Ronit Lee

Date of Award


Document Type

Thesis - Open Access

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)


Fine and Decorative Art and Design

First Advisor

Ann-Marie Richard

Second Advisor

Eric Wolf


This paper aims to explore a select number of Zen concepts which form the basis of the teachings of Zen Buddhism since its introduction to Japan in the seventh century, and highlight their continued influence on contemporary aesthetics in the decorative arts and design in Japan and elsewhere. These Japanese aesthetic concepts, developed over the centuries, take their cues from the sensitivity to and appreciation of the ephemerality of life and nature, and the popularity of the ritual of the Tea Ceremony, which has been aligned with Zen Buddhism early on. These ideals of beauty have gone beyond religion and spirituality, and have been woven into the very fabric of daily life of the Japanese. Some of the concepts of Zen may be familiar to Euro-American audiences, yet a reevaluation of their influence on design and theories of beauty, and a review of design objects and interiors of the twenty-first century that illustrate Zen aesthetics is timely. Zen may have become a byword for minimalism and tranquillity, however it offers much more depth than just a veneer of simplicity and purity. Zen is a pursuit of spirituality, aesthetic expressions and designs of Zen principles within our homes can remind us to appreciate the fleeting nature of life, and may elevate not just the beauty of our homes, but also our minds.