The key concept of Taoist aesthetics including Zhuangzi’s in East Asia is ‘Tao’, a word that translates to ‘way’ or ‘path’, or sometimes more loosely ‘doctrine’ or ‘principle’. The notion of ‘virtue’ in Zhuangzi’s aesthetics, however, draws more attention in that any artistic creation can be achieved through concrete, practical actions. Zhuangzi’s concept of ‘virtue’ refers to individual inherency, inner potential, and the source of life, alongside the notion of ‘Tao’. ‘Virtue’ as individual inherency is an element distinguishing an individual from other beings, and ‘virtue’ as inner potential means an ideal spiritual state with a ‘harmonious personality’ and the potential ability to maintain harmony in relations with others. ‘Virtue’ as the source of life means a life form displaying the value of its existence when an object with a concrete form comes to have this value as its individual trait.
In terms of artistic creation, these features seem to reveal Zhuangzi’s awareness of an artistic subject’s aesthetic consciousness and his awareness of artistic creation. The aesthetic consciousness, the subject of creation, can be an emotional basis for the practical activities for creation. Zhuangzi’s concept of ‘virtue’ is therefore presumed to be the substantial base of his aesthetic thought, as a fundamental force to provoke creative ideas and imagination.
Based on this notion of ‘virtue’, Zhuangzi’s aesthetic thought can be classified into three categories. First, the aesthetic of ‘Grotesque[憰]’, or a vicious or iniquitous plan denotes a relative perception of beauty and ugliness, transcending the externality of beauty. Art creation, Zhuangzi recognized, is perhaps the demand to transcend the idealized, daily, fixed, or formalized. Second, Zhuangzi’s ‘virtue’ is a crucial notion of the value of pursuing harmony and unity, moving beyond the relative, confrontational relations between beauty and ugliness, subject and object, right and wrong, self and other. Zhuangzi seems to put emphasis on emotional harmony, oneness, and communion between artists and appreciators. Third, Zhuangzi’s aesthetic consciousness presupposes ‘un-intentionality’, which is associated with his notion of ‘virtue’, has the attribute of ‘wuji’(無己), or the lack of self-centered thinking.
This ‘wuji’ refers to a spiritual state in which one’s subject is incorporated into the Ten Thousand Things, namely a state the subject becomes one with the object. A creative artistic act can be attained when fixed notions of objects are left behind and the artist works with a flexible mind. That’s why one’s aesthetic sensibility and creative imagination can be infinite and may not be suspended in a process of consistent change through the subject’s unfixed consciousness. With this, one may exert one's artistic creativity. The ‘virtue’ is thus the concept of displaying the highest aesthetic consciousness the artistic subject seeks, and also the notion signifying the concreteness of Zhuangzi’s aesthetic thought.