In America in the late 1950s and early 60s, the world—and life itself—became a legitimate artist’s tool, aligning with Zen Buddhism’s emphasis on “enlightenment at any moment” and living in the now. Simultaneously and independently, parallel movements were occurring in Japan, as artists there, too, strove to break down artistic boundaries.
Nothing and Everything brings these heady times into focus. Author Ellen Pearlman meticulously traces the spread of Buddhist ideas into the art world through the classes of legendary scholar D. T. Suzuki as well as those of his most famous student, composer and teacher John Cage, from whose teachings sprouted the art movement Fluxus and the “happenings” of the 1960s. Pearlman details the interaction of these American artists with the Japanese Hi Red Center and the multi-installation group Gutai. Back in New York, abstract-expressionist artists founded The Club, which held lectures on Zen and featured Japan’s first abstract painter, Saburo Hasegawa. And in the literary world, Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg were using Buddhism in their search for new forms and visions of their own. These multiple journeys led to startling breakthroughs in artistic and literary style—and influenced an entire generation. Filled with rare photographs and groundbreaking primary source material, Nothing and Everything is the definitive history of this pivotal time for the American arts.
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EVOLVER EDITIONS promotes a new counterculture that recognizes humanity's visionary potential and takes tangible, pragmatic steps to realize it. EVOLVER EDITIONS explores the dynamics of personal, collective, and global change from a wide range of perspectives. EVOLVER EDITIONS is an imprint of North Atlantic Books and is produced in collaboration with Evolver, LLC.
In this eminently readable treatise, Pearlman, a founder of the Brooklyn Rail and early contributor to Tricycle magazine, explores Zen Buddhism's influence on the post-WWII American avant-garde, focusing on its practitioners, students, and resultant artistic movements. Beginning with the public classes of noted Japanese Zen scholar D.T. Suzuki, Buddhism was disseminated throughout the arts in America by Suzuki's famed pupil and composer, John Cage, as well as through the work of the Abstract Expressionists, the Beats (e.g., Allen Ginsberg and Jack Kerouac), and Fluxus artists. Pearlman's study also touches on how Eastern cultures viewed the transplantation of their religious beliefs into the American arts, especially in the wake of the atomic bombings of Nagasaki and Hiroshima the author notes that while America's artistic elite were embracing Zen Buddhism, artists in Japan were trying to move away from the school of thought, whose institutions were viewed as militaristic and corrupt. Given the book's brevity, Pearlman's survey is remarkably extensive. However, the sheer range of artistic works inspired by Buddhism's influence on the American avant-garde from Cage's silent composition, 4'33", to Kerouac's energetic stream-of-conscious American epic, On the Road is perhaps the best evidence of its dynamic and lasting impact.