Tam Giao Aesthetics in Visual Arts

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  • Title: Tam Giao Aesthetics in Visual Arts: The Art of Expression Inherent to the Tam Giao Culture
  • Author(s): Kim Thu Le
  • Publisher: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Collection: Common Ground Research Networks
  • Series: The Arts in Society
  • Journal Title: The International Journal of Arts Theory and History
  • Keywords: Tam Giao, Aesthetics, Formalism
  • Volume: 14
  • Issue: 4
  • Year: 2019
  • ISSN: 2326-9952 (Print)
  • ISSN: 2327-1779 (Online)
  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.18848/2326-9952/CGP/v14i04/9-33
  • Citation: Le, Kim Thu. 2019. "Tam Giao Aesthetics in Visual Arts: The Art of Expression Inherent to the Tam Giao Culture." The International Journal of Arts Theory and History 14 (4): 9-33. doi:10.18848/2326-9952/CGP/v14i04/9-33.
  • Extent: 25 pages


This paper argues that the aesthetic systems of Tam Giao in the East differ from the aesthetic systems of the West and that culturally significant meaning can be lost under a universalizing, decontextualizing Western semiotic engagement. The argument commences with a comparison between Russian and Japanese art in the nineteenth century. The paper then examines the nature of Western formalism and the role of European philosophy in German art and analyzes Buddhist, Taoist, and Confucian ideas that contribute to the Tam Giao aesthetic. This aesthetic is sensuous and embodied in everyday lived experience in Vietnamese and Chinese arts practice. It can easily be missed in formal art historical analysis that frames the world through a Western formalist lens. The author has used qualitative methods and an ethnographic approach to explore the use of aesthetic principles (the formalism of the West and the Tam Giao aesthetics of the East) used in appreciating artworks. Six case studies are presented through artworks by the German artists Anselm Kiefer and Neo Rauch, the Chinese artists Yue Minjun and Fang Lijun, and the Vietnamese artists Truong Tan and Vu Dinh Tuan, all of which deal with the subject of individual and cultural traumas. The author argues that despite the similarity of their subject, their aesthetic treatment reflects very different perceptions. The Tam Giao art of expression is expanding globally, and thus this research paper provides an aesthetic tool with which a Western audience can explore in depth the subtlety of meanings in the Eastern art of expression.