On those extra challenging days, when it seems like nothing could possibly soothe your soul, you can always turn to art to provide inspiration, serenity, and a sense of contentment.
From our Asian art collection of more than 6,000 objects, here are just a few artworks meant to inspire healing, tranquility, and resilience when you need it most. For an additional source of relaxation, tune into this playlist of traditional Chinese music created by our curator of Asian art, Janet Baker, PhD.
Bamboo and Rock (1613) by Zhao Bei
This work by a 17th-century Chinese painter depicts bamboo covered by snow. Bamboo was a popular subject for many scholar-amateur artists in imperial China, as the plant’s simple forms were easily rendered by broad brushstrokes. In this classical painting, however, the challenge was ensuring that the blank background indicates snow.
The artwork’s symbolic message is one of resilience and strength in the face of adversity. Bamboo is a plant that remains green throughout the seasons, even in the bitter cold of winter. It therefore represents endurance, inspiring hope that we, too, can persevere through turmoil and profound change.
This flat rectangular garment was worn by Buddhist monks, beginning at their ordination. Draped over the shoulders, it was traditionally made of pieces of cloth to symbolize the renunciation of luxury. Over the centuries, efforts were made to transcend the pictorial limitations imposed by patchwork construction. This example is made of a single cloth, with green cording overlaid to imitate patchwork seams and gold and silver threads adding shimmering touches.
The work depicts the Buddhist paradise, into which the devout hope to be reborn. At the bottom, we see rocks and waves, indicating the earthly realm, and above is the vast heavenly realm filled with auspicious birds, such as the peacock and the crane, and mythological birds, such as the phoenix. Of particular note are the double-headed phoenix and the heavenly angel with a human face and the body of a phoenix. They fly amidst rolling clouds of vivid colors.
Vishnu is the Hindu deity who preserves and sustains the world. His purpose is to save humankind during periods of catastrophe. As one of the three primary Hindu deities, he is typically represented as a strong, well-proportioned man wearing a crown and with multiple arms that signify his spiritual powers. His smile indicates his care for all beings, and his upturned, extended hand bestows the gift of renewed life.
In this artwork, Vishnu is accompanied by his two consorts: the goddess of the creative arts on the left holding a musical instrument and an example of wifely devotion on the right holding a fly whisk. The sculpture reflects the inclusiveness and multiplicity of deities and their consorts, as well as their various avatars or manifestations. Each may be invoked depending upon the circumstances of time, place, or need of the worshiper.
This portable, painted cotton cloth was likely used for personal devotions. The central figure is Avalokitesvara, the enlightened being who represents the universal power of compassion and mercy for all sentient beings. In cosmic form, this being has 11 heads, 1,000 arms, and 1,000 eyes, signifying the superhuman capacity to see all of suffering humanity. In each arm, Avalokitesvara carries an attribute signifying the ability to relieve different aspects of suffering. Attired like an Indian prince, the attributes of this being include both the masculine and feminine, as enlightenment transcends gender. The background of paradise includes clouds, waves, mountains, peonies, and the sun and moon.
Carved out of a life-sized piece of wood, this artwork depicts Guanyin, the Chinese incarnation of Avalokitesvara, previously mentioned above. One of the most popular manifestations of Buddhist imagery, Guanyin is a bodhisattva, or an enlightened being who denies personal attainment of nirvana or freedom from the cycle of rebirth. The name of Guanyin literally means “the seer and hearer of the sounds of the world.” Guanyin incorporates the universal Buddhist concept of salvation for all humanity through mercy and compassion. Unlike the Buddha, Guanyin remains in the mortal world as the personification of selflessness.