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Zen eccentric contemplating a fish

Accession Number
1962/1.105

Title
Zen eccentric contemplating a fish

Artist(s)
Kanô Tsunenobu

Object Creation Date
mid 17th century - early 18th century

Medium & Support
hanging scroll, ink on paper

Dimensions
31 1/8 in x 9 7/16 in (79.06 cm x 23.97 cm);16 1/4 in x 3 15/16 in (41.28 cm x 10 cm)

Credit Line
Museum Purchase

Label copy
Among the new categories of imagery introduced to East Asian art by Zen is that of the “eccentric.” Sometimes such characters are loosely based on historical figures, but more often they appear to be inventions of the Chinese imagination. The eccentrics are not simply odd, awkward at small talk, or rude at the dinner table. A Zen eccentric defies the restrictions of the human body or the basic norms of Buddhist behavior, and in so doing demands that we question our ready assumptions about logic and reality. Artists reveled in the chance to paint eccentrics, and these works are often full of visual wit and humor.
This disarmingly modest ink painting presents us with the figure of a shabbily dressed fellow who holds out at arm’s length a small fish. He is completely focused on his catch, and his mouth almost seems to drool. From the traditional Buddhist standpoint, the subject is eccentric because he is violating a taboo against the consumption of flesh. The Zen view is that distinctions between ostensible opposites—vegetable, non-vegetable—are illusory. The style of the painting also departs from orthodox norms. The face, hands, and feet are sketched in a deliberately simplistic way, while the costume is drawn with only a few swift slashes of the brush, and the strokes bleed into each other. Are we looking at the image of a fish-eater, or a blur of ink on paper?
This work is tentatively assigned to the Kano school artist Tsunenobu (1636–1713) on the basis of the signature, but it it difficult to find similar works in his known oeuvre; the seal has not been deciphered.
Arts of Zen, February 15-June 15, 2003
M. Graybill, Senior Curator of Asian Art
---
Among the new categories of imagery introduced to East Asian art by Zen is that of the “eccentric.” Sometimes such characters are loosely based on historical figures, but more often they appear to be inventions of the Chinese imagination. A Zen eccentric defies the restrictions of the human body or the basic norms of Buddhist behavior, and in so doing demands that we question our ready assumptions about logic and reality. Artists reveled in the chance to paint eccentrics, and these works are often full
of visual wit and humor.
This disarmingly modest ink painting presents us with the figure of a shabbily dressed fellow who holds out at arm’s length a small fish. From the traditional Buddhist standpoint, the subject is eccentric because he is violating a taboo against the consumption of flesh. The Zen view is that distinctions between ostensible opposites—vegetable, non-vegetable—are illusory. The style of the painting also departs from orthodox norms. The face, hands, and feet are sketched in a deliberately simplistic way, while the costume is drawn with only a few swift slashes of the brush and the strokes bleed into each other. Are we looking at the image of a fish-eater, or a blur of ink on paper?
(6/28/10)
(Japanese Gallery Rotation, Spring 2010)

Subject matter
Among the new categories of imagery introduced to East Asian art by Zen is that of the “eccentric.” A Zen eccentric defies the restrictions of the human body or the basic norms of Buddhist behavior, and in so doing demands that we question our ready assumptions about logic and reality. Artists reveled in the chance to paint eccentrics, and these works are often full of visual wit and humor.
From the traditional Buddhist standpoint, the subject is eccentric because he is violating a taboo against the consumption of flesh. The Zen view is that distinctions between ostensible opposites—vegetable, non-vegetable—are illusory.

Physical Description
A shabbily dressed figure holds out at arm’s length a small fish. He is completely focused on his catch, and his mouth almost seems to drool. The face, hands, and feet are sketched in a deliberately simplistic way, while the costume is drawn with only a few swift slashes of the brush, and the strokes bleed into each other.

Primary Object Classification
Painting

Primary Object Type
hanging scroll

Additional Object Classification(s)
Painting

Collection Area
Asian

Rights
If you are interested in using an image for a publication, please visit http://umma.umich.edu/request-image for more information and to fill out the online Image Rights and Reproductions Request Form.

Keywords
Zen (Japanese Buddhism)
fish (animals)
hanging scrolls
ink

4 Related Resources

Buddhism
(Part of 2 Learning Collections)
Ink and Realisms
(Part of: Artist Associations and Art Movements)
Japan Pax Tokugawa 1600-1868
(Part of: Empires and Colonialism)
Satire
(Part of 4 Learning Collections)

& Author Notes

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