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Philosopher | Wordsmith | Minimalist | Bohemian ✌️🏳️‍🌈🌳☮️

What is art? This is a question that has been pondered since the days before Plato. The definition of art, and various understandings have come to light in the past couple centuries alone. Unfortunately, many approaches to aesthetics in general center on Western aesthetics. Yes, the arts associated with Western history and culture have their appeal, and their place, as do various other approaches of other cultures. When seeking the best approach to the arts and art appreciation, I have always been drawn to the Japanese aesthetic notion of wabi-sabi. …


My Studiolo —© Kevin Shau Photography (2021)

Interior design is a subject ripe for abuse, particularly when it comes to those with excess space. The ‘Keeping up with the Joneses’ mentality popular in American culture, indeed part of the mainstream since the 1950s, has exacerbated the worst elements of interior design while avant-garde minimalist design remained rather disconnected until recently. An artist and philosopher myself, I wanted to take inspiration from those who came before — those who not only wrote about interior design but lived it as well. Kamo no Chomei (c.1155–1216) was a Japanese monk, minimalist, and early tiny house enthusiast. Alberto Giacometti (1901–1966) was…


Watercolor and Ink picture (by George Munger) of the United States Capitol after the Burning of Washington in 1814

On 24 August 1814, the United States Capitol was overrun and burned. In the aftermath, President James Madison and Secretary of State and War James Monroe rallied the people in the face of this national emergency. On 6 January 2021, the United States Capitol was overrun for the second time in its history. Though the physical damage was far less severe, the political damage remains far worse. While the damage caused in 1814 was due to a foreign threat during a time of war, the 2021 Storming of the United States Capitol consisted of a mob of Trump supporters influenced…


depiction of Kamo no Chōmei by Kikuchi Yōsai (1781–1878)

“So briefly rests the dew upon the bush clover

Even now it scatters in the wind.”

-death poem of Lady Murasaki from the Tale of Genji (c.1010) reflecting on the brevity of her own life

A new year is upon us. The tumultuous year 2020 has begun to fade into the background, though the international pandemic and related crises remain. The past decade has seen the emergence of two phenomena that can be immensely impactful — allowing people to live meaningful lives with less : minimalist living and the tiny house movement. The Minimalists — Joshua Fields Millburn and Ryan…


Portrait of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1766), painted by Allan Ramsay

The torch of Enlightenment shone, dimly at first, but firmly in the midst of the eighteenth century. The stultifying Old Regime authorities and decadent Parisian elites clashed to form an uneasy powder key of an environment in the French capital during the decades preceding the cataclysmic French Revolution. The Genevan philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) was acutely aware of his outsider status among the largely French intellectuals who dominated the cafes and salons. He referred to himself as ‘Citizen of Geneva’ on the title page of his famous Social Contract (1762). Rousseau was anti-authoritarian, but crafted a political philosophy which could…


Kangnido Map (1402) — one of the oldest surviving maps of East Asia, produced by by Yi Hoe and Kwon Kun in Korea

The tragic late-nineteenth and early-twentieth centuries has obscured one of the most last influences in the history of two great nations of East Asia : Japan and Korea. The relationship between Japan and Korea had been dramatically different in the centuries before 1870, with the exception of Hidyoshi’s invasions in the 1590s. Tokugawa Japan maintained a cordial relationship with Joseon Korea. The links between Korea and Japan become stronger the more one goes back into history. For, in the ancient period, Koreans and Japanese were allies. Specifically, the Korean Kingdom of Baekje was the closest ally of the ancient Yamato…


Seated Man with a Cane (1918), painted by Amedeo Modigliani

If one studies the varied and rich artistic traditions of cultures around the world, one sees quite different developments than can be seen in many of the -isms of modern art movements. Art is the balance between craft and creative exploration and a manner of individual expression with the power to last through the centuries. Modernity has numerous duds — from the Dadaists (who were merely satirizing art) through careerists like Damien Hirst, whose installations are tacky and merely aimed at getting loads of money out of people. What is one to make of the modern art world, dominated by…


Portrait of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1753), by Maurice Quentin de La Tour

A restless genius in cosmopolitan Paris, Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712–1778) contemplated the nature of authenticity and superficiality amidst the salon culture of Enlightenment Paris. Rousseau was an outsider looking in, in many ways. He was Geneva and proud of it. He signed his work ‘citizen of Geneva,’ though he spent very little of his adulthood in that city. Nevertheless, he preferred the simplicity of Calvinist Geneva to the decadent French capital of the Old Regime. In an age of social media, rampant cosmopolitanism, decadence, and superficiality, Rousseau’s critique is much needed in this world we moderns inhabit. …


Hungry Ghost Scroll (late-12th century)

At the very end of the eighth century, Emperor Kammu and the Japanese Court moved to a new site — Heiankyo (‘Capital of Peace and Tranquility,’ present-day Kyoto). The power and influence of Emperor Kammu, one of the few powerful emperors in the entire history of Japan, did not last much beyond his reign. Just as the Soga Clan had dominated the ancient Japanese Court, so too the Fujiwara Clan came to dominate the Heian Court. The foresight and open-minded nature of Emperor Kammu’s leadership gave way to an effete, cosmopolitan culture which increasingly neglected the provinces. The era of…


Portrait of Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1766), painted by Allan Ramsay

“The ancient republics of Greece, with that wisdom which was so conspicuous in most of their institutions, forbade their citizens to pursue all those inactive and sedentary occupations, which by enervating and corrupting the body diminish also the vigour of the mind. With what courage, in fact, can it be thought that hunger and thirst, fatigues, dangers and death, can be faced by men whom the smallest want overwhelms and the slightest difficulty repels?” -Jean-Jacques Rousseau, from the ‘’Discourse on the Arts and Sciences’ (1750)

The history of Western philosophy is dominated by convoluted abstractions and thinkers detached from the…

Kevin O’Shaughnessy

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