Painting Ethics: Death, Love, and Moral Vision in the Mahāparinibbāna

Journal of Religious Ethics 44 (1):17-50 (2016)

This essay draws on Kenneth George's ethnographic study of the Indonesian painter Abdul Djalil Pirous and his art, as well as Pirous's own characterizations of his paintings as “spiritual notes,” to theorize and examine how paintings serve as ethical media. The essay offers a provisional definition of and methodology for “visual ethics” and considers how pictures and language can function quite differently as sites for ethical reflection. The particular painting analyzed here is a large temple mural of the death of the Buddha located at Wat Unnalom, a prominent Buddhist monastery in Phnom Penh, painted in the 1980s by Cambodian artist Sum Pon. After discussing the lifeworld of Pon's Mahāparinibbāna and varied Khmer Buddhist interpretations of the painting, I suggest that the painting's rendering of “moral vision” helps us understand Buddhist ways of seeing more generally. I conclude by returning to George's question about how our understanding of ethics would change if we took pictures as the “fulcrum of moral relationships,” arguing that pictures can embody certain kinds of tensions or paradoxes that are difficult to explain and grasp discursively, such as paradoxes that arise from the inevitability and yet inexplicability of death as well as the tensions between Buddhist aims of cultivating “boundless” love and the particularities of our own individual experiences of love
Keywords Cambodian artist Sum Pon  Mahāparinibbāna  visual ethics  Buddhism and death  Buddhism  Buddhist painting  Buddhist funeral practices  Khmer Rouge  Cambodia  visual culture  Buddhist ethics of love
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DOI 10.1111/jore.12130
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References found in this work BETA

The Sovereignty of Good.Iris Murdoch - 1971 - Religious Studies 8 (2):180-181.
Patterns of Intention: On the Historical Explanation of Pictures.Michael Baxandall - 1986 - Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism 45 (1):94-95.
The Ethics of Visual Culture.Elizabeth M. Bucar - 2016 - Journal of Religious Ethics 44 (1):7-16.
No Ethics Without Things.Kenneth M. George - 2016 - Journal of Religious Ethics 44 (1):51-67.

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One Good Turn Deserves Another.William A. Barbieri - 2017 - Journal of Religious Ethics 45 (1):194-205.

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