Pamela Winfield, associate professor of religious studies, presented her research at the Comité Internationale de l’Histoire de l’Art in collaboration with the Max-Planck-Institut's Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz.
Associate Professor of Religious Studies Pamela D. Winfield in September presented her research on inscribed Zen master portraits at the Comité Internationale de l’Histoire de l’Art in collaboration with the Max-Planck-Institut’s Kunsthistorisches Institut in Florenz.
Her paper entitled “Visual Mimesis, Textual Nemesis: Animation and Alienation in Japanese Zen Art” analyzed the themes of representation and reality in medieval Japanese Zen Buddhist imagery and poetry. Her paper presented several examples of life-like Zen master portraits (called “chinzo” in Japanese), that were historically treated as stand-in doubles for departed masters in monastic ceremonies.
She then analyzed the masters’ self-deprecating inscribed verses (called “jisan” in Japanese) that deliberately deconstructed the likeness of the represented sitter, and instead emphasized the living reality of the master himself and the importance of experiencing illumination directly. These poetic texts subverted the substitute power of the image and prevented spectators from attaching too much importance to objectified images of illumination so that they “would not mistake the map for the territory or the menu for the meal.”
Her text-image analysis demonstrated that “inscribed Zen master portraits create a dialectical tension at best, or cognitive dissonance at worst, between the visual and conceptual spheres as they wrestle with representation and reality,” but that Zen masters such as Dogen (1200-1253) “uses poetic text to not only deconstruct the power of his own likeness, but to also express and ideally trigger in his audience the experience of awakening itself.”