Living Color Experience: Astor Garden and Study By: Kimberly Dutta

About the Exhibit

This time my experience was a Chinese history exhibit that was deceivingly simple but rich in culture. It's currently on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It consisted of a Taoist influenced garden and a Confucian influenced study.

The garden is set in a traditional manner depicting the elements of water, rock, wildlife, and greenery. Firstly, there is a layout of rock with an open Chinese temple structure in the center. Underneath the temple is a special large vertical limestone rock with some Chinese characters carved on. According to a translator, the characters have little significance to the meaning of the garden. Rocks, however, represent the rugged mountains and typical landscape of China. Also, next to the structure there is a small waterfall leading into a pond. Water is important to Taoist culture, as is the representation of it flowing. In the pond, there is a koi fish as part of the wildlife in the garden. Dispersed throughout the rock are different types of trees, grass, and plants. In the rest of the garden there are a few random rock structures and trees. This is to symbolize the randomness and easygoing attitude of Taoist beliefs.

A overview of the Taoist garden

In contrast, the study is very different from the relaxing aura of the garden. The whole study is perfectly symmetrical, relating to order in a Confucian society. It is organized and minimalistic, comprised of only black, brown, and white colors. There a few other colors on the paintings. There are wardrobes, chairs, one big table, a thin side table, and two windows. The decoration pieces and the overall decor is little to none in each area. There are also lantern type lights hanging on top to provide adequate lighting for work. The architecture is very linear and straight, no room for adjustment, flexibility or randomness. This is very like Confucianism to have order, rigidity and cleanliness in this study. Overall, each space is influenced greatly by either Taoism or Confucianism and is a great space for people to think, meditate, or relax.

Here, the symmetry is well shown

Legacy of Taoism

The legacy of Taoism is very easy to see through the garden. It contains a lot of nature which is a key principle and important to being one with the Tao. That being the ultimate goal of this religion, so if one becomes one with nature, they will be closer to the manifest Dao. This is the main step in reaching the manifest Dao, which is the source and creator of all reality. It is thought of as resembling flowing water since every time one tries to catch it, it continues to flow. The waterfall very accurately represents this idea as it is falling water flowing into a pond continuously. It also connects to Wu Wei since it means to go with the flow. One should always go with the Dao instead of opposing it, so traveling with the river tide instead of against the current.

The fish in the pond connects to the myth of salmon not following Wu Wei. Since salmon have to swim in the opposite direction than the river to reproduce, Taoists would tell the salmon to swim with the current just to follow the Dao. However, this is not an excuse for laziness, rather a guide to behavior. One must still be productive to achieve the manifest Dao, but that work will only be effective if it is in sync with the Dao and nature. Modern day New Yorkers can find this space appealing because it offers what is otherwise hard to find in the city. It is a quiet, calm place with lots of nature. The water and greenery makes it pretty and serene for people to meditate and think. It is helpful while practicing Taoism because one can focus on reconnecting with their inner self and nature, as this creates external peace as well. The garden definitely has a lot of Taoism influence which is simple to see through the principles, practices, and nature reflected in the space.

Rocks, greenery and the pond in the garden

Legacy of Confucianism

Also, the impression of Confucianism is very present in the study next door. The first thing that is striking is that the whole room is perfectly symmetrical. This is very common in Confucian practice because everything had to be orderly. The goal of Confucianism was to create a harmonious society, so order took a forward role in the religion. Everything in the study is clean and organized, as there was to be no chaos in the atmosphere. This largely shows the legacy of "Li" in the room as it was arranged and ordered in this way. Li is the principle of organization and order in society to create peace.

Also, most studies contain a simple desk and chair, but this one does not. Confucius believed that education wasn't everything, self cultivation and engaging with others can help someone to flourish further. There are many ways of obtaining knowledge which can't be attained by sitting at a desk all day. The study is on the large size, and as Confucius wasn't one for taking up more space than needed, there is a religious reason for this. It seems like a place for multiple people to connect, discuss, and thrive off each other. This is an important principle in Confucianism and relates to "junzi". A junzi is an exemplary person who is profound and has the power to improve society. So rather than having a small study, creating space for junzi's to make speeches, lecture, and teach would influence the town more. All these principles show that the study followed many of Confucius' ways and his thought process existed in making the room.

The organization of the study is evident in this picture

A Message for Future 8th Graders

This experience would be very beneficial for any future 8th graders. Firstly, it is an effective way to learn about the cultures of China. There are many obvious connections to Taoist and Confucian beliefs. The garden consisted of principles about following the Tao and it replicates a traditional Taoist garden. Also, the study holds organization, harmony, and cleanliness. These are attributes of Confucianism that everyone could learn and follow. This space is a fun and easy way to deepen one's knowledge about things learned in class.

Secondly, it is a beautiful place that is hard to find in the bustling city of New York. It is quiet, calm, and serene so people can take a moment to reflect. One can appreciate the orderly aspects of the study, or the flow and randomness of the garden. Combined together, it really is a space that every type of person can find enjoyable. Personally, I loved the garden and was excited to have found such an inviting area right in the heart of Manhattan. I hope many more 8th graders feel the same way!


(Thank you for reading!)


Created with images by WerbeFabrik - "subjects asia china"

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