CLP 34: 1999 "Some Thoughts on the History and Post-history of Chinese Painting." Haley Lecture, Princeton

Haley Lecture, Princeton, Nov. 16, "Some Thoughts on the History and Post-history of Chinese Painting."

It's a pleasure to be back here. As many of you know, I recently enjoyed a very productive & pleasurable academic year in Princeton, ending last August, among other things spending time with my esteemed colleague Wen Fong, to whom I dedicate this lecture. Although we've been arguing about one thing or another from the time we met some 43 years ago, we've done it unwaveringly as friends, and together, partly by playing off against each other in this way, we've taken a big part in shaping our field of study. So if I stand here today in front of Wen Fong making large pronouncements about Chinese painting, some of which he will agree with, some not, it's in that spirit.

This is by unintended timing a millenial lecture, and by unavoidable timing a late-life lecture, following on a half-century of dedication to the study of Chinese painting. My teacher Max Loehr, at the first great international symposium in our field in 1970, gave his late-life periodization paper, "Phases and Content in Chinese Painting";[1] it seemed to me time for another attempt. I won't question the basic truth of Loehr's formulation up through Sung, but will see the later period differently, and concentrate on post-Sung painting. I'll be making sweeping generalizations to which any good grad student can cite numerous exceptions; obviously, I could do it myself, for another lecture undermining this one. But stopping to qualify every statement would waste far too much of everyone's time and patience. My slides will be used mainly to illustrate the argument--I won't be talking in detail about the individual paintings. Most of them will simply be identified. There will be no surprises among the slides. Finally, I hope that the direction of my own recent writing will dispel any suspicion this lecture might arouse that I want to consider Chinese painting in isolation, as an autonomous system, and so forth--a charge we know too well, since we've too often been guilty of it. I think it's sometimes useful to treat it as though it were an autonomous system, for a particular limited purpose, while knowing all the time that it isn't.

Two years ago I found myself unexpectedly involved in a large exhibition of Chinese art, the Guggenheim Museum's "China: 5000 Years", and in writing a brief general piece on Chinese painting for the catalog. I chose to open this by raising a troublesome problem: why, in spite of all the serious study that later Chinese painting has received from specialist scholars over the past half-century or so, with major private and museum collections assembled, major exhibitions and their attendant symposia absorbing but also concentrating our energies--why, in the face of all this, do certain misperceptions about later Chinese painting persist among those outside the field, including eminent art historians and critics? I quoted two to represent them, Ernst Gombrich and Arthur Danto, both deeply knowledgeable in western art history, both bold enough to venture sweeping formulations and judgements. Gombrich, reproducing a page from a Chinese 17th-century painting manual showing how to paint orchids stroke by stroke, takes this to exemplify China's "complete reliance on acquired vocabularies," and remarks that "there is nothing in Western art that compares with this conception of painting," which he characterizes as a "combination of traditionalism and respect for the uniqueness of every performance." Later Chinese painting, then, in this version, is a performance art. Danto misreads a statement in an essay by Sherman Lee, written for the catalog of an exhibition of Ming-Ch'ing paintings, to mean that Chinese painting underwent no significant change in the Ming-Ch'ing period, and asks us to "imagine . . . an exhibition that begins with Giotto and ends with Gauguin" in which "everything was in place at the beginning, further development of which was 'unimaginable and superfluous.'" And for Danto the paintings in the Ming-Qing exhibition, spanning some six centuries in their time of creation, seem "oddly contemporaneous." In support of this version of Chinese painting as essentially static through its later periods, Danto cites Roger Fry's 1926 observations about the "strange atrophy of the creative spirit" that afflicted later Chinese art, and about its "excessive reverence for tradition." For us in the field, by contrast, what has strangely failed to develop is not the art but foreign perceptions about it: has nothing happened between Roger Fry and Arthur Danto?

I offered several factors that might lie behind this somehow disturbing phenomenon: the carry-over of an ill-informed belief by pioneer Western writers on Chinese painting that its creative period ended around the end of Sung, the late 13th century, with everything after that being repetition and decline; the difficulty that even sensitive people have in recognizing and evaluating stylistic distinctions, even large and crucial ones, within an unfamiliar artistic tradition; and the habit of Yuan and later Chinese artists of claiming, in inscriptions on their works, that they are "imitating" some old master--a practice which might seem derivative, if we accept the claims at face value, but which in actuality is no more so than when T.S. Eliot "imitates" Chaucer, or Picasso "imitates" Velasquez, or Stravinsky "imitates" Monteverdi. All this is familiar enough, and students of Chinese painting in the audience will be wondering why I am going through it all again. My single glimmering of a new idea was in suggesting that while it is true enough that we cannot discern in Chinese painting after the Sung any clear, unilinear development, in the sense of successive advances in representational techniques or pervasive stylistic shifts like those the old art historians defined for European painting--from Medieval to early, high, and late Renaissance, from Baroque to Rococo to Romantic and Neo-Classical to Modern--granting this need not carry any implication that Chinese painting stopped being innovative. It might alternatively be argued that the great global shifts took place earlier in China--that the Chinese equivalent of the Giotto-to-Gauguin phase happened between the T'ang and Yüan dynasties, between the seventh and fourteenth centuries--and ended sooner, so that the Chinese arrived in their painting, long before we did, at "the end of the history of art." But I added, somewhat evasively, that "this is not the place to make that argument at length, nor am I the person to make it." More recently, trying to come up with a theme weighty enough for the Haley lecture has led me to change my mind; this is the place to make the argument at length--I hope not excessive length--and I myself, burdened as I am with an antiquated theoretical apparatus, am the person to make it--in fact, since those who occupy more advanced theoretical positions are likely to be prevented thereby from making this kind of argument, I had best do it while there is still time.

My argument can begin with another quote from Gombrich, and another disagreement. (Sir Ernst is a frequent target for such disagreements exactly because he writes clearly and directly about large matters on which others usually hedge and sidestep, if they address them at all.) Gombrich writes: "But only twice on this globe, in ancient Greece and in Renaissance Europe, have artists striven systematically, through a succession of generations, step by step to approximate their images to the visible world and achieve likenesses that might deceive the eye."[2] As is often true of such global statements, this one needs the insertion of a single phrase: except for China. The collective mastery of representational techniques by Chinese artists over the early periods, culminating, I believe, in the 10th to 11th century (China suffered no such massive disjuncture as Europe's Middle Ages, so the development is more continuous), this mastery can be said, as convincingly as it can for Western artists, to be aimed at "approximating their images to the visible world." As for likenesses that might deceive the eye, the early Chinese literature on painting, like the Western, offers anecdotes in which pictures by the most accomplished painters do exactly that, whether the eye be human or animal: otters who jump at painted fish, falcons who attack painted pheasants.[3]

So, why was China excluded from Gombrich's pronouncement? A clue to the reason is provided by Danto, who, after citing Gombrich on the two European illusionistic episodes, adds: "I think this is an underestimation. There is internal evidence that the Chinese, for example, would have used perspective if they had known about it, perhaps to their artistic detriment."

S,S. (Anon. 18c work, Chiao Ping-chen, early 18c.). I'm not sure what "internal evidence" Danto refers to--when the Italian system of linear perspective did become known to Chinese painters in the l7th and early 18th century, nearly all of them rejected it. (The few Chinese attempts to utilize it that have survived suggest why it was never more than an uncomfortable anomaly within their tradition.) On the other hand, as I've argued in various writings and am elaborating in a book-in-progress, many Chinese artists in that same period embraced other European illusionistic devices, such as chiaroscuro or the Northern European system of spaces opening back beyond spaces, in ways that heavily affected their paintings--and have mostly been ignored by foreign writers for whom linear perspective is the touchstone of fidelity to "the visible world."

S,S. Chinese ways of creating illusions of space in their pictures are no less optically persuasive for not being built around straight lines converging on the horizon. The development of successive systems for doing this, over the early centuries of Chinese pictorial art from the pre-Han period to the 10th century or so--beginning with simple intervallic space between paired, confronting figures (at right, a late Han dynasty tile, 2nd-3rd cent.), continuing through what the old art historians called space cells, and the joining of these into more extensive openings of space,

-- S. culminating in some 10th century works that create elaborate spatial structures, inviting prolonged visual penetration and exploration--is not merely a culturally biased formulation that western art historians have imposed on the Chinese works, but is a central concern of the artists who made those works, and of their audiences, manifested in the pictures themselves, as any sympathetic and perceptive consideration of them over time must recognize. And these successive advances in spatial rendering enable, in turn, more and more complex descriptive, narrative, and expressive effects. (L is a 10th or early 11th cent. painting of a flour mill powered by a waterwheel; R is sec'n of 10th cent. ptr by Ku Hung-chung, as preserved in 12th or 13th cent. copy--original would have made my point better.)

S,S. (section of "Deer in Autumn Forest"; Bamboo, Old Trees, and Rocks, att. Hsü Hsi) As for light-and-shadow effects: the Chinese artists had themselves, from pre-T'ang times through the 10th-11th centuries, developed methods of representing natural forms with illusions of three-dimensionality through light-and-dark shading techniques. The portrayal of the animals in the "Deer in an Autumn Forest" pictures (which are probably Liao dynasty works) supremely exemplifies this mastery (we can only imagine how realistic the tree foliage may have looked before the thickly-applied pigment flaked off.) And in the astonishing "Bamboo, Old Tree, and Stones in Winter," attributed to the 10th-century master Hsü Hsi, the artist has concealed his hand throughout, creating the image as if entirely out of light and dark, making the picture seem more a work of nature than a product of human artifice. That he appears to be somehow dispensing with conventions and portraying his subject in a way unmediated by style is of course only an effect, but it's a powerful one. In this it's like some 17th century Dutch paintings about which my colleague Svetlana Alpers writes: "It is as if visual phenomena are captured and made present without the intervention of a human maker." And she writes of the "selflessness or anonymity that is characteristic of Dutch painting"-- and equally characteristic, we can note, of these Chinese works.

S ---. The complex overlappings of leaves and twigs is representationally effective but technically bewildering: how was it done? Remember that when one works in ink on silk, nothing can be corrected or painted over, as it can in oil ptg. To say that the artist used some kind of resist technique may be true, but doesn't carry us far in accounting for the picture. The unassuming technical mastery goes with the effect of visual exactitude--quoting Alpers once more, "To appear lifelike, a picture has to be carefully made."[4] No pictures in China will ever be more carefully made--as pictures, that is--than these.

S,S. (Two sections of Hsü Tao-ning, KC) More or less the same is true in landscape, which around this time becomes the central subject of Chinese painting (as it will be of the remainder of this lecture.) Only small shifts in one's habits of visual reception are required to recognize paintings such as these as transmitting at least as much, in some respects more, of the typifying aspects of natural scenery than European landscape pictures generally do, and to recognize also that if the Chinese pictures fail to transmit other aspects, it is largely by choice. The elimination of color permits the painter to evoke, through consummate gradations of ink values, an optically convincing atmospheric perspective. Rendering the images of trees and rocks in endlessly varied type-forms and otherwise taming the variegation that scenes of nature offer to the eye opens the way for conveying a sense of natural order, li.

S,S ( Two details from Kuo Hsi "Early Spring," dtd. 1072..) By rejecting all that is pretty or picture-like in the Western sense (even the picture-like aspects of nature), the artist could embody the profound understanding of geological forms and phenomena, the sensitivity to conditions of season and weather and time-of-day, that inspires the loftiest achievements of the Chinese masters. It would be difficult, then, to think of ways in which the European artists succeeded better in "approximating their images to the visible world." Different conventions and assumptions, of course, underlie the two traditions. But granting this is not to say that "truth to nature" is purely a matter of more or less arbitrary conventions; on this issue I am entirely on the side of Danto, who writes that space representation "is not . . . a matter of convention any more than the senses as a perceptual system are; we are built that way. To the degree that we regard the representation of space as merely a matter of convention, the concept of progress evaporates and the structure of art history we are discussing loses any application."

S, S. (Sec'n of Nelson Gal. sarcophagus, early 6c; portion of Tun-huang wall ptg, 7th cent.) The sequence of stylistic moves that preceded the stage seen in those 11th-century works could be mapped, and up to a point has been mapped, into a coherent art-historical account. Valuable work in this direction was done by pioneer scholars such as Ludwig Bachhofer, Max Loehr, George Rowley, Alexander Soper, and others who tried to apply or adapt classical art-historical concepts of the morphology of style, derived as these were from constructions of European art history, to the Chinese materials. Needless to say, doing this left them open not only to legimate criticism--their limited access to crucial materials meant that their formulations were necessarily tentative and sometimes mistaken, based on too little evidence (or, especially in Loehr's case, on insecure evidence)--but also, more recently, to the familiar facile put-downs, as guilty of Eurocentric attempts to impose the patterns of Wölfflin and Winckelmann onto Chinese art, or of Orientalizing, Essentializing, and all the rest. None of this diminishes their achievement in laying the foundations for our later studies, which would be foolishly adrift without the underpinnings they provided. They saw their task to be, as Hans Belting writes about 19th century Western art historians, "that of ordering the works of art . . . into a sequence which appeared to be governed by a lawful development of form."

Some in my generation have carried on this project. Wen Fong has contributed heavily, among other things formulating in outline an impressive three-stage system of changes in spatial representation between Northern Sung and Yüan;[5] Dick Barnhart has made valuable contributions in his writings on Song painting; I myself have tried to lay out some parts of the history in a few writings, and to present a larger account in lecture courses given over the years. And there have been others. But no one has even tried to pull these together into a comprehensive, step by step history of early Chinese painting that considers stylistic change along with other criteria and concerns. Our generation, then, can be charged with having collectively failed to build on the achievements of the pioneers sufficiently to construct a history as solid and detailed as has been done (over a much longer period, to be sure) for European painting. Scholars in the generation after ours are on the whole disinclined to take part in such a project, or even are methodologically opposed to it. And so the great work of putting together such a history, which should be the basis upon which further studies of early Chinese painting can be undertaken, has been discredited before it has been accomplished. It's as though we had abandoned the practice of architecture before we had built our city. (Perhaps mine is an anxiety peculiar to our cultural crux: the historian Paul Cohen wrote recently about how historians of China have given up studies of large events and important people before some of the major ones had been serious studied.)[6] It might be that the history of early Chinese painting can still be written, especially with new archaeological finds augmenting our small body of safely datable monuments. Some younger scholar or group of scholars who are willing to take the time to reach a thorough mastery of the visual materials and willing also to buck the trend, turning a deaf ear to those who insist that it shouldn't be done at all, may accomplish what we have fallen short of doing. I hope so. (I don't, of course, mean that style-history should again become a central concern of Chinese painting studies; only that someone should continue doing it.)

S,S. (Li Kung-nien, late No. Sung; sec'n of Hsiao-Hsiang scroll, 1170s.) But the main point I'm making is that it can be done--Chinese painting in the early centuries is susceptible to diachronic analysis and ordering of the kind that allows the construction of an art history. This continues to be true, I believe, through the Sung dynasty, although in the 12th and 13th century the history appears more and more to divide into separate strands, as geographical, social-economic, and other factors induce artists who are contemporaries to take strikingly different stylistic directions. As before, pervasive shifts can be recognized in the ways landscapists render space and atmosphere, how they compose their pictures, how figures participate in them. The dynastic change from Sung to Yuan in the late 13th century, however, is more than a wrenching historical disjuncture brought about by the Mongol conquest of China: it marks, for Chinese painting, the end of its history.

It's worth noting here that the developmental or evolutionary phase of Chinese painting, ending with the late Sung, is accompanied (like its counterpart in the west) by a rich art-historical literature, which can be seen as beginning with a few relatively brief critical and theoretical writings in the 5th-6th centuries and reaching an early climax in Chang Yen-yüan's imposing "Record of the Painting of Successive Periods" in the 9th century, a work comparable in scope and sophistication to Vasari's in the mid-16th century, which is hailed as the beginning of western art history. Chang Yen-yuan's work is followed by a succession of substantial texts each aimed at bringing the history of painting up to date for its period. But these continue only to the 12th-13th century, after which no one attempts any such broad account. Texts from the later periods are biographical, theoretical, critical, technical--but not historical. Without meaning to offer a reductive explanation of the reasons why not, I can quote Hans Belting on the problem of writing about western art after 1800: "An art which is already produced under the welcome or unwelcome awareness of its own history, which it then seeks either to escape or to reapply, is not very well suited to an art history interested in demonstrating stable principles or evolutionary patterns."[7] All this is entirely applicable to Chinese painting after around 1300--nobody attempts a history of it because it doesn't exhibit a history, or historical development; and most of the best post-Sung painting is indeed profoundly aware of its own history.

S,S. (Att. Su Shih, Wang T'ing-yün) So, if Chinese writers on painting no longer attempt histories, how do they deal with painting of the later periods? The question cannot be answered simply, but we can observe that those who write the essays and books--who are, by definition, the literati--adopt generally the account of meaning and expression in painting that had been introduced by their exemplar Su Tung-p'o and his contemporaries in the late Northern Sung, which locates the source of expression within the artist. And they do this, not by allowing the artist to construct the meaning and expression of his picture at will, using established signifiers, but rather by assuming that the internal life of the artist, his nature and feelings and thoughts, are somehow manifested directly onto the paper or silk through brushwork, in an inarticulate mode of expression that can nonetheless be "read" by the sensitive viewer. In this they were applying to painting a reading much older in writings on poetry and calligraphy; they were also, I believe, reflecting the Sung literary critics' discomfort with the idea of fictionality in poetry, their insistence on reading the poem as relating things that really happened to the poet. (Robt. Hymes paper on Hong Mai.) Su Shih's friend Li Kung-lin writes, famously, that he "makes paintings as a poet composes poems, simply to recite my feelings and nature." Equating painting with poetry allows the artists and theorists to extend to painting the claim made for poetry: that its real content is the experience and inner life of the poet or painter.[8]

(Chao M-f in Cleveland, Wen C-m in K.C.) Traditional connoisseurs have taken Li Kung-lin's pronouncement, and similar ones by later artists, at face value ever since, as the deep truth about good Chinese painting. To this day they take pleasure in exercising their finely honed visual skills in discerning the hand of the artist, and associating the qualities of the painting in simple ways with what they know about the artist. They extend this pleasure into a theory of expression, assuring us that brushwork, the artist's "touch," is what the painting is really about, equating painting with calligraphy, deriding as philistine anyone who wants to see the painting as a picture and read its imagery before turning to its facture. This contention, probably because it enjoys the sanction of centuries of Chinese connoisseurship (which is continued into the present by such notable figures as Wang Chi-ch'ien) has gone more or less unchallenged, at least on the level of theory, as if impregnable in the face of our contrary experience--I am sure I speak for most of us in observing that for the paintings that move us most deeply, the ones we constantly return to, pleasure in brushwork accounts for only a part, and usually not even the major part, of our response. One might also suppose that this set of beliefs about artistic expression would by now have been driven from the arena of serious argument by decades of battering from theories of semiotics, intertextuality, deconstruction and the rest--the recognition that the power of art arises as much from collective as from individual production.[9] But this has not happened. There are even those who argue that Chinese cultural expressions should be somehow exempt from the modes of analysis practiced elsewhere. The linked equation: high-level Chinese painting = literati painting = brushwork = individual self-expression still makes up an unexamined underpinning for a lot of writing in our field, and so continues to stand in the way of what I believe to be more open and productive approaches.

S,S. (Ch'ien Hsüan "Dwelling," Chao M-f Ch'iao-Hua. Both early Yuan.) If individual self-expression had indeed been the principal pursuit of later Chinese painters, the situation of stasis and stagnation imagined by Western observers must surely have followed quickly upon the end of the historical phase. Fortunately, the painters were engaged in larger and more interesting projects than baring their souls. To determine what these were, we need to look to the paintings, since writings by critics and theorists, even when these were the painters themselves, are nearly always inadequate to what the artists were up to. You may wonder why this point needs to be made--it may seem self-evident--after all, scholars of Italian painting don't limit their investigations to those issues that concerned Vasari. I make it to answer another familiar charge: that introducing and pursuing matters that do not figure, or figure only weakly, in traditional Chinese writings is tantamount to imposing foreign attitudes onto Chinese art. That argument seems to me completely specious.

If we observe, for instance, that much of the most interesting Yüan and later painting is deeply engaged with devising elaborate ways to evoke and manipulate old styles, we will look in vain for any correspondingly sophisticated articulation of the practice in Yüan texts, beyond Chao Meng-fu's brief admonition (recently re-credited to his follower T'ang Hou) that the spirit of antiquity (ku-i) was the quality most to be valued in painting, or Huang Kung-wang's observation that most landscapists of his time follow either Tung Yüan or Li Ch'eng. T'ang Hou's famous six criteria for judging paintings begin with the mysterious and undefinable "spirit resonance," followed by brushwork, and put formal likeness last, but make no mention of what must by this time have been fundamental to much high-level connoisseurship: a recognition of how painters such as Chao Meng-fu and Ch'ien Hsüan were playing on the past. Tung Ch'i-ch'ang at the end of Ming strikes closer to the heart of the issue with his concept of fang, renderable as "creative imitation"; but even Tung, while taking the position of one who is enlightening others, is so uninformative about how fang imitation was to be accomplished that even the best scholars until recently could misunderstand his words as referring to a simple practice of imitation.[10] We have been able to get beyond this misunderstanding only by paying close attention to the formal relationships between Tung's paintings and his old models, and reading the significance of his transformations of these old models in the context of other painting of his time.

S.S. (Two more by Chao: Met "Trees on Plain," Cleveland fan LS) I'm showing a number of landscapes by Chao Meng-fu to suggest the stylistic diversity of his work, based as it is on diverse old styles; one is reminded of the passage in Meyer Schapiro's famous essay on style in which he points out that the whole concept must change when one deals with such a painter as Picasso, for similar reasons. The inadequacy of Chinese writings on painting in dealing with this issue seems especially odd in view of the degree to which Chinese literary culture as a whole is permeated by a consciousness of its own past, revealed not only in critical writings but also in the constant allusions within the works themselves to older texts with which the complete literatus was expected to be conversant. This was of course true of poetry, which in the later periods echoed continually the classical canon; it was also true of other literary forms: readers of David Roy's "Plum in the Golden Vase" (his translation of Chin P'ing Mei) know that a Chinese author can't even write a lurid erotic novel, a high-level one at least, without introducing on every page mini-quotations from earlier texts that must be footnoted for the foreign reader. Chinese culture in the later centuries can be seen as folding back on itself, drawing constantly on its past, without, in the best work, sacrificing the excitement of fresh, first-time creation. It attained the condition that Harold Rosenberg (as cited by Belting) defined in the 1950s for what was then contemporary art in the west: the old concept of tradition is replaced, he writes, by "a new historical consciousness . . . an awareness of art history which not only the beholder but indeed every new work shares. It demands constant innovation as much as clear references back to a history of art, a history toward which the work takes its own stance."[11] I am not suggesting any neat correspondence; Rosenberg is writing, of course, about modernist art, and I am deliberately avoiding the problem of what constituted modernism in Chinese painting--and even more the P-word, which I'm not uttering at all--a can of worms I don't care to open. I am simply saying that much of the best of later Chinese painting, and the most innovative, is infused with just that kind of historical consciousness.

S,S. (Detail from anon. 16c ptg of emperor traveling to visit imperial tombs; "history ptg." by court artist Shang Hsi.) Much, but by no means all. The painters regarded by the Chinese critics, as well as by us, as the major post-Sung masters--those who make up the canon, if you will--are nearly all, in their different ways, engaged in this practice of playing on earlier styles, and in stylistic explorations other than the pursuit of resemblance. But these make up only the part of Chinese painting that they, and some of us, consider "fine art," and recent scholarship increasingly directs our attention to another, surely more copious production of paintings that were functional, documentary, celebratory, iconic, or simply decorative.[12] (Identify) An inscription attributed to the 17th century landscapist Kung Hsien usefully draws the distinction as that between pictures, t'u, and paintings, hua; and for the present purpose, with the usual caution about how the line isn't absolutely sharp, we can adopt these terms, and add that this lecture is primarily about paintings.[13] It's also worth noting, however, that the other, larger practice of picturing in the centuries after Sung also enters a post-historical phase, in that it, too, ceases to develop, or even change significantly--Ming court artists who do works of this kind haven't notably altered the Sung academy styles they inherited, and were not encouraged by their clients and patrons to do so. The critics who formulated criteria of value did this only for literati painting; there were no generally accepted criteria, apart from a generalized "skillfulness," for the "artisan painters," as they were dismissively termed. Even with acclaimed masters such as Tai Chin and Wu Wei, it is their breaks with the main picturing tradition that win them positive notice from the critics, not their picturing skills.

S,S. (details from scroll att. Chao Po-chü, 12c) Through the Northern Sung period, great masters were praised for pictures that "made you feel as if you were really in the place," or as "rivaling creation in Nature." No such praise is possible in the post-Sung period. Emperor Hui-tsung in the early 12th century was perhaps the last important voice to honor artists for doing true-to-life pictures, and even he insisted also on poetic resonances. Chinese critics would protest this statement of the matter, saying: we don't praise picture-makers after Sung because there are none who deserve praise, no more great masters of picturing--all right, maybe Ch'iu Ying, but nobody else. But the situation was surely circular: the lack of critical recognition for whatever innovations and advances in picturing might have been made, and the lack of enthusiasm for these among collectors who mostly accepted the admonitions of the critics, must have not only discouraged such moves but also ensured that any stylistic change based on them would be short-lived.

S --. (Chang Hung Mt. Ch'i-hsia, dtd. 1634.) A good example is Chang Hung in the late Ming: as I've shown in various writings, he devises unprecedented techniques for making his pictures approximate better what he sees (in a Gombrichian sense), but nobody notices, and he is ranked in the "competent class"--in effect as a mediocrity--by those who make the judgements.

So, one could write a detailed and interesting account of picturing after the Sung--Craig Clunas has done valuable work in that direction, and a book I'm working on right now attempts it for the 17th and 18th centuries. But one can't write a history. The kind of development in portraying the visible world that exhibits some degree of continuity and a seeming logic ends with the end of Sung, and nothing comparable to the stylistic sequence we can trace, for instance, from 10th century landscape to Fan K'uan to Li T'ang to Ma-Hsia and Ma Lin will ever happen again.

Now, returning to what is customarily taken as the main line, literati and quasi-literati painting of the post-Sung period: the same is true here--it doesn't have a history, in the sense of presenting a succession of works susceptible to analysis as revealing intelligible patterns of change over long stretches of time. (I say this as someone who has published three volumes of what was announced as a "history of later Chinese painting"--the word was used loosely.) So what shape can it be said to take? Since a chronological account is obviously not to the point, I will let it take its form from its subject, and offer a series of related but discontinuous observations.

S,S. (Tai Chin, Shen Chou) The developmental thrust that was the motor for stylistic change in the earlier centuries of painting, and that allows us to speak of a history and a tradition, is lost. If we draw a time-line through the centuries that follow, we cannot arrange along it a succession of representative and interrelated works that exhibit a sequential order, but can only add extrusions sideward, so to speak--relatively short-lived schools and episodes that are not strung together into continuities. The Wu school, the Che school, Tung Ch'i-ch'ang and his Orthodox school following, are prominent examples, but there are many others, mini-traditions which quickly lose their viability. School styles, often regional, can be defined among these, and period characteristics can sometimes be recognized that cut across schools--for instance, compositional method in the Wu school and Che school of the 15th-16th centuries. (Show: pictures composed of large, flat, firmly-bounded units that fit together or overlap without allowing real depth.) But these also do not succeed one another in any pattern of continuity. The appearance of those great creative masters who work from the mid-17th century into the early 18th "shakes up" these mini-traditions and gives them honorable ends. What follows has even less of impetus. The deaths of three major early Ch'ing landscapists within a decade--Shih-t'ao in 1707, Wang Yüan-ch'i in 1715, Wang Hui in 1717--marks, I have argued, a turning point in Chinese painting, of which the sharp decline in the production and importance of landscape is only one symptomatic aspect.[14] The Yangchou school in the 18th century, the Shanghai school in the 19th, the kuo-hua or "traditional" masters in the 20th, all can be said to make up a kind of post-post-history of Chinese painting that moves as if inexorably into the kind of "ongoing, potentially endless 'end-game'" condition that James Elkins (of whom more in a moment) sees in both late Chinese painting and our own art of recent times. If the collective project for artists of the firfst grfeat phase was exploring moades and techniques of representation, and for those of the second, working through the formal and expressive possibilities opened by the Yuan masters in their manipulations of old and new styles, the artists of the third, post-post-historical phase seem to have had no collective project at all--no agreed-on "great game" to play.

Such a schematic account gives no clue to why and how Chinese painting continued in such strength for more than four centuries after it had stopped "developing." The question is of some importance if we choose, in spite of all the attendant perils and with no intent of either prognosticating or admonishing, to consider later Chinese painting as an indication of the directions that a strong artistic tradition might take in the centuries after its developmental phase ends--in the words of the original title of an essay by James Elkins, "Chinese Landscape Painting as Object Lesson." And later Chinese painting is the only other case of this in the history of art, I believe, and so offers the only opportunity to make such a comparative inquiry (at considerable risk, as Elkins learned: after his original essay was rejected by several publishers and journals, he rewrote it with heavy injections of post-colonial theory and agonizing over whether such comparisons can ever escape bias--arguments in which, he told me, he didn't entirely believe; but it was still turned down, and remains unpublished.) To put the question another way: what were the patterns of relationships among the works constituting post-Sung Chinese painting that replaced developmental stylistic sequences in generating rich internal structures of meaning, and staved off, for several centuries at least, the disintegration and decline and repetitiveness that might have ensued?

S,S. (Detail of Hsiao-Hsiang, sec'n of Hsia Kuei.) To understand the significance of the radical break with the immediate past in the early Yuan period we should look briefly at what preceded it, the Southern Sung. If we were to single out the most consequential representational advance made in that period, it would be the shift to a more optical mode in which a grove of trees, for instance, is presented as the eye perceives it, fused into a single image, instead of as an assemblage of discrete objects--exactly the change that Leonardo is credited with introducing to European painting three centuries later.[15] Equally momentous is the development and refinement of expressive means for arousing in the viewer highly focused poetic sensations through rigorous selection and arranging of pictorial materials. Hsia Kuei is the great master of the first,

S,S. both he and Ma Yuan of the second, along with Ma's son Ma Lin, in whose hands this poetic mode is brought to the edge of preciousness. (Identify.) I have always been fond of musical analogies, and have sometimes invoked, in talking of this aspect of late Sung painting, that moment in late 19th-early 20th century music when the expressive means for arousing nostalgic and otherwise pleasurable feelings poignantly in the listener have become so effective and so accessible as to virtually force some composers of the period that follows, notably Stravinsky, to reject them in favor of deliberate moves into harshness and dissonance, or into a referential mode that seems to revert to old, pre-Romantic styles.

S,S. Chao Meng-fu occupies a similar position in relation to late Sung painting. Two of his major artistic strategems provide models for all later artists. In one, represented by his 1295 "Autumn Colors on the Ch'iao and Hua Mountains," archaistic allusions to old styles are turned to the purpose of a very sophisticated primitivism that denies all the representational advances in landscape painting made during the Sung and confronts us with a deliberately spaceless, awkwardly scaled, graceless scene. The other, represented by his 1302 "Village by the Water," employs a strategem that we might term stylistic extremism: pushing to an extreme, far beyond what could be sustained in a properly pictorial approach, some feature of style--here, the elimination of color and washes and pictorial variety and solid substance so as to leave only an expanse of dry, crumbly brushwork that only minimally evokes the simple scenery.

S --. It would be difficult to find in world art, at so early a period, any comparably radical and complex stylistic moves that are more than sports, or dead-ends--that are followed up, that is, by whole new lines of pursuit that prove to be themselves productive and innovative.

I don't say "lines of development," for reasons suggested already. Instead of adopting his style initially from some close predecessor, as in a traditional art, the painter now has the option of looking back over centuries for what is attractive and useful to him.

-- S. (Chao Meng-fu could find sources for his dry-brush drawing in some mid-Sung literati paintings, such as this "Red Cliff" scroll by Ch'iao Chung-ch'ang.) But drawing on sources in the past also produces patterns over time, and permits us to make up what we might call, adopting a term from the 1962 book by George Kubler, "linked solutions" (although his term was meant to include properly developmental sequences along with other kinds.) Following through two of these series of linked solutions, or whatever we call them, will clarify this practice better than discussing it in words could do.

S,S. Chao Meng-fu's new mode of applying spare, dry-brush drawing to the most unexciting of scenery is taken up by major Yuan masters such as Huang Kung-wang and Ni Tsan. (sec'n of Huang's "Fu-ch'un Mts" scroll , 1348-50; Ni Tsan LS of 1368, Princeton.) What we observe in Yuan painting is the situation in which a succession of highly creative artists are throwing stylistic ideas back and forth, so to speak, each grasping quickly what the others have done and making some new and unexpected move outward from that point, in a very complex interaction over time that leaves simpler pictorial concerns far behind. Sometimes the back-and-forth appears to happen in rapid succession, as here; at other times it extends over centuries, with long periods of lull.

S --. Huang Kung-wang, in his masterwork "Dwelling in the Fu-ch'un Mountains," employs the spare, dry-brush manner in building more complex, volumetric structures, without sacrificing the improvisatory-looking drawing and rich brushwork textures that make his landscape forms still appear natural and un-schematic.

-- S. Ni Tsan, inspired in some part by these structural innovations of Huang Kung-wang, explores ways in which the dry-line drawing can be used in defining readable masses that are put together out of modular units of convex and semi-cubic forms. (A small painting dated 1352, present whereabouts unknown.) Ni Tsan writes modestly of his landscapes as "nothing more than a few random brushstrokes," but some of them, at least, prove to be carefully-made constructions of forms in space, not random at all.

S --. Shen Chou in the late 15th century is perhaps the next to follow this line of pursuit seriously, as in his "Walking with a Staff," ca. 1485 (which is based more, to be sure, on Ni Tsan's standard composition with near and far river shores and trees in the foreground.) But the next truly radical move within this series is made by

S --. Tung Ch'i-ch'ang in the early 17th century, the late Ming, as in this section of his "River Landscape After Huang Kung-wang" in the Cleveland Museum of Art. He credits Huang, in his inscription, as his model, and wishes that the old master could see his painting. Throughout the later phases of this series, it is as if the system of forms is being progressively stripped of its softening and naturalizing overlays of looser brushwork to reveal the stark underlying structure. And this process obviously implies an ever-increasing tolerance, or even preference, for unnaturalistic, all-but-abstract form.

-- S. Tung Ch'i-ch'ang's radical reworking of the Yuan masters' styles was a principal model for the Anhui school in the early Ch'ing, along with the works of the Yuan masters themselves, as we can see in this 1659 work by the greatest of the Anhui artists, Hung-jen. Now even the schematic light-and-dark shading of Tung's style has disappeared, and the sense of substantiality, of three-dimensional mass, depends only on volume-defining devices of drawing possible within the linear manner.

S,S. The sequences are of course not really unilinear; the strands interweave, join and separate constantly. Hung-jen, in the mid-1650s, rediscovers the Northern Sung monumental landscape manner, and learns from it how to create effects of space and mass and towering height, as he demonstrates on a sublime level in his great "Sound of Autumn" in the Honolulu Academy of Arts. How the compositional devices used in this work derive from Northern Sung monumental landscape (such as this painting by Yen Wen-kuei) I traced in my 1982 Compelling Image book. The achievements of the later Chinese artists can often be described in terms of reconciling seemingly incompatible choices, and more specifically, as following up some stylistic direction into the range of extremism without reducing the power of the picture as an image. It is as if Hung-jen were demonstrating the possibility of staying within the dry linear manner and still creating landscapes that have the old qualities of spaciousness and monumentality.

S,S. (detail of Hung-jen, then his LS of 9 Bends River) I went on to show how what may have been an unintentional formal anomaly (etc., show)

This single sequence--and we could put together many others--will suggest the complex interrelationships that can be traced within a series of linked solutions, and also may suggest why I respond with exasperation when another western art critic puts down post-Sung Chinese painting for its failure to develop. Yes, it fails to develop, in much the same way that European painting from the mid-19th century on fails to develop, in the old and traditional sense. If that's taken to be sufficient grounds for dismissing the one, it's also grounds for dismissing the other. As I don't think we are about to do. Chinese painting of the centuries corresponding to Giotto-to-Gauguin in Europe didn't somehow miss the chance to make comparable representational advances; it was no longer concerned with making them.

S --. We return to the Yuan period to begin another of our non-developmental sequences, while also illustrating again the strategem of stylistic extremism. The landscape paintings by Ni Tsan's friend and contemporary Wang Meng, who was a grandson of Chao Meng-fu, stand at an opposite pole from Ni Tsan's in a number of ways, as this one exemplifies: "Forest Grottos at Chü-ch'ü"--fully packed instead of empty, highly unstable instead of stable, textures rich to the point of oppressiveness, near-incoherence instead of clarity, heavy color, active figures (at least seven of them in this picture)--and so forth. How the subjects and styles of Wang's landscapes seem to correlate with his political stance, as Ni Tsan's do with his, is a problem beyond this lecture. I introduce this late work by Wang Meng only as preface to

S,S. his masterwork of 1366, "Dwelling in the Ch'ing-pien Mountains." To put the matter briefly: Wang embodies in it his deeply disturbed response to the turmoil accompanying the Yuan-Ming dynastic change by representing his family retreat at Mt. Ch'ing-pien (in a region that was just then engulfed in warfare), employing a compositional formula that normally expressed a sense of security and escape from the outside world, but powerfully subverting the normal implications of this landscape type. The picture follows classical models in early landscape--Tung Yüan, Kuo Hsi, others--that had presented intelligible, accessible worlds. But Wang Meng's picture, while echoing the formulae that encouraged that kind of reading, doesn't permit the viewer to move easily through it, to find his way into and out of the retreat; it's full of spatial and formal ambiguities, blocked passages, unnatural and disorienting shifts of light and dark.

S --. In the upper part (one reads such a landscape upward), the animated earth masses and warped, constricted spaces between them do strange and powerful things to one's vision as one attempts to understand the picture in the old, naturalistic way. Recent Western art, of course, offer parallels for such sophisticated and radical violation of established expectations. But it is a strategem that works only so long as the expectations hold--when they have been violated too repeatedly, it loses its power.

S --. Skipping over the early and middle Ming imitations of Wang Meng's style by Shen Chou and others, I'll jump to Tung Ch'i-ch'ang, whose own huge 1617 painting of the Ch'ing-pien Mountains, now in the Cleveland Museum of Art, betrays a familiarity with Wang Meng's work, and probably one by Chao Meng-fu of the same subject, now lost. The points of correspondence will be obvious, as well as the great differences; Wang Meng's "Ch'ing-pien" and others like it are the genesis (along with their own predecessors) for a whole series of tall, crowded compositions in which the earth masses are made to generate more turbulence than the frame seems able to contain.

-- S. Tung's inscription on the work, however, doesn't mention Wang Meng's or Chao Meng-fu's pictures (he does that in another, recorded inscription); instead, he claims as his point of departure the style of the 10th century landscapist Tung Yuan. This is a copy of a painting Tung believed to be (as his inscription on it states) a genuine work of Tung Yuan, and of "divine quality." It is clear that Tung Ch'i-ch'ang grasped, and situated himself in, the linked series from Tung Yuan to Chao Meng-fu to Wang Meng to himself, with each earlier stage containing in more moderate form the features that the later ones would manipulate more radically.

-- S. (Pa-ta Shan-jen, Akaba LS) Each artist recognizes certain formal possibilities in the earlier painting that he can exploit to powerful effect in his own, and each artist in the series must have felt that he was pushing the implications of the style and imagery out to the furthest point possible--as indeed he was, for his time. What could possibly be done within this sequence beyond Tung's painting was in 1617 unimaginable; what in the event was done, we can see in this landscape painted in 1694 by Chu Ta or Pa-ta Shan-jen. (I mean, of course, one of the realizations of what was in effect an infinite range of possibilities--no kind of determinism is implied. Nor am I suggesting that this artist necessarily saw that picture.) (On to describe the picture.)

S,S. Returning briefly to Tung Ch'i-ch'ang: however one understands the process by which he arrived at the point of doing such paintings as these (here, a handscroll of ca. 1605), a problem that is of the same order of complexity and interest as tracing "the roots of Cubism", it can only have been through brilliant and sometimes violent manipulation of materials and "stylistic ideas" from earlier painting, in which layers of conventionalization, overlaid onto what was once imagery from nature--for instance, patches of fog against a mountainside--are transmuted into forms that are self-consciously bizarre and highly unnatural, but expressively powerful. The periodic attempts by some writers to "rescue" Tung from the stigma of being estranged from nature, on the grounds that great painters in China can only learn directly from their experience of real scenery (a cultural stereotype), represents, I continue to believe, a profound misunderstanding of what he is up to.

(Following paragraph deleted in lecture as delivered (lack of time):

S,S. In a lecture given at the Met some years ago, after the great international symposium on Tung Ch'i-ch'ang in Kansas City, I attempted this kind of multi-layered analysis of Tung's "Poetic Feeling at the Ch'i-hsia Temple" of 1626, which is the work I chose to represent him in the Guggenheim exhibition. Again, I cannot repeat the exercise here, and will only say once more that much of the richness of such a painting lies in the multiple readings it allows--one of which, to be sure, sets it in a relationship, however tenuous, to the actual place it purports to represent, a mountain near Nanking on which a famous Buddhist monastery is located. (The same mountain and monastery represented in Chang Hung's painting seen earlier.) More to the point, however, are Tung's attempts to recapture the styles of early masters, particularly Wang Wei--or, more properly, to demonstrate in highly schematic or diagrammatic form his understanding of them. That his understanding was based largely on earlier attempts to re-create these styles, by artists (and forgers) who knew no more about the real Wang Wei than he himself did, doesn't in any way debase Tung's achievement. A series of stylistically linked works need not include only good or genuine paintings; they frequently offer examples--and the history of art is full of them--of how good or even great art can be based on mediocre or bad.

S,S. (Chao Meng-fu "Mind Landscape," Fa Jo-chen.) Another important element in the complex of meanings that later Chinese paintings can carry lies in the way their subjects and styles can indicate the status of the artist and his stance on matters of politics and loyalism, besides embodying the message that he wants to convey to his intended audience, or that they may want to convey to some third party, as when they commission a painting to present to someone else on a particular occasion. Chao Meng-fu's "Mind Landscape of Hsieh Yu-yü" has been studied in an excellent essay (and dissertation) by Shih Shou-ch'ien; Fa Jo-chen's rainy landscapes and their political implications were studied in a paper of my own presented at a 1987 symposium and still unpublished. Both use established pictorial rhetoric to argue for the ethical rightness of serving under an alien regime that has recently replaced a native Chinese one, a choice that put them at risk of being branded turncoats: Chao Meng-fu held office under the first Mongol emperor, Fa Jo-chen under the first Manchu ruler. Both pictures and others like them were probably intended not merely to convey the artist's feelings about his situation but, more importantly, to strengthen bonds of like-mindedness with others in that situation.

S,S. Shih-t'ao, 1680s; Freer Wang Yüan-ch'i, 1706.) The German scholar Werner Speiser pointed out long ago that among landscapists of the Ming-Qing transition, those who became i-min or loyalists and kept aloof from the Manchu regime were likely to take the Individualist direction as painters, while those engaged in government service and a more conformist stance in society were more inclined toward the Orthodox school as landscapists. (Both groupings are, I believe, valid in that they are based on definable criteria of style.) This correlation may seem on the face of it so "right" or "natural" as to not need elaboration, but it also sheds some light on larger issues, such as why the Manchu rulers promoted the Orthodox style of landscape in their courts as a legitimizing move. Once we have established the correlations, that is, we can then go on to develop in fruitful ways their significance both within painting and outside it. Studies in this direction over the past decades have opened up important possibilities for better integrating Ming-Qing painting into the broader fabric of Chinese political and cultural history.

S,S. (Wu Wei, sec'n of "Myriad Miles of Yangtze River"; Wen Cheng-ming, 1535 LS after WM.) Similarly, mid-Ming artists, as I have shown in writings over the years, developed styles and chose subjects that seemed to themselves and their contemporaries to be somehow suited to their situations in life. Those, for instance, who were urged into the painting profession by failures to achieve governmental posts, and who wanted to escape being classed with the "artisan painters," manifested their non-conformism both their eccentric behavior and in their rough-brush or running-brush pictures. All this, again, is familiar; my point is that the rich and multi-dimensional system of signs and signification underlying Ming-Ch'ing painting permitted the artists to do works that not only were appropriate for a diversity of occasions and messages and uses, but could also, in their capacity as carriers of meaning, participate in negotiating issues of economic and social class, religious and intellectual beliefs, regional pride, and others that occupied people of the time.

S,S. (Ni Tsan, Hung-jen.) And the artists did this, I want to stress again, by drawing skillfully on an established system of signifiers. Ni Tsan's dry, sparse style is customarily read as reflecting or expressing his high-mindedness, reserved temperament, and obsession with cleanliness. Without disputing that reading, which has its measure of validity, one can point out that when this same style is taken up by a whole school of painters in 17th-century Anhui, the self-expressive account of painting breaks down, since it would confront us with a movement made up exclusively of high-minded, temperamentally reserved, obsessively cleanly artists. Instead, we understand the paintings in relation to a new clientele who wanted to claim these same qualities for themselves, and artists who understood their desires and were willing to accomodate them. The ownership of a painting by Ni Tsan or by Hung-jen, according to writers of their respective periods, conferred an elevated status on families in their regions. (This is a bare statement of a complex argument made by my students and myself in the catalog of a 1981 exhibition of Anhui-school painting.)

S,S. (Tung C-c, 1597 "Wan-luan Thatched Studio"; Ch'en H-s Self-portrait in LS, 1635.) It's not necessary to add, I hope, that none of these ways of reading the work exhausts its content, or dissolves the artist entirely into a nexus of status and circumstance. In branding as inadequate the traditional Chinese version of expressionist theory, I am certainly not rejecting altogether linkages between the art work and the psychology of the artist, as they are argued notably by Richard Wollheim.[16] After we have recognized that the paintings of these two late Ming giants (Tung Ch'i-ch'ang at left, Ch'en Hung-shou at right) in part reflect their respective positions as highly successful scholar-official (Tung) and failed-bureacrat professional painter (Ch'en), we must acknowledge that their bodies of work, both deeply engaged with old painting but in radically different ways, reflect also markedly different mentalities.

Tung in his theoretical writings, while never specifically rejecting the expressionist theory, sends it in a new direction, shifting emphasis away from the facture of the work, brushwork and texture and gesture, toward structural concerns that interlock with his modes of drawing on old masters. He rightly recognizes Chao Meng-fu as his true predecessor in this project, not merely for his advocacy of capturing the "spirit of antiquity" in paintings, but more, we can surmise, for making central to his work a deep sense of a plural past (I take the term from Carl Schorske, who writes of "cultural definition as modern through the ingestion of a plural past.")[17] Tung institutionalizes that practice and urges it on fellow artists, advising them on which veins in the past are most worth mining. He also makes a massive attempt to re-historicize Chinese painting with his theory of the Southern and Northern schools. This, as we all know, is a far cry from art history in our sense, but it was enormously influential, partly because it satisfied the deep Chinese need to invoke the cultural authority of the past in validating some doctrine and practice in the present. We may be reminded of Schorske's account of Wagner and William Morris as "drawing on the past in their constructions of modernity."[18] They, like Chao and Tung, "scrupulously avoided contemporary materials as subjects of their art"--both were disenchanted with the art of their time, both were "Revolutionaries in their aesthetic expression . . .[and] . . .conservatives in their search for spiritual anchorage." It was exactly this tension that misled even so brilliant an historian as Joseph Levenson, who, by understanding too literally Tung's claim to be imitating old masters, misread as a conservative painter one who was really a revolutionary.[19]

S,S. (
Another of Ch'en's, Wu Pin.) If a systematic charting of the internal dynamics of a post-history can ever be accomplished, it will recognize that certain moves, certain strategies in engaging with the past, can be fully successful only once, or only for a brief time, and then lose their effectiveness. Wang Meng's way of working against expectations set up by earlier monumental landscape was essentially unrepeatable; when Wu Pin attempts something like it in the late Ming (a work by him dated 1615 on the left), the effect is undermined by the later artist's slipping into a mode of fantasy, which shifts the viewer's response from a quasi-real-world reading to one of estrangement. One is not invited to move in imagination through a Wu Pin landscape. Ch'en Hung-shou's very sophisticated misquotings of antique styles and imagery belong to a Stravinskian phase when irony can be a fresh and powerful artistic device. But this is another move that is essentially unrepeatable, although a few later masters such as Lo P'ing and Jen Hsiung revisit Ch'en's figure style effectively in certain of their works. Irony as a trenchantly pessimistic stance turns too quickly into one that is no more than easy parody, as all too much recent painting both inside and outside China demonstrates.

S,S. Our non-historical post-history of Chinese painting will conclude quickly, as this lecture must, with a highly abbreviated account of what happened (I stop short of saying went wrong) in the last three centuries, which I persist in seeing as a period of decline, in the face of all the recent efforts (on their own terms laudable) to present it as different but equal. Tung Ch'i-ch'ang's model in re-introducing complex and innovative compositional structures to landscape painting and engaging productively with artists of the past remains in force only into the early 18th century, when the deaths of three major landscapists, as noted earlier, bring an end to this phase. Shih-t'ao's perception of fang, drawing on the old masters, as a practice more oppressive than enriching, and his late-period attempt to break out of it, powerfully but in the end poignantly, is symptomatic of the predicament of painting in his time, and does not point a way out. (A sec'n of his 1693 "Gazing at Hills in Yü-hang" and a detail.)

S,S. (late Orthodox LS: Wang Ch'en, 1773 & 1775.) For much of the landscape painting that follows, such words as "exhaustion" and "ennervation" seem applicable. In style, it tends to follow the Orthodox model without adding much to it; in subject, apart from some interesting pictures of real places, it tends to present endlessly, in a highly dilute form, the pastoral ideal of living in nature, far from the contaminating world. What had once been a moving theme has by now become outworn and tiresome.

S,S. (Ch'ing Academy works.) An extreme point in the draining of content from landscape imagery is represented by much of the production of the Ch'ing imperial academy (that part of it that aims at "painting" rather than "picturing), made up of tirelessly replicated Orthodox-style landscapes produced within the academy or the court by artists both Han Chinese and Manchu (the style was by now easily learnable) to be hung on palace walls. (T'ang Tai, 1721.) One suspects that as cultural signifiers empty of real content, such paintings seldom received more than brief glances. After visiting the restored rooms in the Palace in Beijing for the first time in 1973, I wrote to my students that paintings and calligraphy and objects had been reduced there to the status of Muzak environmental music: their presence gave a pervasive sense of luxury and cultivation without demanding any real aesthetic response. Noblemen who traveled could take with them portable connoisseurship kits with compartments containing miniature objets, including diminutive painting scrolls, to be taken out and "appreciated."[20]

(Yangchou, Shanghai works: Lo P'ing 1799, Jen Hsiung 1856) The painters of the Yangchou school in the 18th century and the Shanghai school in the 19th, as well as kuo-hua or "traditional" artists in the 20th, produce paintings that are fresh, engaging, often loveable: I have written enthusiastically about them, and own and treasure examples of them. But artists of real originality appear more sparsely, and repetitiveness is more pervasive. Even such good recent painters as Ch'i Pai-shih and Huang Pin-hung slip into highly repetitive modes of production. Or, if not repetitive, the later images are likely to be thin in content and dilute in expression, in addition to taking a popularizing direction that robs them of some of the strengths of earlier painting.

S,S. Other subject categories supplant landscape in the late period, but these, too, one after another, succumb to conventionalization and make up new mini-orthodoxies. A genre of beautiful-women (mei-jen) pictures that flourishes in the 17th and 18th centuries, with an elaborate code of sexual invitation and a finely-tuned range of erotic charge from the demure to the lurid,

S,S. is tamed in the early 19th century into a more or less homogeneous and relatively pallid imagery of incorporeal, willowy ladies who smile sweetly and exhibit little strength or individuality.

S,S. (Last two slides, Tung Ch'i-ch'ang and Shih-t'ao, shown not because I will say anything about them, but only to give a visual impression, at least, of a strong ending.) I could go on for a long time quoting Belting and Danto and others about our post-historical art and noting parallels with later Chinese painting. Someone could then ask: so what? and I would be hard put for a compelling answer. At this point I can admit with real honesty that I'm certainly not the person to venture any conclusions about what, if anything, the Chinese case might mean for the west in the 21st century and beyond. So I will conclude with a single observation. Chinese painting as I've tried to see it tonight continues strong for about four centuries after its history ends, sustained by a meaningful internal order that is not developmental but depends on strategies, worked out by the artists individually and collectively, of drawing on a plural past, whether distant or recent, and manipulating styles in very sophisticated ways. This period I've called post-historical, and what followed, characterized by the weakening of this internal order and the onset of disintegration and repetition, I've called post-post-historical. My comparativist observation would be that within this framework, if it has any validity, the post-history of western painting, which might correspond to what Belting calls the "classically modern," the phase of Impressionist/Post-Impressionist, Cézanne-to-Picasso-and-Cubism followed by a quick succession of other isms, was comparatively short-lived, and the post-post-history came on us depressingly soon. And before I'm tempted to expand on that observation, I will say: The end. Thank you very much.

Paragraph deleted from p. 10 (lack of time):

S,S. In the preface to a recent book by a colleague,[21] the idea that China had arrived, centuries sooner than the West, at a situation that has a lot in common with western modernism is called "one strand of the received wisdom" about Chinese painting," and the author goes on to separate himself from this argument, on grounds that he doesn't want to "position art in China as somehow 'really' winning the race to be 'modern' with that of Europe. . ." It's true that early in my career, in the 1950s, I went about giving lectures with titles like "The Contemporary Relevance of Later Chinese Painting." I was reading a lot of Harold Rosenberg and other critics of the time, and was excited over the ways in which some later Chinese paintings seemed to anticipate Abstract Expressionism, both in style and in theory: the idea that the brushstroke, as a record of movement, answered to the painter's nature and feeling, in ways that had little to do with the subject portrayed. (Sec 'n of handscroll representing grape vines by 16c master Hsü Wei.) But the point of my argument, whatever it was back then, certainly isn't now to show China as "winning the race"; it's rather to counter the belief still current among non-specialists in Chinese art that Chinese painting passed into state of stagnation after Sung, while European painting went on to great achievements we all know. This still seems worth doing. There were people who saw this as an empty exercise, since Chinese painting--or Asian art more generally-- was for them rooted in basically different cultural assumptions, ways of seeing and picturing. That disagreement still confronts us, and bedevils us, and won't easily be resolved. As today's lecture will reveal, I continue to believe that certain patterns and concepts and practices in art can properly be seen as recurring, loosely, across temporal and cultural boundaries, allowing us to observe them comparatively in their different contexts.

References in the text

[1]Max Loehr, "Phases and Content in Chinese Painting," in Proceedings of the International Symposium on Chinese Painting, Taipei, National Palace Museum, 1970, pp. 285-297.

[2]The Image and the Eye, p. 11.

[3]Painter's Practice p. 114.

[4]The Art of Describing, pp. 30, 83, 72.

[5]Images of the Mind, pp. 20-22.

[6]Cohen, Discovering History in China, 3rd ed.? px xiv (2nd pref., 1995)

[7]The End of the History of Art?, p. 41.

[8]Cf. the Yuan-period writer Yang Wei-chen in Hills, p. 165.

[9]Cf. Stephen Greenblatt, Shakespearean Negotiations, pp. 4-5, 12.

[10]Levenson, "The Amateur Ideal," and my "Style as Idea." Tung does, to be sure, write that the fang imitation that doesn't resemble its model is "the closest resemblance," and earlier artists had written that imitations of old paintings should not simply reproduce them; see my Distant Mts., pp. 120-123, "Fang or Creative Imitation: The Theory."

[11] Belting, p. 50, summarizing Rosenberg in The Anxious Object 25 ff., "Past and Possibility."

[12]Clunas, my own book-in-progress. I don't go as far as he in dissolving the 'discursive formation' (his term) "Chinese painting" (Pictures & Visuality in Early Modern China, Princeton, 1997, p. 15.. . but ...

[13]Cited in my essay "Types of Artist-Patron Transactions in Chinese Painting," in Chu-tsing Li, ed., Artists and Patrons: Some Social and Economic Aspects of Chinese Painting, Seattle, U.Wash.Press, 1989, pp. 7-8.

[14]My "Transitions & Turning Points" article.

[15]James Ackerman, "Leonardo da Vinci: Art in Science," Daedalus, Winter 1998, 223-4.

[16]E.g. The Art of Painting p. 138: "emotion, aroused by what we see, comes to color our perception of what we see." Very dif. from Chinese version of self-expression through brushwork.

[17]Thinking with History, p. 117.

[18]Ibid. pp. 90 ff.

[19]Levenson, "Amateur Ideal," and my "Style as Idea." My point about how art historians had failed to do their job--

[20]Some of these are reproduced in (ref.); they are discussed in Jan Stuart, "Life in the Imperial Court of Qing Dynasty China," in Proceedings of the Denver Museum of Natural History, Series 3, no. 19, Nov. 1, 1998, Chuimei Ho and Cheri A. Jones, ed., Life in the Imperial Court of Qing Dynasty China, pp. 55-67.

[21]Clunas, Pictures and Visuality, p. 10. Part of Clunas's purpose is to deny, rightly, that Chinese painting can be taken as unitary--or, less rightly in my view, to deny the validity of working with the concept of Chinese painting at all.

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