The combination of cannabinoids and terpenes in the cannabis plant has been widely reported to improve creativity. Over the years, people who use cannabis have attested to its ability to help them appreciate arts like music and paintings thanks to THC and other psychotropic cannabinoids.
Before the discovery of cannabinoids like THC and CBD, cannabis was widely used in Asian culture for religious ceremonies and industrial use. During these times, users believe it heightened their ability to communicate with the gods while also assisting them with common day-to-day items like paper, ropes, and utensils. Cannabis was also used as food and medicine. It was a common remedy for battle wounds, leprosy, and chronic pain.
While the origin of cannabis is quite unclear, Asia has been home to cannabis for several centuries. Historical evidence detected the presence of cannabis in China as far back as 2800 BC down to the Neolithic times (about 6000 years ago). This allowed cannabis to have a major impact on the culture and art of Asian people.
Cannabis grows naturally in the Himalayas and northern parts of South Asia. Scientific results and archeological evidence shows that cannabis is one of the oldest plants cultivated by man. It was referred to in the oldest scriptures, including the sacred Vedas from 4000 to 5000 BCE, where it was predominantly described as a joy-giver.
The early exposure of Asian cultures to cannabis greatly impacted their religion, art, and music. These influences came in different forms, from the Neolithic Japanese cave paintings to the shaping of the form of the Chinese character (ma) and many more. In this blog, we will explore the role of cannabis in creativity and how it has shaped Art in Asia.
Cannabis-Inspired Art in Asia: A Deep Dive
Cannabis use is suspected of originating in Central Asia and spreading to other parts of the world. Evidence of cannabis use in China dates back to 2800 BC, while a Neolithic Japanese artist was reported to have created the first visual depictions of the plant in caves near Kyushu in 10,000 BC.
These primitive paintings included a collection of cannabis-inspired artworks in the form of leaf motifs, smokes, animals, and a person. Most people believe the image shows a man smoking cannabis. At that time, hemp seeds were used as a food source and fiber material and smoked for recreational purposes in Asia. Apart from the ancient visual depictions of the cannabis plant in Kyushu caves in 10000 BC, cannabis was also involved in inspiring several arts in Asia, some of which are discussed below;
Ancient Chinese pottery: This represents one of the best evidence of cannabis use in Ancient Asia. These included pots filled with cannabis. The researchers believe the pots were used for burning cannabis for its recreational purpose since they contained an unusual concentration of THC, the mind-altering compound in the cannabis plant.
Japanese woodblock prints: This includes items housed in the Cannabis museum in Japan. These are a collection of items showing woodblock prints of women spinning hemp fibers, historical photographs of hemp farmers, and a working loom used for hemp weaving. The museum also has a collection of hemp textiles and other hemp clothing.
Indian miniature paintings: quite a handful of miniature paintings showing people preparing the hemp plant in India. Most of these paintings include images of Shiva and Parvati preparing Bhang, a milkshake-like drink made with cannabis. Later, the paintings included satirical scenes of dissolute drug takers in Mughal paintings.
The common spread and acceptance of cannabis in Asia also influenced the art of several other contemporary artists like Ai Weiwei and Takashi Murakami. This influence involved using color, art forms, choice of material, and surrealism.
Although famous Asian artists may not be vocal about cannabis use, carefully examining their artworks will show traces of cannabis influence. In most cases, these famous Asian artists show a strong connection with the environment which may have been supported by cannabis exposure and the long history of cannabis use in Asia.
Traditional Use of Cannabis in Asian Art
Cannabis has been used as a symbol of fertility, divinity, and transcendence. The ability of THC and other cannabinoids to trigger a psychotropic reaction in users made it a choice drug for religious rituals where a connection between the physical and spiritual is required.
It is generally speculated that cannabis evolved near the Tibetan plateau and has spread to every other part of the world. This is why cannabis has a strong link and depiction in Tibetan mandalas. Cannabis is viewed as a potent medicine for several disease conditions. In China, cannabis and cannabis-based products like hemp fiber have played a significant role in calligraphy. Apart from influencing how some characters are written, hemp-based papers have been utilized as the choice material for Chinese calligraphy.
Cannabis and Modern Asian Art
As a common plant in Asian cultures, cannabis has successfully seeped into the works of contemporary and modern Asian art. In most cases, these modern artists incorporate cannabis use in their artworks through expression and choice of color. The most prominent of these artists will be the works of Thai Artists Rirkrit Tiranvanija and Chinese Xu Bing.
Chinese Xu Bing is one of the few Chinese artists uniquely using hemp paper to create art. His art involves using plant fibers, hemp, paper, and other debris against a frosted glass screen. The combination of these materials is excellent at transforming simple art strokes into majestic masterpieces.
Apart from the works of Chinese Xu Bing, several other Asian artists are pushing the boundaries with cannabis-inspired artworks, from cannabis-based material to choice of color, shape, form, and painting styles.
Cannabis is great for creativity as it interacts with the CB1 receptors to trigger the brain’s creativity center. A good number of people can also attest to the fact that cannabis makes them more creative and allows them to connect more with their environments.
The use of cannabis in Asian art is not limited to smoking weed for creativity as hemp-based products like hemp fiber, hemp paper, and hemp ropes have been used as artistic material for modern and traditional Asian arts.