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Great Eastern Sun Art or Setting Sun Art?


Recently Pat Groneman and Josh Adler lead a class studying Chogyam Trungpa's book True Perception: The Path of Dharma Art. I attended this class as an artist and meditation practitioner. After reading about Great Eastern Sun and Setting Sun ideas of Art I got to thinking that I could start an art criticism blog based on this framework.


It wouldn't be about taste or opinion but analysis of a work of art according to Chogyam's ideas of Great Eastern Sun and Setting Sun.  Here's an excerpt from True Perception that illustrates the concepts and potential critical framework:

The three principles of Great, East, and Sun have specific meanings. Great means having some kind of strength, energy, and power. That is we are not fearful or regretful in presenting our expressions or our works of art--or, for that matter, in our way of begin. That power is absolutely fearless. If we aware cowardly, we would have a problem in trying to handle an object, or even thinking of touching it or arranging it, much less in arranging our life or our world. We would be afraid to do any of that. so the absence of that fear is fearlessness, which develops out of delight. We are so delighted that we spontaneously develop that kind of strength and energy. Then we can move freely around our world without try ing to change it particularly, but just expressing what needs to be expressed or uncovering what needs to be uncovered by means of our art.

    East is the concept of wakefulness. The direction in which we are going , or the direction we are facing, is unmistakable. IN this case, the word East is not necessarily the geographical direction. Here, it means simply the place you see when you can open your eyes and look fearlessly ahead of you. Since this East is unconditional, it does not depend on south, west, or north. It is just unconditional East as basic wakefulness.

    Then we have the third category, or Sun. Sun has a sense of all-pervasive brilliance, which does not discriminate in the slightest. It is the goodness that exists in a situation, in oneself, and in one's world, which is expressed without doubt, hesitation, or regret. The Sun represents the idea of no laziness, and the Sound principle also includes the notion of blessings defending upon us and creating sacred world. The Sun also represents clarity, without doubt.

    These three categories are the nature of Great Eastern Sun. We could say that they are trying to bring us out and to uncover the cosmic elegance that exists in our lives and in our art. In contrast, the notion of setting sun is that of wanting to go to sleep. Obviously, when the sun sets, you go to sleep. You want to go back to your mother's womb, to regress, appreciating that you can hide behind dark clouds. That is to say there is no bravery; it is complete cowardice. At the same time, there is struggle: you do not want to step out of this world completely; you are still trying to survive, still trying to prevent death. So the setting-sun world is based on a psychological attitude of fear. There is constant fear, and at the same time it is deliberately suicidal.

    We have a lot of examples of setting-sun art. Some of them are based on the principle of entertainment. Since you feel so uncheerful and solemn, you try to create artificial humor, manufactured wit. But that tends to bring a tremendous sense of depression, actually. There might be a comic relief effect for a few seconds, but apart that there is a constant black cloud, the black air of tormenting depression. As a consequence, if you are rich you try to spend more money to cheer yourself up--but you find that the more you do , the less it helps. There is no respect for life in setting-sun world. The only respect you can find there is in the brotherhood of human beings who are trying to combat death with the wrong end of the stick. I'm afraid at this point I have to be biased; there's nothing positive I can say about setting sun at all. But that actually helps, in that we can see black and white clearly an properly, so there is no doubt whatsoever.

Great Eastern Sun in True Perception: The Path of Dharma Art, Chogyam Trungpa, p8-10.

In speaking with Ethan about writing this art criticism blog he suggested that I post one artwork per week with pertinent information (hopefully from the exhibition that displayed the work and the writers/curators responsible for its inclusion) and ask the reader whether the work of Art was Great Eastern Sun Art or Setting Sun Art.

    Each week I will do this, select one work of Art that can be viewed at the time of the posting in and around New York City (so you can go and see it for yourself). More than likely I will post my interpretation after a day or so in the comments section and I actively encourage you to do so as well.

    Every four to six weeks I will write a larger blog entry analyzing a single work of Art using the Great Eastern Sun and Setting Sun framework, which specifically addresses certain aspects of Great Eastern Sun v. Setting Sun - where ambiguity may exist and where clarity is given an opportunity to presnt itself.

I look forward to your participation in this experiment and your brilliant ideas. I love Art and am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to have such an inspirational framework from Chogyam Trungpa with which to get deeper into these works.

The first work I propose for your evaluation is this Warhol Rorschach painting currently on display at the Brooklyn Museum's Andy Warhol: The Last Decade exhibition (June 18-September 12, 2010).

Is this painting an example of Great Eastern Sun Art or Setting Sun Art?

Information on this painting:

Andy Warhol (American, 1928–1987). Rorschach, 1984. Acrylic on canvas, 158 x 110 in. (401 x 279.4 cm). The Baltimore Museum of Art: Purchase with funds provided by Laura R. Burrows-Jackson, Baltimore; and partial gift of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. © 2010 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Photo: Mitro Hood

From the Brooklyn Museum site:
The Rorschach paintings feature totemic forms of intricate design that evoke deep mysteries lurking beneath the surface. The suggestive quality of these paintings mimics the tests after which they are named, in which patients are given a set of standard inkblots and are evaluated based on their responses to them.

Again, what do you think? Is this painting Great Eastern Sun Art or Setting Sun Art?

I look forward to your thoughts!

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As I understand it, a

As I understand it, a Rorschach test is the rote examination of a patient's neuroses via the mediation of the his/her responses to the inkblots (by a specialist). This could be a great metaphor for Setting Sun art, if the roles of patient and specialist are applied to viewer and artist (or critic?), accordingly.

In other words, Setting Sun art is "submitted" to the public by the artist or critic as opposed to "offered"? The conversation pretends to be open ended, but in fact begins and ends under the control of the mediator. This may not be the bravest/most open pyschological venue for a work of art to operate in.

By this criteria, is Andy's work Setting Sun? I think it depends on whether you think of him as resigned to the state of things or a warrior in media's clothing.

Warrior in Media's Clothing

I like this very much. Warhol is definitely an offerer. The Rorschach paintings are signs for all of the things you mentioned and he is taking the specialized role of interpreter and offering it to all of us simultaneously. He's not responding to inkblots, he's making them. I wonder if psychologists ever had patients make rorschachs or if it is always the patient responding to pre existing ones.

These paintings are great democratizations of an elite psychological tool. That's Warhol's greatest strength. He made art for everybody.

i keep turning over in my

i keep turning over in my head reasons why its greateastart and reasons why its settingsunart, either can work since, for example, there is bravery in warhol presenting such a mundane painting but cowardice in simply holding up the rorschach mirror, neither seems inherent in the work and applying warhol's life is a pandora's box of justifications, im stuck finding the painting as empty as any other object, it exists to be filled with projection, which makes it brilliantly ironic that its an ink blot as a subject but doesnt lead to a justification for great or setting

im curious to see if this article series develops more into a discussion of the frameworks we use to view art rather than investigations of the artworks presented


Framing out mediocrity

TJ, both the critical framework and the works of Art are interesting pursuits. 

What I responded to when reading and discussing True Perception was the system outside of personal taste that existed for critical evaluation of Art. It seemed like a good place to get to the bottom of why so much contemporary Art is so blasé and uninspiring. Maybe there are clues in here for us to unlock the darkness of mediocrity.

Framing IN mediocrity?

i agree that frameworks and the works of art are both interesting pursuits in fact id say they are indistinguishable from each other, one doesnt even exist without the other.

the thing that really draws me to the "framework" or "system" is that it seems the "darkness" encountered when critiquing an artwork doesnt lie in the system of personal taste for example but lies perhaps in the USE of a system at all. if we correlate "darkness" with "mediocrity", "blase" or "uninspired" then it seems like any system of critique, inside or outside of personal taste, will produce a darkness the same way as shining different kinds of flashlights on an object will create shadows no matter the brand of flashlight.


What darkness are you referring to? I think I have an idea and would like to hear more.


i was using it from your phrase "darkness of mediocrity" which seemed to imply that mediocrity was itself dark or unilluminated but i feel that something is mediocre not because it is itself a mediocre artwork, it has no such inherent properties but instead is mediocre because we do not illuminate the artwork more fully with our awareness. so in this sense the framework becomes not about whether the artwork is great eastern art or setting sun art but it asks: is our own individual awareness of the art object great eastern art awareness or setting sun art awareness? is our art awareness fearless or fearful?

is that in the ballpark of the idea of darkness you were thinking?

My old friend

TJ this is all excellent.
I hear you.
Seems that an Art criticism blog on a Buddhist website may be hypocrisy. I often run into this kinda thinking when I'm critical of anything. This object is fine, I think, it's me that brings the problem to this object. My experience and studies and expertise lessen the likelihood of meeting anArt object as it is.
I still think that when something is mediocre it isn't fulfilling the potential its creator had at the moment of creation and that has setting sun written all over it. Isn't this all just dualism, control, etc.? Is the ultimate question what's the point of creating, criticism, when we should be open and willing to everything with ought judgment if we are really following the path.
Following the path seems hypocritical in regards to Chogyam Trungpa's ideas. Following a path is more like it. What to do?

paradigm shift

this is what is so fascinating and exciting about a contemporary art criticism blog on a buddhist website though is that it aligns our dialogue with a different historical context with different historical/cultural (?) goals. in what other place could we be using dualism, the path, perception and projection to not just get to the root of our art practice but to get to the root of reality/existence. it has profound potential and i look forward to the next artwork/article to further explore the "World in a Grain of Sand And a Heaven in a Wild Flower" so to speak

Rorshach and Great Eastern Sun or Setting Sun

A discussion with a friend the other night was bogged down on Warhol AND/OR his work. Can (or how can) they be seperated? Do we do this for works of Art? (I'd say of course if we really don't have tons of history on the artist) What's interesting about this choice is that of the figure of the artist. A big fish. AND, to me, it turns out that no matter the artist (if we take this approach to looking and feeling) either of the two "energies" are going to be discovered. In a nutshell what I mean is that we often say we must take the artist's historical context, life, etc., into account when looking at a work. But we really need not do so. . . the work exists regardless.
So which does this one have?
It requires one to contemplate. . . those tests were meant to do that anyway. So if a work can do that off the bat then that has a power to it. . . the work was made within a bold framework - one that would allow for open interpretation.
It's forward looking. . . the artist has branched out into other terrain (for himself AND for the viewers already following his work).
In my mind it is honest. It's mark making in a true sense. An easy way to be sure. But some good marks are made that way.
So I see in it Great Eastern Sun. Because I am generally of a "positive" and "open" outlook I might skew my decision this way. But if I am honest and I am, then I'd say I do find these qualities.
Thanks Matt,
Fred F

Open and willing

Thanks for the comment Fred. These paintings and maybe most Warhols are incredibly direct and honest. Your analysis is well met. The directness and honesty hides a subtle deeper meaning and reading of the work which helps make Warhol one of the greats. Overall I agree, he's trying to communicate GOOD things to us. His celebrity lifestyle can unfortunately distract from this.

on the road with a short comment

And directness and honesty CAN (maybe must) have subtlety and deeper meaning.
I look forward to the next piece.

High Noon?


I've really never been sure how I feel about Warhol to be honest. Every once in a while I think he's a genius, but isn't he also (along with Pop Artists who got big in the 60's) partially responsible for opening the door further to "art without positive intention?" Maybe how I feel about him is just a reflection of my mind, a rorschach.

Looking forward to the next post.

Opening doors

Eth, do you think that he's responsible for the Setting Sun artists that came thru the door that he opened? He opened the door (or maybe showed where the always open door is) in a similar way to Duchamp decades earlier. My mind often blames Duchamp for the heaps of crap art out there. Truth is we live in a big world and there's room for it all, confusion and enlightenment.

Andy had the best intentions at heart as far as I've come to know in my research on him over the years. I picked a Rorschach painting and not a celebrity portrait or soup can because it is his later works, where he is testing himself and his medium, that most inspire me.

With the Rorschach paintings Andy Warhol is approaching a relationship with the Abstract Expressionists, his sometimes heroes. He does so full board and with great clarity. He presents the ultimate "what is it" abstraction with the Rorschach paintings, an iconic idea loaded with ambiguous and powerful content. He's holding up a mirror for us and we see ourselves reflected, our thoughts, hopes, expectations, resistences, resentments, ego, suffering, joy, madness, and we see him, too. A magical mirror.

Andy Warhol made a discovery with these paintings and he's sharing them with us. How open to a fresh experience are we? How willing are we to see? Maybe our feelings and thoughts end up meeting our original impressions of the painting. Maybe the artist's name is too much to let go of to see the picture itself.

Warhol was a religious Catholic his whole life, attending mass regularly. He questioned and worked within his faith throughout his career. I'm still shocked when I think about Andy Warhol the Catholic. 

From Wikipedia:

His art is noticeably influenced by the eastern Christian iconographic tradition which was so evident in his places of worship.[35]
Warhol's brother has described the artist as "really religious, but he didn't want people to know about that because [it was] private." Despite the private nature of his faith, in Warhol's eulogy John Richardson depicted it as devout: "To my certain knowledge, he was responsible for at least one conversion. He took considerable pride in financing his nephew's studies for the priesthood".[35]

The more familiar I become with an artist, the more investment in them and their work I have, the more the artist feels like a friend of mine. I respect the work of all of my very close friends a great deal and often wonder what I'd think if I didn't know them. I'm so engaged in their practice, second to my own.

I feel very engaged with Andy Warhol's practice. He may have often made Setting Sun Art, but his aim is clearly Great Eastern Sun Art, despite his intentions. 

i thnk it looks like a bug,

i thnk it looks like a bug, not a face! maybe he's (warhol) telling us to think about insects, unyielding, relentless, eternal forces of nature! so eastern sun?

or maybe this is just coming from my fear of bugs!


Yes! I love this!

Good reads

Warhol was a very secretive man, especially for such a public figure.

Can there be any mystery in Great Eastern Sun? The Roschach paintings are powerful and are very mysterious. We now know that he was late in dealing with his internal injuries and coming to terms with them. Maybe he knew he would die when he went under the knife and he had all of this work to give us before then.

Are these paintings monuments to asking for help in the only way he knew how to communicate that? Maybe that's too easy or an excuse.

Warhol said he was done painting years prior. He then spent the last ten years of his life doing just that. That's courageous. That's bravery.

I'm not sure we will be able to answer whether or not art is Great Eastern Sun or Setting Sun. I'm really enjoying the chance to engage everyone and their thoughts on these works. I don't know that the answers are as important as our communication.



It's the second commenter I agree with. My bad. :)

Agree with the first comment

At first I wanted to think this was Great Eastern Sun Art but the first commenter makes a good argument. The image doesn't open up into anything. It has no sense of place or purpose, no point of view other than to reflect a sense of despair. I don't think it's a coincidence the image looks like a face, and something of a jaundiced face at that. It's a mask for fear and pain. I'm reminded of a horrible episode the animated show Metalocalypse, There's a scene in which one of the characters is under extreme atmospheric pressure and bleeds from his eyes, ears, nose and mouth. It's not an image to expose oneself to lightly. The more I think about the painting in this way, the more I feel sorry for the painter. It seems he didn't know how to ask for the help he needed.


Setting Sun

This strikes me as being very much about relinquishing control, a sense of giving up, both in the actual form/ process - the process of making the Rorschach moves the paint according to chance - but also in that the nature of the Rorschach itself is about handing the meaning over to the viewer. There is no right answer in a Rorschach. It is conceptually hermetic, encapsulating itself with the viewer's mind. The meaning, then, comes entirely from the beholder, not from within the artist or even the art work.

In this way Warhol is denying his power and giving it entirely to the public. This work has no ethos. Warhol is protecting himself here and reveals a deep fear; the fear of exposing his feelings, desires, thoughts, to the world. He offers this painting as a GIANT (14' x 12' feet!) wall between him and the viewers, creating a mirror to us and an opaque shelter for him.

2 years after making this painting Andy Warhol died in a hospital following a surgery he had needed, but put off, for years. He hidden his pain and sickness from doctors out of a deep fear of death and distrust of others both of which had strong origins in the very real trauma of being shot and almost killed earlier in his life.

this painting is Art of the Setting Sun.

p.s. i am very skeptical that all art can be so easily fit into these categories, but am eager to see what comes.

thanks for posting, matt!


A new one one every Tuesday! Thanks for reading and commenting. Participation is how this works :)

Dont know about that piece

Dont know about that piece but I'm looking forward to seeing what you put up over the weeks and months!


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