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CLP 109: 1992 Lecture on Dong Qichang, Met. Museum, October


Intro. Congrats, on installation etc.)

S.S. (Tung portrait, detail; Ch'ing-pien)  Those of you who have spent time in exhib. and looking at catalog will know already what I want to say at beginning: that TCC is the major painter of late Ming (only serious competitor would be figure ptr Ch'en H-s); a major calligrapher (some argument, in which I don't mean to take sides-not treating Tung as calligrapher); and certainly major theorist.  Changed whole direction of ptg for later periods in China; also of thinking and writing abt ptg.   His position is thus established, unchallenged.  This exhibition, the massive two-volume catalog, and the international symposium that took place at Nelson Gallery in Kansas City last April, then, are culminations of a cumulative appraisal and appreciation of him that's been going on since his time.  Has led to great outpouring of scholarship, also some argument, especially in recent years. International symposium on him also in his home town, Sung-chiang, in fall 1989  (I didn't go--too soon after other events of 1989).  And now this large-scale, magnificent exhibition and symposium, as close to a Matisse-like blockbuster as our field is likely to produce, all a huge success.  At same time, symposium left participants with some sense of serious tensions w/in TCC studies; I want to consider these along with considering his achievements as artist.  That he was a great painter is beyond question; but the question remains: what kind of great painter was he?

To make my own position in this clear: since I pub. ptg on right and another of Tung's in cat. of exhib. (held at Asia House Gallery, not far from here) a quarter-century ago, I've done four long pieces of writing on him, including long essay on his ptg style for cat. of this exhib., 1st vol.  When you've written that much abt artist, hard to talk abt him again w/o repeating; but will try.

Have spoken each time of "wrestling with Tung";  still feel that way abt my engagement with him.  All of us in the field are necessarily wrestling with Tung-he is, among other things, inescapable-but we're also starting to wrestle with each other.  I want to try to identify some of the issues and points of tension among us, or between us and Tung, so to speak, what it is we are wrestling over, as a key to tensions, and power, within Tung's paintings.

S.  (whole of portrait).  Since second vol. of catalog only recently appeared, I would assume that few here have had chance to read Celia Carrington Riely's excellent essay "Tung Ch'i-ch'ang's Life," by far the best biography available in English, and in fact in any language (Chinese "biographies" take form of nien-p'u. year-by-year accounts, which for us have serious drawbacks.)  Until pub. of Riely's work, best in English was Nelson Wu's, in his dissertation, mid-1950s, later an article. Still remember excitement, in 1953-4-1 was here at the Met as a fellowship student-with which we heard Nelson's lectures at China House and read his writings. This was time when Tung little understood: Ludwig Bachhofer for instance wrote of him as "execrable amateur." Nelson Wu's treatment of him, by contrast, was first suggestion, for some of us, that Chinese painting styles could be tied to intellectual issues.

However, Waikam Ho, curator at Nelson Gallery, principal organizer of exhib. and symposium, person more than anyone else responsible for its great success-project of many years for him-Wai-kam takes issue with both Riely and Wu, in his essay in first vol. of catalog, written w. daughter Dawn Ho Delbanco (who will speak here next month): "Tung C-c's Transcendence of History and Art," full of insights and new information.  Won't take time to summarize argument; enough to say that Wai-kam is inclined to dispute accounts that question Tung's effectiveness in political sphere, and that make him a less-than-admirable person; Wai-kam argues that we must see him whole, and trust ptgs & callig., along with his writings, as presenting real man, insofar as we can recover him. This is strong position to take, with a good measure of truth in it; based on his extensive studies and a knowledge of Chinese history and culture far beyond what most of us, including myself, can claim.

S. (Ku Cheng-i ptg.) Let me give very brief outline of Tung's life, for those who haven't read about him.  Born in Shanghai into undistinguished family; around 1567, when only twelve, comes to Sung-chiang, city that was rising in importance, partly through becoming a center of commerce for Yangtzu delta region.  Old scholar-official families located there. Becomes a protege of one of them; studies hard; also sees old ptgs & callig. in homes of local gentry; learns about ptg & callig., picks up new ideas in discussions with them. (Ptg done by one of them, Ku Cheng-i, dtd 1575, to exemplify new mode that Tung brought to fruition.)  Passes exams for official career with great distinction, goes to capital, given series of posts. For rest of long life, in and out of office: retires, advances, according to political situation, rise and fall of own fortunes.  Estab. himself as powerful, high-ranking official, also as ptr & calligrapher whose works much in demand.

S.S.  Tung & others. Center of coterie of scholars, poets, collectors, etc . In 1616, Sungchiang townspeople rioted agst Tung & his family; one of quite a few such riots against local landlords that occurred in Yangtze region in late Ming. Cause doesn't concern us; said to be arrogance and high-handed behavior of Tung and members of his family.  His huge estate looted, burned; he is forced to sell much of collection, live with others for a time.

S.S.  Some of most impressive works date from this period, such as "Ch'ing-pien Mts." ptg in Cleveland Mus., with which we began; or this LS now in Melbourne, done in 1617. (speculate on why.)  Powerfully put together paintings, a lot of muscular energies in landscape forms, full maturity of his art. Ca. 1620: back to Beijing, active there for some years; quite prolific as ptr during this time.  Of landscape albums alone he prod, over a hundred w/in a few years, by own testimony, including

S.S.  great album in Nelson Gal., KC, which in a sense occasioned the exhibition. As well as, of course, hanging scrolls and handscrolls and fan ptgs.  Avoided major political struggle of time, bet. evil eunuch Wei Chung-hsien and Tung-lin party of would-be reformers; many others came to bloody ends through involvement in this. Tung survived, pursued career.  Engaged for a time as historian, helping to compile dynastic history.  Back to Sung-chiang in 1625; recalled to capital in 1631, when young prince whose tutor he had been ascends throne as emperor; finally allowed to retire in 1634. Died in 1636.




S.S.  (Two LS of 1628.)  In late years, Tung very conscious of his

position in art world; first major painter since Chao Meng-fu in late 13th cent, to attain such high official rank; dominant figure in art theorizing of time; had converted many artists to his "Southern school" doctrine & style. "Orthodox school" of 17th-early 18th cent, grew out of his works and his doctrines, turning his style into learnable set of rules and conventions; Individualist masters in same period deeply affected by his ptg, even when they reacted against it.  Manchu court in early Ch'ing dynasty promoted this orthodoxy in painting by court artists, Ch'ing emperors adopted his style of calligraphy.  Might have looked as though Tung's position secure forever.  But later his influence waned, criticism began.  Kohara Hironobu's article in catalog traces this: critics find fault with Tung, while always ending up saying he was, after all, great painter.  As if a kind of grudging admiration, reconciled with dislike for certain aspects of man and his art.  In late 19th & 20th century, whole tradition of scholar-amateur ptg. of which Tung C-c a kind of culmination, under attack in China.  Realism in art had come to be assoc. w. progress, scientific attitude; so that the abandonment of more naturalistic ptg of Sung for formalism of scholar-artists, a phenomenon in which Tung was central figure, could only be condemned.

S.S. (two leaves from alb. of particularly stark & geometricized LS, done ca. 1621; not in exhib.)  During May 4th mvt of 1919, beginning of China's always-aborted mvt toward opening up of democratic society, Tung's emph. on imitating old masters, avoiding scrupulously anything that would appeal to ordinary people, recognized as elitist and politically regressive.  This judgment of elitism of course adopted more vehemently in Maoist China, when Tung seen as representing all that had to be overcome in Chinese trad, of art.  His ptg represented furthest extreme from "revolutionary realism" that was being advocated.  Mao himself condemned Tung as despotic landlord.  In 1964, there appeared an article in People's Daily about the Sung-chiang riots that destroyed Tung's estate. Japanese scholars, who were inclined to be Marxist in this period, wrote denunciations of him.  His reputation at lowest point.  When a delegation of us visited China in 1973, no ptgs by Tung to be seen; in 1977, on a follow-up delegation, we found one on exhib. in Palace Mus in Beijing, but accompanied by label explaining why he should be condemned, not admired.



pictures (John Hay's term), relatively tame river LS of type I'll speak of later.  (Have lost slide of label that accompanied.)  Label was probably a hangover, to be removed shortly afterwards.  Because, with overthrow of extreme leftists in 1977, fall of Chiang Ch'ing & Gang of Four, "second liberation," situation swung around; formalist art, art as self-expression, OK again, enthusiastically embraced by artists, and by art-historians (who aren't as separate from artists in China as here.) Tung was reinstated. Meanwhile, art history in west going in different direction; so-called "critical" art history, not accepting at face value structures that artists and writers build into or around their works and their writings; seeing these as contingent on conditions of their time, looking into social function of works, finding unexamined messages and motivations in them, etc.  In lecture on Tung C-c that I gave at Harvard in 1979 I adopted this approach cautiously, suggesting that we couldn't simply accept what Tung writes about his paintings as the ultimate truth about his ptgs.  Seemed, in context of normal art-historical discourse of the time, quite unobjectionable proposal.  Wow.  Not so in Chinese art studies.  That, and my whole approach to Tung in that lecture and elsewhere, has aroused some opposition.  More recently, however, questions have been raised by quite a few others about the reliability of the image of himself that Tung Ch'i-ch'ang projects in his writings and his paintings.  Let me run through a few of these. (Larger question is, of course: can an artist be permitted to create his own version of himself, his place in art history, and have it go unchallenged 4-1/2 centuries later?  By putting question that way, I'm obviously saying no, he cannot.)

>



S.S.  Two old ptgs w. Tung’s inscriptions. Tung Took great pride in his connoisseurship; collected old-master ptgs himself; often invited to view ptgs owned by others, to give opinions on these, which he would often inscribe on ptgs. Time of great change in China’s society, moving into merchant of market economy; lots of new money, new collectors who need advice.  Tung, with unimpeachable credentials, was one of those who gave it.  (Judging from later practice, he would be rewarded on some way – didn’t do it just for friendship.)  Richard Barhart of Yale U., in paper delivered at symposium, argued that Tung’s connoisseurship not so great; whenever he made independent judgements of ptgs., not just following some traditional attribution, he was usually wrong.  Barnhart writes "The present hopelessly confused state of connoisseurship in the study of early Chinese painting owes a great deal to Tung Ch'i-ch'ang." (While I don't really disagree with Barnhart, I think it would be better to acknowledge that Tung's judgments not purely disinterested; made at requests of people he may have been obligated to, or political figures whose favor he needed; various circumstances no doubt underlie his sometimes inflated attributions.)

S.S.  An essay by Celia Riely, delivered at a symposium on Tung Ch'i-ch'ang held at his hometown, Sung-chiang, in the fall of 1989, dealt with the ways in which Tung used his paintings for political purposes, to win the favor of high officials, to repay political favors, etc. (Much of the content of her essay is incorporated into her biog. in the catalog.) Some of us had assumed this about Tung; Riely put it on a solid basis. (Talk abt ptgs, both done in 1622: different circumstances...) She ends her biographical essay saying that her researches have left her with a picture of Tung as "a man intensely ambitious to win for himself official honors, and adept at securing the friendship of those who could advance or safeguard his political fortunes." This, of course, goes agst Confucian image projected by Chinese scholar-officials, including Tung, in which they are hermits in spirit, entering official life only for motives of public service, not striving to advance their personal fortunes.

S.S.  Other studies have dealt with how Tung benefited from his painting also in other ways, doing them (as was normal for scholar-amateurs) in exchange for gifts and favors instead of money. As his reputation spread, the demand for his works grew beyond his ability to respond to it. He painted, as I argued in my essay, a large number of rather routine works to satisfy some of the demand.  [Some of these are inscribed twice; I suggested that Tung probably did them for no particular recipient, as time permitted, kept them around, used them to satisfy people who visited & wanted a ptg? or to respond to someone who let him know.  The painting could then be re-inscribed with dedication to this recipient.]

S.S. (Two questionable ones.)  There is ample evidence also that he employed other, less eminent local artists as "ghost painters" to produce paintings that he would sign.  He writes in an inscription that when he visits collectors he sometimes encounters paintings bearing his name but not by himself; instead of exposing these as forgeries, he announces that he will leave the problem for posterity to unravel.  His friend Ch’en Chi-ju wrote that “less than one in ten” of ptgs circulating under his named was from his hand.  [These aspects of Tung's artistic activity, how he increased his volume of production and how he benefited from it, were dealt with by Hsingyuan Tsao in an unpublished study].

S.S.  (Undtd, late ptg, Palace Mus. Beijing: one of most confrontational.")  So: where does all this leave Tung Ch'i-ch'ang?  How we answer that depends on which of two large paradigms or models for the artist we accept.  The Chinese view, formulated in the 11th century and still accepted, whether or not consciously, by most Chinese scholars, is that the artist must be treated as a whole person; his painting, calligraphy, poetry, scholarship, political career, whatever else, are all expressions of the same personality, and are thus interrelated, inseparable.  Judgments of the man, positive or negative, can often affect judgments of the work.

S.S.  We have, for instance, the cases of Chao Meng-fu in the Yuan and Chang Jui-t'u in the late Ming: both were politically involved "on the wrong side" and were later judged harshly for it; their reputations as ptrs and calligraphers have suffered (explain).  In west, we are more willing to acknowledge that badly flawed people can produce great or very good works of art.  We've become accustomed to reading posthumous biographies of writers and poets and artists in which they are revealed to have been tyrants to their families, neurotic misfits, awful people, whose accomplishments as artists can nonetheless be great.  We can despise the politics of Ezra Pound while recognizing him as a major poet.  Which doesn't mean that we dissociate the works totally from the person, or say that the one is irrelevant to the other.  We build our understanding of the creative personality out of all we know, and are able to find out, and we interpret the works in the context of this.  Revelations about the private lives of Mark Twain, or Charles Dickens, or Picasso (should I add: Woody Allen?), can be absorbed into our readings of their works, without diminishing our esteem for those works.

S.S. (1597 ptg, another 1633: beginning and end of career.)  My own strong feeling is that we should do the same with Tung Ch'i-ch'ang, and take the negative factors in other areas of his life and activity into account when analyzing the extraordinary tensions, the deliberate harshness, the exclusionist or confrontational character of his paintings.  Not works of easy-going, loveable person, any more than Ezra Pound's are.  I made that comparison in lecture on him at Harvard : works exhibit same stark power, same refusal to please the audience, same deliberate staking-out of a position with respect to the past, not leaving the relationship for others to define. Theirs are works of dominating personalities, deeply engaged with past of their respective arts, deeply ambitious about their own stature within it. (My colleague Susan Bush came up after the lecture to introduce Ezra Pound's daughter, who said...)

S.S.  (Cleveland Tung handscroll, w. detail.)  Another large, controversial issue is how we see the relationship between Tung Ch'i-ch'ang's paintings and the scenery of nature that is their ostensible subject.  Tung's writings abt ptg. concentrate almost exclusively on formal problems, and on the importance of learning from the old masters by copying and imitating their works, adopting elements of their styles into one's own, reaching an individual style through that process.  In a few places Tung does say, however-without developing the idea at all—that the painter must first model himself after the old masters, but in the end must model himself on heaven & earth, or on ts'ao-wu.  Creation.  I have been inclined to see this as more rhetorical than descriptive of his own practice; others have used Tung's statements about going beyond imitation of old masters and turning to nature to argue that what Tung gives us, however abstract it may look, is really a higher form of naturalism. And they fall back on what seems to me an old, tired formulation: that the Chinese artist isn't seeking to reproduce the outward forms, but rather the inner essence, or principle, or spirit of the scene or thing he paints.  Undated LS whereabouts unknown.   One of the reasons I find this formulation quite unsatisfactory-1 warn my students against using it in any form-is that it's so all-embracing, so endlessly flexible in its application, that whatever odd and unnatural stylistic direction a Chinese artist may embark on, whatever kind of "retreat from likeness" he may undertake, there will always be someone who will assure us that he is really capturing the essence of the thing rather than its outer appearance.  This is simply too facile and imprecise to be useful. There are, to be sure, situations in Chinese painting when it does seem valid to say something like that; but then these should be analyzed in different terms, to avoid the cliche, the pat formulation.  The other reason I think this formulation is misdirected, in case of Tung, is that paintings don't support it:  I would find it very difficult to see this, for instance, as ptg that "captures the inner principle" of the landscape.  Deliberate spatial anomalies... (point out.)  I could, with more time, show you the stylistic sources for it in older paintings, and how Tung transforms them; will try to do this for others a bit later.

S.S.  (Chang Hung, + detail.)  What were the alternatives?  In the first of my Norton lectures given in 1979 I showed this painting, done in 1634 by the Suchou master Chang Hung and representing the Ch'i-hsia Temple near Nanking-or rather, the Thousand Buddha Cliff behind the temple.  According to the artist's inscription, he went to the place with a friend, gazed down at it through the rain, and on his return recorded what he had seen.  So the painting is a kind of visual report, which violates ordinary conventions of Chinese landscape painting by allowing the mountainside to be obscured by trees and brush (as in fact it is when one sees it), by making the rock-cut Buddha niches hard to discern (as in fact they are from a distance), and by depicting the entry to the largest (Great Buddha) shrine as seen from above and from a sharp angle.  Persuades us, that is, that he is reproducing what one would see if one were there.

S.S.  What a more conventional depiction would look like is indicated y this woodcut picture, made around the same time, in which the trees stand aside so as not to block the view, and the Buddha niches enlarged and displayed prominently and schematically.

S.  Later, I visited the place, and discovered that there was here one could stand to get the view Chang Hung presents us with. So what he gives us is the effect, or impression, of gazing down at it from a certain imagined vantage point. But this doesn't diminish the truthfulness of the image in most other respects; Chang tells us a lot about the place that can be confirmed when we go there. This was a very un-Chinese thing to do, and Chang's achievement has never been recognized at all by Chinese critics. (This, contrasted w. Tung's overwhelming success, was point of first chapters of my Compelling Image book.)

S.  In the exhibition is the painting by Tung Ch’i-ch’ang, done a bit earlier, 1627, which is his landscape of Mt. Ch’i-hsia.  Doesn’t say he ptg it after trip there, but copies onto it poem by Buddhist monk inscribed on wall of the temple; prob. did it after returning to Nanking.  Now: contrast w. Chang Hung's ptg extreme.  I used a similar pairing, dif. Tung C-c vs. dif. Chang Hung, to begin lecture series, speaking of "descriptive naturalism" for one, using terms such as formalism and abstraction for other.  But what words we use less important than that we recognize profound difference in fundamental nature and intent represented by two works; what ptr is up to, so to speak.  In inscription for album of Scenes of Yüeh painted in 1638, Chang Hung wrote that when he traveled there he found that about half of what he saw failed to agree with what he had heard, so he painted the album when he returned, "because (he writes) relying on your ears is not as good as relying on your eyes."  Now, my strongest admonition to visitors to exhibition, or people trying to understand late Ming or other Ch. ptg generally, is just that: relying on your ears isn't as good as relying on your eyes.  If you listen, there will be people telling you that any Ch. ptg. as close to nature, or as abstract, as any other, etc., and that this is the wrong way to think about Ch.ptg. anyway.  But if you look at the ptgs, you find this doesn't make sense; this and similar arguments are interesting theoretically but have little to do with the ptgs.  This is a different matter from value judgments: we can prefer Tung's ptg, find it stronger, more original, etc. (altho Chang's also very original, in Chinese context; and other works by him would better represent his real stature-which isn't, to be sure, equal to Tung's.)  What we can't do, I think, is call up the old cliche, say Chang's only gets outer appearance, while Tung's captures inner spirit of LS, and so forth.

S. Tung has no real interest in what temple looks like, much less in details such as its shrines or sculptures. Uses conventional sign tor temple, sets it inconspicuously in valley in upper right.

S. If one says, yes, but this is a distant view, whereas Chang's close up, this is true enough; but Tung's still not interested in anything specific about place. Here is distant view of Mt. Ch'i-hsia-much resemblance.

S. What principally underlies Tung’s ptg is not observation of place, made on trip, but his studies of old ptgs, such as this one by Huang Kung-wang, his 1341 “Stone Cliff at Pond of Heaven,” which Tung probably knew in some version, whether or not the original. Schematic indication of temple in valley in upper right; rest. However, a formal construction, made up of reapeated, geometricized shapes. (Show compositional similarities.)

S.S. Striking features of Tung's ptg--parallel-fold striping of  "mountainsides, odd convolutions of forward face of bluff-aren't derived so much from observations of geological structures of real terrain as from study of old ptgs, or imitations of old ptgs, such as this one, which purports to be by Wang Wei, T'ang-period master whom Tung was always pursuing.  Prob. not far from Tung's ptg in time, but can rep. kind of mannered, debased Ming imitations of old styles that had powerful effect, I think, on Tung's development.  To say this isn't to put down Tung, any more than it is to say it of French artists of 19c who saw Japanese prints of "decadent" period, scarcely major works of art in themselves, and took useful things from them, turning them to their own purposes. Tung was always that, making creative appropriations of what suited his needs.

S.  One of good papers in symposium, by one of younger scholars, dealt with this 1597 ptg, done for Tung's friend Ch'en Chi-ju, representing Ch'en's retreat, the Wan-luan Thatched Hall.  Dealt intelligently with circumstances of ptg's creation, what Tung and Ch'en thought abt old ptgs and how it is reflected in this one, how Tung located Ch'en's thatched hall in middle and made the rest of composition revolve around it, etc.  Showed picture of real place, which looked as wildly unlike ptg as my slide of Mt. Ch'i-hsia looked unlike Tung's picture of it.  So far so good; but then at end, instead of acknowledging this real relationship, slipped into easy way out, which as I've said I find quite unconvincing, saying that picture isn't trying to describe real scenery, but to "transmit the spirit of the landscape." Aya.

S.  Another late, mannered work ascribed to Wang Wei; this kind of thing, I think, or perhaps pictures of somewhat higher quality but w. same stylistic characteristics, supplied basic elements of style for Tung Ch'i-ch'ang's, and in some part suggested the starkness and severity that Tung achieved in his early works.  A bit like Stravinsky using elements of early music for his own astringent effects, to escape blandishments of romanticism.  That Tung could make good art out of bad only resounds to his credit:  Wen Fong has called this "the most innovative painting since Chao Meng-fu," and I wouldn't argue against that.

Now: we have a set of coordinates within which this picture, or any of Tung's pictures, can be understood: references to visual phenomena of nature; references to old styles;   formalist or even abstract manipulations of form; personal expression through brushwork and other elements of style.  It seems scarcely necessary to point out that these are pulling in different, sometimes opposing directions, and that we can see these conflicting pulls or pushes as sources of tension, exactly the tensions that give Tung's works much of their power.  I would argue, have always argued, that this is the most productive way to construct our understanding of Tung's paintings.  But other specialists, people I respect, are inclined rather to follow Tung's example and find ways to reconcile these on level of theory, saying that imitating past and portraying real world are same thing in Tung's mind; or that (to quote conclusion of one of papers in symposium that took this line, paper otherwise interesting and good)  "Nature, art, and artist have become one." Wen Fong, in his essay, reproducing details of this painting, comments on them that they "are not only abstract but also realistic."  And first paragraph in exhibition brochure repeats that formula: "his paintings are both naturalistic and abstract."

Well. We can similarly say, with the Chinese, that "painting and calligraphy are a single art"; we can say with Keats that "Beauty is truth, truth beauty"; one could go on multiplying endlessly these poetic equations of large concepts-- something is the same as something, seeming opposites are really equivalents, etc.--without, I think, casting much real light. Such formulations are attractive and repeatable, they sound profound.  And so long as they are read as poetic truths, or metaphorical truths, OK, unobjectionable.  But I don't think they belong in serious considerations of the real relationship between beauty and truth, or painting and calligraphy, or imitating the old masters vs. pursuing truth to nature. To simply equate them, saying  "In Tung Ch'i-ch'ang theories and thinking these were held to be the same, therefore they must be the same for us" seems to me methodologically unsound.  I'm sure someone will come up after lecture and tell me about non-duality of Asian thought vs. dualism in western; but that also seems to me too facile a way of dealing with the question.  A central issue in Chinese art studies just now is: how far can we, or should we, adopt traditional Chinese ways of thought abt art in our own treatments of it.  I have argued that we should regard Ming formulations on Chinese art just as we do Renaissance formulations on Italian art, taking them very seriously but not allowing them to control and limit our own understanding.  To do otherwise would be like Michael Baxandall being constrained from writing his book on Painting and Experience in Fifteenth Century Italy because it takes a/different direction from the ones that Vasari and others took.

S.S.  (Misty River and Piled Peaks, ca. 1604: another version of this extraordinary ptg. in exhib. No doubt it exhibits, in eyes of some, a profound naturalism.)  Now, when one uses such a phrase as "pursuing truth to nature" these days, you invite volleys from another quarter: those who argue that since all representation is matter of learned convention, one picture as "lifelike" as another.  In extreme form, as put forth for instance by Norman Bryson-another scholar I respect deeply without always being able to follow--the contention is that differentiating works of art by degrees of representational fidelity is kind of cultural imperialism, politically repressive. (I'm not sure I can even follow this argument well enough to summarize if fairly.) [These notions belong of course to the great anti-Gombrich movement, which for the moment dominates art-historical discourse, so that simply to question it relegates one to a discredited past.]  So we can observe a kind of unholy alliance between two very different critiques of the idea of verisimilitude or lifelikeness, one following the Chinese literati who saw it as Philistine and tainted by professionalism and learned skills, the other following the advanced French critical theorists in seeing it as a naive acceptance of ideologically loaded systems of value.  This is a phenomenon awesome to observe; someone writing a history of our field of study in the future will devote a fascinating chapter to it. I wish I could be around to read it.

S.  Back to the real world of artistic creation, and to Tung Ch'i-ch’ang.  I would like to conclude by looking at a few of his less-known paintings and a couple of the well-known, to try to suggest what I think they really are, about.  I've discussed a number of cases of his manipulations of old compositions in my writings on him, and don't want to repeat these, but will give a single example.  Here is leaf from 1630 album now in Met. Mus.; he writes title on it, "Autumn Hills and Buddhist Temple," and adds it's an "imitation" of the 10th cent, landscapist Chu-jan. (Fang-not really imitation, but creative reworking, as practiced by Tung.)

S.S. Now, the ptg of that title ascribed to Chü-jan in the Cleveland Museum bears that title, and must be the one Tung is taking as the sorting point for his composition;

S.  but to see the derivation one must reverse the Cleveland picture, (describe).

S.  Another that bears the same title, undated, appears to be a further transformation of the same composition.  He presumably made free sketches of old paintings he saw, and could draw on them when he wished.  We could make other such groupings, beginning with the old work and seeing the ways Tung manipulates it, transforms it, creates radically new compositional structures out of it. I have done this in my published essays.

S.S.  One could also make a fascinating study out of Tung's ceaseless variations on the basic river landscape type as used by Ni Tsan and others in the Yuan period and after.  If one described these two paintings-the one on the left dated 1624, the one on the right undated but probably a few years earlier--in terms of subject and composition, they would sound almost identical.  In fact they are very different in whole effect.  The undated picture on the right is outwardly stable but dynamically charged, with volumetrically-rendered earth masses and trees engaged in active interactions across the intervening space.  In the 1624 picture on the left, described in Tung’s inscription as an “ink play” done after visiting the imperial tombs, the energy of the picture is generated primarily by the systems of brushstrokes, the repeated tien or dots horizontal or slanting, the long strokes that shape the swelling hillsides and carry the eye rapidly over them.  A traditional Chinese connoisseur might say that one is in the manner of Huang Kung-wang, the other in the manner of Wang Meng, but this wouldn’t go far in characterizing the difference between them, although it is true enough that works by those two Yuan masters underlie some of Tung’s techniques and forms. S.  Upper part of the 1624 work. No other picture of Tung's is quite like this one; no other artist of the time could invent and carry out so many permutations of a simple theme, without introducing any new thematic materials.  Near and distant banks, trees: nothing more.

S. Often, as in these two works of 1625 and 1626, Tung Ch'i-ch'ang will begin at the bottom with a relatively conventional passage of trees on the foreground bank, and then perform amazing elaborations in the upper part, elaborations with no real precedent in Ming or earlier painting.  It had always been part of his method to construct large compositional units as conglomerates of smaller masses, a device that he also advocates in his writing.  In his later years he is fond of setting cohesive conglomerates against others that appear to be undergoing a process of dissolution, all but flying apart, as the one on the right seems to be doing. Tung is kind of artist who takes risks, seeming to relax control over his forms and yet making them all work together in unexpected ways.

S.S.  A particularly successful use of this interplay or alternation of coherent and fragment forms is in this small handscroll painted in 1635, one of his last surviving works.  It is loosely based on a painting in Tung’s collection which he took to be the work of another 10th century master, Juan T’ung.  (I should comment that John Hay, in his catalog entry for this painting, provides a model account of its formal development, far better than mine in my essay.)  The two rows of hillocks in foreground and middleground that open the composition are blocked as one rolls further, but a ridge that leans strongly leftward, impelling one onward.

S.S.  Further on, this leftward push continues back into middle distance, where it pauses at a waterfall; then it continues more powerfully than ever in the foreground, only to be abruptly halted, as if meeting with an equally powerful counter-force from the other direction. John Hay describes this passage as “an explosive fragmentation of the structure into blocks of compressed space and shards of brushwork, threatening to lift the entire substance of the painting beyond the upper border.  Unexpectedly, in what might call a dues ex picture, the rocks are suddenly restored to the softly rounded territory of Tung Yuan, out of which roll the intestinal clouds in which Tung Ch’i-ch’ang so often found his fortitude.” (One of John’s little jokes.  Two, actually: dues ex picture and intestinal fortitude.)

S.S.  To avoid being misunderstood as arguing that all of Tung Ch'i-ch’ang's paintings are to be read only as formal constructions and manipulations of the past-an argument that I do not at all mean to make--l'll end with a brief look at several leaves in the "Eight Views of Autumn Moods" album in the Shanghai Museum, another of Tung's masterworks that is in the exhibition.  It was painted during the eighth and ninth months of 1620, mostly on boating trips on the Yangtze River and its tributaries in the Chenchiang-Yangchou region.  In several of the leaves, the experience of gazing at passing scenery from his boat seems to have inspired Tung to paint pictures of unusual freshness, with unformulaic compositions and softer, "painterly" renderings of forms. He even puts in a few human-interest or anecdotal touches of a kind seldom to be seen in his mature works. In one leaf, a man in a boat sailing away from the shore turns to look back at buildings-perhaps a scene of parting, and the man the artist himself?  Whether so or not, at least the picture encourages such speculations.  The boats seen further back are unusually detailed and differentiated, for Tung. Another leaf, at left, presents a view over marshy spits along the river, some with only grasses, others with willows and leafy bushes, carrying the eye back to the high horizon. The composition imparts a gentle rocking motion, which one is tempted to take as conveying the sense of being in a boat.

S.  The same is true of another painting that Tung inscribes as having been done while he was traveling by boat, the 1617 "Lofty Recluse," also in the exhibition.  In his inscription on it Tung writes a phrase commonly used by certain earlier artists but rarely by him: "I drew this as a record of my exhilaration."  The painting is also, however, a very accomplished imitation of the style of Ni Tsan.  Tung is quite capable of reconciling personal response to the world around him with uses of old styles; which is not at all the same as saying that they are the same thing, or never antithetical.  They can coexist harmoniously, when he wants them to.

S.S.  The leaf on the right, according to the inscription, is done in imitation of the brushwork of Chao Meng-fu; in the long inscription Tung lists works by this master that he previously owned.  In both inscription and painting,Tung seems deeply engrossed in old styles, in an intellectual or art-historical way; this is the kind of painting among his oeuvre-almost the only kind-that the Orthodox masters of the following generations understood and imitated.  Leaf on left: from great album of 1621-24 in Kansas City --very similar in style and subject.  Are we to read this, then, also a landscape in style of Chao Meng-fu?  No; insc. doesn't mention him at all. Tung has written poem on it, which he ident. as by Yang Shen, 16th cent. poet. So: is it illustrating Yang's poem?  No again, because Tung adds note that he "wrote this as an insc. on the ptg; but the poem doesn't necessarily have anything in common w. the ptg."  Confounds our expectations, as he so often does.

S.  Another from K.C. album, close in comp. & style.  Is it Chao Meng-fu this time, or poem?  Neither, really; Tung writes that this represents scenery he saw on way to Hui-shan.  But then adds: "I decreed it to be 'in the spirit of Tu Fu poem. Meaning: that it is that because I say it is.  Normal practice was to identify in insc. the coordinates, the referents, w/in which the viewer was to understand the ptg, inducing viewer to puzzle out the relationship.  Tung follows but also plays agst. this (already complex) practice, subverts it, undermines viewer's attempts to discern such relat. both in ptgs themselves (in which same comp. & style given dif. coordinates) and in insc, which confound one's assumptions that they will clarify the matter.

S. In next-to-last leaf (last slide of day) Tung writes in his inscription that it is based on a painting by the eleventh century scholar-artist Mi Fu that he saw in someone's house.  But without this statement we might not only be hard-put to recognize any derivation from Mi Fu, but might see it again as recording an experience of river travel, the moment when an imposing cliff looms ominously over one's boat.  No picture remotely like this is even attrib. to Mi Fu, so far as I know.  Again, we see a ref. to old style coexisting w. record of personal experience; again, a confounding of our expectation that insc. will clarify what ptg is about.

How to read ptgs of Tung C-c? problem of my title.  Obvious that giving simple answer would be as inadequate as doing that for ptgs of Picasso, or Matisse, or any other of the great, irreducible , inexhaustible masters.  Tung's ptgs can be exper. in diversity of ways, some of which don't require reading of insc, or responding to intricate allusions that Tung has embedded in them.  Main admonition I would

make: read catalog, if you want; read other writings on  Tung; probe as deeply as you will into the coordinates and conditions outside the ptgs. that Tung wants us to consider along with the paintings.   But most of all, read ptgs/and believe what you read.  Simply being bowled over by impact of them as paintings is OK, would no doubt please Tung.  In deeper readings, for those who want to pursue the Tung's works present a range of different modes or approaches to representing landscape that can be understood as corresponding loosely to different creative circumstances and different states of mind in the artist.  Concerns of response to natural scenery, meditations on the old masters, expressions of momentary feeling, responsiveness to outside demands, sheer formal experimentation and the pleasure of creating complex, visually absorbing structures, all play their parts, and can, within limits, be recognized and distinguished, with some help from Tung’s inscriptions.  We can go on to make some correlations, even if only tentatively, between factors in the circumstances in which the paintings were done, or Tung’s relationship to the recipient, and qualities in the painting.  These are what I think we most need to do in coming to understandings of his painting.  And saying that all these concerns are on some higher plane the same thing seems to me only to muddle the project.  I would rather remain down on the plane where they can be differentiated, even at the risk of being told, as I have been more than once, that I’m missing the real spiritual depths of Tung’s art.

As for the charges being brought against Tung Ch’i-ch’ang in recent scholarship, which I summarized at the beginning: the attempts to defend him against these seem to me mostly misdirected, since they implicitly accept the assumptions that there is something wrong with benefiting materially from one’s paintings, something wrong with being politically ambitious; something wrong with doing paintings that in large part represent a withdrawal from nature, and so forth.  To do so accepts the Chinese literati system of values, sometimes, biases, more than I think is healthy for us a 20th century people to do.  As soon as we drop the time-bound and culturally specific value criteria of late Ming China, the problem largely disappears.  We observe artists in China today enhancing their situations in society through making presents of their works to influential people, and we can only applaud this; whatever allows the artist to wok and create in comfort is good for them, and good for us.  We regard political ambition as what makes and motivates politicians, scarcely avoidable so long as we have governments. And if someone engaged in politics escapes becoming involved in destructive struggles, they are doing what most of us would do; if Tung-lin party.  We would not have his great late works as a painter.  As for the charges of formalism, estrangement from nature, etc., they may have made some sense in Maoist China, but it would certainly be odd for us in our time and place to argue that moves away from naturalism in art reduce its quality or interest, and that good artists, whether Chinese or Western don’t make them.

And if it's true that Tung was a wicked landlord, it's also true that we treasure among the greatest achievements of our own culture works by people who in their personal lives can be judged to have been morally defective, or social misfits.  We can, that is, construct a Tung Ch'i-ch'ang incorporating all these qualities, positive and negative, along with others we may uncover in the future, and still recognize him as the creator of a staggeringly rich and satisfying body of work, a world-class master. Without forcedly trying to absolve him of the "charges," we can hold all these factors simultaneously in our minds and make out of them a real Tung Ch'i-ch'ang, a complex figure who comprehends all of them and is nonetheless one of most creative, innovative, influential artists that China or any other culture has produced. Thank you.

 

 











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