has curated numerous exhibitions, among them “In the Eclipse of Angkor” (2009), “Buddhist Visions” (2008), and “Elizabeth Keith in Korea” (2006). He is the author of Evaluations of Sung Dynasty Painters of Renown (1990), The Ten Symbols of Longevity (2006), A Way With Words: The Calligraphic Art of Jung Do-jun (2006), and articles and essays in a variety of publications.

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