Art and Philosophy: Confucianism

Welcome, to the first article in a series of articles which will look at art, art practices and objects through different philosophical lenses. Where we explore Confucianism through the lense of Art and Art History definition. We hope to help you experience art an Confucius teachings in a new light and delve into its profound depths by exploring the captivating collection at Gallery Sorelle Sciarone. By examining artworks through the lens of various philosophical perspectives, including the profound teachings of Confucianism, you will embark on a journey of enhanced appreciation and enriched viewing. At Gallery Sorelle Sciarone, where stunning wall art and captivating paintings abound, you will discover a realm of artistic expression that never ceases to inspire and provoke contemplation.

An harmonious seascape oil painting by Marko Klomp

Art and Philosophy: Confucianism

Confucianism, an ancient Chinese philosophy founded by Confucius (554 – 479 BCE), has profound implications for the world of art. One key aspect of Confucianism is the emphasis on rights and rituals as a means to unite people. Rituals and ceremonies within the art world can serve as intentional acts of social unification, fostering a sense of community and respect among artists, viewers, and patrons.

Hierarchy and Harmony

Hierarchies are important in Confucianism. Adéle du Plessis loves subverting expectations and rules in her artwork.

The philosophy of Confucianism also highlights the importance of hierarchy and harmony in social interactions. Confucius identified five main relationships that form the foundation of societal harmony: leader to subject, parent to child, husband to wife, older brother to younger brother, and friends to friends. Within these relationships, a clear hierarchy must be established and maintained to ensure continued harmony. This hierarchical structure can be reflected in the arts, particularly through depictions of important educated individuals who hold influential positions within society. Rights and Rituals; Rituals and ceremonies can unite people. These events should be orchestrated as intentional acts of social unification. This will foster community and respect.


However, the way Confucianism frames these hierarchies, will give many people an "icky" feeling. Dominant parties should treat submissive parties with kindness and gentleness, and submissive parties should treat the dominant with reverence and respect. Stating it like this makes me want to burn things to the ground. But it is what happens during prize ceremonies and exhibition and events highlighting an artist (and therefore not another) implies. These events however do foster community and acknowledge accomplishments.

A lovely art opening for Marko Klomp show Perseverance. With friends and family in attendance, as well as avid collectors of his artwork.

Art Openings and Prizes

In contemporary art, rituals and ceremonies still hold a place of significance. Art openings, for example, can be seen as ceremonies that mark the accomplishment of an artist, bringing together a community of art enthusiasts. Prize ceremonies within the art world also contribute to solidifying successes and accomplishes. But also creates a hierarchy within this system. And one can also further delve into contemplating whether the artist is considered higher or lower in the hierarchy compared to the viewer. The fame and recognition of the artist likely play a role in determining their position within this hierarchy and how much power they wield in their career.


Creating Rights and Rituals; through ceremonies and events can unite people. These events should be orchestrated as intentional acts of social unification. This will foster community and respect.

A painting by Thea van Doorn who is the epitome of a thoughtful gentlewoman.

Social responsibility

The concept of "Rectification of Names" in Confucianism underscores the significance of understanding one's place in the social hierarchy. The "Rectification of Names" can be better understood as the social responsibility of individuals. That responsibility is in how you conduct yourself towards others and thus leading by example. Similarly, in the realm of art, artists can inspire and lead by example. By embodying virtuous qualities and adhering to ethical principles, artists can establish themselves as role models, garnering respect and admiration from viewers and fellow artists.

Furthermore, the ultimate goal of Confucianism, known as "Ren," is to achieve selflessness and become a "gentleman" in all encounters. This selflessness can be reflected in the artist's approach to their work, as they strive to create art that transcends personal interests and connects with the broader human experience. Art that embodies the spirit of Ren can inspire viewers to reflect on their own actions and relationships, fostering a sense of moral and social responsibility.

In this hierarchy, the artist if they are a good example and create art within this framework, become people that are followed and listened to. Which allows artist to be more fluid I think within the construction of five relations.

Confucius was a horrible sexist, even by accounts of contempories of his. Negar Rashidi  sensual miniature Psyche would probably have enraged him. Good.

Critique of Confucianism

However, it is important to acknowledge that Confucianism faced criticism and rejection by Chinese cultural reformers during the past century. The philosophy's insistence on social hierarchy clashed with the ideals of the Chinese Communist Party, which aimed to establish a more egalitarian society. Mohism, with its vision of universal love regardless of social standing, was advocated instead. Confucius was also said to be very sexist in contemporary texts from his time. Which is important to highlight when looking at historical philosophies. 


Despite these criticisms, Confucianism and more to the point our histories of hierarchy still have a lasting impact on the art world. In the past, Confucian principles influenced artistic representations by highlighting the importance of depicting educated individuals in art, thereby visualizing social hierarchies. The reverence and respect accorded to art in Confucian society also played a significant role in preserving art during times of political upheaval.


Overall, Confucianism's emphasis on rituals, hierarchy, and social harmony resonates within the realm of art. It promotes a sense of community, encourages artists to lead by example, and encourages the creation of art that reflects selflessness and moral principles. While Confucianism has faced criticism and evolved over time, its influence on the arts has left a lasting legacy in Chinese culture and beyond. This out right statement of hierarchies also allows us to reflect how the artworld follows this structure and what we can do to disrupt it. 

Final thoughts

Halo's could be considered a visual representation of a pedestal. But Fiona J. Williams art is thoughtful and leads by example in creating emotional works for us to safely fall into.

Philosophies are simply lenses we can use to look at the world. They mean nothing at the end of the day, but also adds structure and depth to our understanding of our world. The structure philosophies propose also allows us to be able to critique our world allowing us to understand how and where we can disrupt things in our world if they no longer serve. Like hierarchies. We still make use of hierarchies to understand art. To add meaning to art. To establish worth. To establish taste. And if you have been here a while, you will know, that no-one can decide for you if art moves you. That happens instinctively as well as through cultivation of the self. Many of us are moved by art, because it is continuously presented to us within the structure of hierarchies. Like museums. At the same time as making art available to us, it is making it seem that art is inaccessible to us in our daily lives. 


I hope this text allows some framework to understand that hierarchies are constructed and then fed. We use them to add meaning and build community, but our historical structure of hierarchy also fosters exclusion through a tiered system to create meaning and value. I do however like that Confucius offers a way to traverse this hierarchy, by leading by example. However, no one is served by being placed on a pedestal. Hope you enjoyed this piece exploring Confucianism through Art History, let us know your thoughts and feelings.


Tascha Sciarone

Art Historian,

without a degree in

philosophy. So 

you can fight me

on this.

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