David Byrne on the Japanese Way of Art

One of the things I love about Japanese culture is the attention to detail in making life comfortable and pleasant. Materialism, or “Thingism” as David Zindell calls it in one of my favorite books, The Broken God, can be done right.

In his book How Music Works, David Byrne explains some of the philosophical background for this attitude toward daily live:

We should broaden our idea of what culture is. In Japan, there used to be no word for art. There, the process of making and drinking a pot of tea evolved into what we in the West might say is an art form. This ritualized performance of a fairly mundane activity embodied a heightened version of a ubiquitous attitude–that utilitarian objects and activities, made and performed with integrity, consciously and mindfully, could be art. The Zen philosopher Daisetz Suzuki said, “Who would then deny that when I am sipping tea in my tearoom, I am swallowing the whole universe with it, and that is very moment of my lifting the bowl to my lips is eternity itself transcending time and space.” That’s a lot for a cup of tea, but one can see that elevation of the mundane in a lot of areas and daily activities in the East. The poets, writers, and musicians of the Beat generation were inspired by this Eastern idea. They too saw the transcendent in the everyday and saw nobility in the activities of ordinary people.  [p. 289]