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CLP 71: 1986 “Some Observations on the Practice and Problems of Art History in China.” Unpublished paper written after spending several months in China

SOME OBSERVATIONS ON THE PRACTICE AND PROBLEMS OF ART HISTORY IN CHINA

(Unpub. paper, written after spending several months in China in 1986)

The Chinese literature on art, like the Chinese literature of most other subjects of cultural importance, is unmatched in priority and richness: by the time Vasari inaugurated European art history in the mid-16th century with his Lives of the Most Eminent Architects, Painters, and Sculptors of Italy, China had already produced a long series of histories of painting (leaving aside writings on other art forms). We could begin the series with Zhang Yenyuan's monumental ninth-century Lidai minghua ji, or "Record of Eminent Painters of Successive Dynasties," which is easily the most informative and sophisticated art-historical text written anywhere up to that time--or, for that matter, for some centuries after. The writings that precede Zhang's work, from the Six Dynasties and early Tang periods, although they set up the major issues and define the criteria by which painters and paintings should be assessed, cannot perhaps be considered as truly art-historical texts. But from Zhang's time onward, a succession of serious, informed, and comprehensive writings, down to Xia Wenyen's Tuhui baojian (preface 1365), carry the history of painting forward, each building on the last, providing basic information on artists and institutions, assessing trends, discussing issues, and telling us a good deal, at least, of what we want to know about painting of those periods. Our Western art colleagues, learning of this succession of major early texts, can only be envious.

Writings that can properly be called art-historical continue to be produced through the later periods; one has only to mention such names as Dong Qichang or Zhang Geng or Qin Tsuyong to realize on how high a level. But no comprehensive histories comparable to those of the earlier dynasties are attempted in later centuries, and the thrust of later writings tends to be rather toward art criticism, art theory, or matters of connoisseurship. No large-scale, general accounts of painting of the Ming and Qing periods, for instance, are attempted until quite recent times, and even then they are more documentary than (in our sense) art historical. Art history as it has developed in this century in the West--largely as a German invention, although with major contributions from other countries--has only begun to penetrate China. The recent Chinese literature on painting (to consider only one art form) is of course extensive and distinguished; biographical and other studies of artists, studies of paintings or of problems in the history of painting, or of art theory and texts, make up an extensive body of scholarship on which all of us outside China depend heavily. And it is by no means confined to traditional Chinese approaches--a good deal of innovative scholarship has appeared in print; the Chinese art journals are publishing more art-historical articles than ever before, and most of them are valuable additions to the knowledge and understanding of our subject. Nevertheless, there are some ways in which art history in China lags behind, or at least is out of step with, its practice in other countries.

Some of the reasons for this are the familiar ones: art history, like other areas of scholarship, is still emerging from the long and destructive hiatus of the Cultural Revolution, and from a longer period during which it was not considered an ideologically justifiable pursuit. I first came to China in 1973 as a member of what was called a Chinese archaeology delegation; in fact it was made up of art historians--only one of us had ever engaged in archaeology at all. We were, of course, deeply interested in the recent archaeological finds in China, and used them in our teaching and writing. But we could not have come to China then as art historians. Archaeology was at that time an acceptable discipline, providing as it did materials and information for the writing of history, as well as evidence for foreign observers of China's continuing commitment to the understanding of its past. Art history was not acceptable--although, as we soon learned, research on old works of art was still being carried on by knowledgeable people in the museums and institutes.

A follow-up delegation in October and November of 1977 was able to present itself openly as made up of specialists in the history of Chinese painting, and we heard everywhere on our travels about how the "second liberation" had made the display and study of old Chinese art once again possible. And the years since then have indeed seen a great rise in the quantity and quality of art-historical scholarship and publication, and the growth of teaching programs in art history. Nevertheless, in spite of all this activity, the practice of art history in China is not in as vigorous and healthy a state as I believe it should be. The factors impeding its development are no longer primarily political; they are more deep-seated than shifts in the political atmosphere will account for. I will try in what follows to suggest what some of these factors seem to me to be.

I recently spent three and a half months in China, between August and November 1986, traveling for pleasure and study, staying and lecturing at the art academies and at Fudan University in Shanghai, participating in a symposium, seeing exhibitions and collections, talking with people--art historians, museum curators, students, artists, editors and writers for art journals. In the course of all this I learned much more than I had known before about the teaching and practice of art history in China, and formed some ideas about its problems and its future, which I want to set down here for whatever they may be worth. I am quite aware of the limits of my knowledge: I have read only a fraction of the literature, come to know only some of the people, and have only a hazy understanding of how some of the institutions operate. But I feel it is worthwhile, even within these limitations, to offer a few observations. My feeling is that art history in China is on the verge of taking off on a great new development; teaching programs are expanding, new ones are projected, many intelligent and highly motivated students are choosing art history as a field of specialization. There is great interest among art historians and serious students in the new methodological directions being explored by their counterparts outside China. But with all this activity and enthusiasm, art history remains in what is still a somewhat anomalous position in China. Part of my intention here is to offer support and encouragement to colleagues and students there (some of whom are my good friends) by helping, from the viewpoint of an outsider, to define their situation and their problems.

One of the curious features of the teaching of art history in China is that it is carried on, not in university departments or programs as in other countries, but in the art academies, institutions of which the primary function is the training of artists. Art history in China, accordingly, is subsidiary to art practice. Many art history programs in the U.S. began the same way: at the University of California in Berkeley, for instance, the first art historian was hired (from Germany) to teach the artists about their past. There are still departments in U.S. universities where that relationship persists; but the major art history programs here are independent and self-sufficient. It is not so in China. The art academies where it is taught are principally three: the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, the Nanjing College of Art, and the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts in Hangzhou, which is the oldest art college in China. Of these, only the Central Academy has an art history department at present; the other two have only programs. Still others, such as the Sichuan Fine Arts Institute in Zhongqing, offer courses in art history and theory but have no graduate programs. The Nanjing Academy hopes to institute a Ph.D. program in art history beginning next year; at present there are ten faculty members teaching art history and five graduate students studying it, three in Chinese art history and two in Western. The Ph.D. program at the Zhejiang Academy is recent, with less than ten students in it (out of a total student body of around seven hundred for the whole Academy), and no Ph.D.s have been granted as yet. From next year, they plan to have a proper art history department. What was to have been the Ph.D. program in art history at the Central Academy in Beijing somehow split off (Central Academy faculty speak of this with a tone of bitterness) and became a separate institution, directly under the Ministry of Culture, called the Institute of Art Research; two Ph.D.s in Chinese art theory have been awarded, both to students working under a professor who specializes in that subject. Another peculiar feature of the teaching of art history in China is that the right to grant Ph.D.s attaches to a professor, not to a program. At the Zhejiang Academy, for instance, one can study toward the Ph.D. with the specialist in Chinese sculpture, but not with the specialist in Chinese painting.

The surprising fact is that there is at present no art history department, or even a graduate program in art history, in any Chinese university. Peking University reportedly is considering such a program, but at present offers only archaeology. Fudan University in Shanghai, the other of the two great comprehensive universities in China, has a program in museum studies, of which art history is a component, and plans to expand this into a college, within which art history will be strengthened. But its purpose will be the training of museum curators, not academic art historians. Nankai University in Tianjin has begun to set up an art department, and has hired the painter Fan Zeng to chair it; the art historian whom Fan has reportedly chosen to head the other wing of the department is still studying in the U.S. I was told in Beijing that an education committee under the Ministry of Culture has recommended that in future art history courses should be taught in all universities, but this is unconfirmed, and the realization of the plan far in the future; and in any case, teaching courses is a different matter from establishing graduate programs. So for the foreseeable future, the art historians who teach and publish in China will be coming out of the programs in the art academies. For all the productive activity going on within art history in China, then, it exists institutionally and as an academic discipline chiefly in a state of potentiality.

The reasons behind this situation lie partly in the history of higher art education in China: the academies were founded and directed by notable artists. Xu Beihong's pupils, and pupils' pupils, still dominate the Central Academy in Beijing, and the ghosts of Lin Fengmian, Fu Baoshi, Huang Binhong, and Pan Tienshou still hover over the other two. No art historian of comparable fame and stature has appeared in any of them; in fact, the idea of an art historian of comparable fame and stature may still be foreign to China. So, for that matter, is the idea of art history as a discipline distinct from the practice of art, or of the art historian as a specialist quite separate from the practicing artist. Time and again, when one talks with a teacher of art history in China, or a writer for one of the journals that publish articles on art history, he turns out to have been trained originally as an artist. Trying to lecture on some art-historical subject in China, one finds oneself constantly pulled back, in the ensuing discussion, to the problems of contemporary artists, as though one's listeners, or many of them, were reluctant to give their attention for long to art history proper. Moreover, the art journals mostly include a few articles that are properly art-historical in content along with a larger number of others by artists and critics appraising each other's work, or discussing some recent artist or some trend in contemporary art. To the best of my knowledge, no Chinese journal is devoted exclusively to art history in the way that Art Bulletin is in the U.S.--or, for Asian art, Ars Orientalis, Artibus Asiae, or Archives of Asian Art. And many of the articles on Chinese art of the past are written in fact by people who are active mainly as artists. Both institutionally and in publications, then, art history in China is strongly dominated by artists.

Most artists in China, and perhaps many non-artists, will see this as a fundamentally healthy situation. They will point out, quite rightly, that the practice of painting and a kind of scholarship of old painting were often combined in China into a single person: Su Dongpo and Dong Qichang are examples that come immediately to mind. The brochure published by the Zhejiang Academy to publicize its teaching program tells us: "Traditionally, the Chinese artist is simultaneously a scholar, calligrapher, and poet." For one person to combine these attributes is in accordance with the traditional Chinese preference for an integral concept of culture against specialization, and is an ideal one can only admire, and welcome when one finds it exemplified in the present. But we can admire equally the corresponding ideal in Europe, the 18th or early 19th century gentleman of general culture who was at home and competent in literary, artistic, scientific, political, and other pursuits, without making the mistake of believing that anyone could pursue them all on a high level today. We live, for better or worse, in an age of specialization. The "amateur ideal" in the arts persists in China more than in most other places (exceptions might be found, perhaps, in England and Harvard); that so many Chinese, for instance, can paint and do calligraphy on an amateur basis but capably is a pleasure to see. But, as I had occasion to point out to artists in the academies: For you to say that because you are good artists, you can lecture and write effectively on art history is equivalent to my saying: because I am a good art historian, I can also paint well. The former statement is no more true than the latter. Art history as practiced outside China is a discipline in itself, with its own methodology, its own set of issues, its own training; and the same must be true for China before art history can have a healthy development there. Artists in China are reluctant to accept this truth; they insist on professional standards in the creation of art, but seem unwilling to grant the same to art history.

I am not arguing that the writing and teaching of a kind of art history by artists is without its positive aspects; on the contrary, I would argue strongly that artists can bring special insights to the interpretation of art works, enhancing our understanding of those works in ways that others of us cannot. I want only to point out that this characteristic of art history in China is unique--in all other countries I know about, artists and art historians are different people (allowing for the occasional overlap)--and also that it is not equally true in other fields: scholars of the history of drama, for instance, are not normally expected to be also practicing playwrights. And I want also to argue that the effects of this situation are not entirely positive. I suspect, from conversations with artists and others in the academies, that many Chinese scholars will continue to see this union of artist, theorist, and art historian as a special strength of the Chinese tradition, to be preserved at all costs. But the costs, for the future of art history in China, will be great. Art history as it is practiced in other countries can only develop there, I am convinced, to the degree that it succeeds in the future in emancipating itself from the domination of artists.

This may sound like an extreme and deliberately provocative statement; I nevertheless believe it to be true. In explaining why, let me begin by quoting again from the Zhejiang Academy's brochure, as representative of art-academy thinking in China. It says of Chinese art that it "seeks to join the subjectivity of the artist with the objectivity of reality, culminating in a self-enhancement for the artist." Herein lies the principal problem for an art history dominated by artists: they are mostly unable, or unwilling, to entertain any conception of art other than the one that "culminates in a self-enhancement for the artist." Art history, for them, can only be the history of the artist, a succession of creative acts by inspired individuals. And since art history is made up of artists, other artists are obviously best qualified to interpret it, to teach it, to write about it. But these assumptions go against the whole thrust of recent art-historical writing outside China, which is based on a different set of assumptions. One is that art history is not intelligible if it is seen only as a series of isolated, free creative acts by a series of individual artists; to see it that way is the equivalent of seeing history as a series of acts carried out independently by inspired individuals. Art historians today tend to believe instead that the work of art, or an art-historical development, can only be intelligible when seen as affected by historical circumstance, by economic and social and political factors.

It is understandable, perhaps, that artists in China should be uncomfortable with this way of thinking; after the terrible oppression that many of them underwent in the Cultural Revolution years, it would be natural enough for them to regard any constraints placed on the artist as having a negative effect on the quality of his productions, and the ideal state for the artist as being a total emancipation from such constraints. When one talks in China (as I did) about the economic and social conditions within which earlier artists necessarily worked, and about how their creative output can be seen in part as responding to these conditions, Chinese artists today are inclined to react negatively to such an approach, seeing it as somehow denigrating their tradition, making it seem commercialized and servile, and therefore less autonomous, less healthy. In giving lectures in which the forms that works of art took were considered as affected strongly by the historical, economic, or social circumstances within which they were created, I encountered regularly this response, a protective stance toward their tradition against someone they felt was denigrating it by treating it in this way. The most striking occurrence of this was at the Meishuguan in Shanghai, the gallery supported by the Chinese Artists Association. I argued in a lecture there, with some examples and evidence, that a change in the nature of the art market from the Kangxi era into the 18th century, expecially in the city of Yangzhou, encouraged painters to produce more work quickly and somewhat repetitively for a larger and more anonymous audience, instead of doing fewer paintings on a "custom-made" basis for particular recipients, and that this shift had an adverse effect not only on the output of individual masters (Zha Shibiao, Gong Xian, Shitao, as well as the Yangzhou masters of the 18th century) but also on the whole later history of Chinese painting. Some members of the large audience, which was composed of artists, critics, and museum people, reacted quite vehemently against this thesis, delivering impassioned counter-arguments after the lecture. (Interestingly, the principal attack came from a painter in the Shanghai Academy, and my principal defender was a noted museum curator who is not, so far as I know, a practicing artist.) But apart from the rightness or wrongness of my argument--and "rightness" is not even properly at issue here, since anyone suggesting causal factors in an artistic decline is obviously not operating in the realm of the verifiable--I had the strong impression that many of them were disturbed by this kind of argument. And they reacted, I think, as artists. (I can add that this was the only occasion in my lecturing in China when a few of the audience were not only disapproving but rude, talking loudly during the lecture, and even breaking in to question the authenticity of a painting I was showing in a slide--showing purely as an illustration of some point in my discussion, to which authenticity was quite irrelevant.)

On such occasions, I tried sometimes to argue that the autonomy of the artist is not an unmixed good, that in fact the artist seems sometimes to work best within, even against, a set of clearly-understood values and expectations in the society around him or in some particular patron, and that that situation could be healthy for him. Painters in the Italian Renaissance, or in the Sung imperial academy, worked within it and produced masterpieces, whereas painters in the West today work in situations of relative freedom from constraints, and produce--well, they could see for themselves. (This was of course a rhetorical position; on other occasions I found myself arguing for the strengths of recent Western painting.) Chinese artists were inclined to reject this idea, believing that the masterpieces were created in spite of such constraints, and that there are other reasons for the great decline (in which most of them firmly believe) in art of our time. The great achievements in art, for them, are to be understood as fruits of the genius of the individual artist.

So, what is wrong with that? It is certainly not entirely untrue, and there are many foreign art historians (such as my own teacher Max Loehr) who hold firmly to it still, rejecting the idea that outside circumstance exercised any significant effect on the essential qualities of the work of art. But it is a partial truth, and and concentrating one's attention so heavily on that part distorts, I believe, our understanding of the objects we study. This is not the place to make that argument once again; I have made it at length in a widely-circulated correspondence with two colleagues, and can now refer, for a vastly superior explication and exemplification of such an approach, to Michael Baxandall's recent Patterns of Intention: On the Historical Explanation of Pictures (Yale University Press, 1985). But I would argue also that apart from whatever rightness it may have in itself, this way of dealing with works of art makes for a more interesting and rewarding kind of art history. To see the meaning or expressive content of the art work always as embodying the feeling of the individual artist is an art-historical dead end: a formulation of that kind (the artist felt like this, therefore the painting is like this), because it can explain anything, in the end explains nothing.

An example will illustrate this point. One of my students, who was working at the time on the theme of virtuous recluses of antiquity as depicted in early Ming court painting, asked an eminent Chinese art historian (who had begun his career as an artist) why the court painters of that time favored this theme. His answer was typical: "The artists admired these virtuous men, and expressed their admiration in pictures of them." The meaning of the work of art, in this way of thinking, is always pulled back inside the artist, so to speak, instead of being located (in part, at least) in the society around him. (The proper response to such a statement, which we did not use on that occasion, is to ask: why then did so many early Ming court artists feel that way about virtuous hermits, and so few artists of other times and other types? Skeptics of this approach can sometimes be silenced, or at least seriously disconcerted, by pointing out such inescapable correlations.) My student, fortunately, was unaffected by the Chinese scholar's answer and went on to write a ground-breaking and enlightening study in which the choice of this theme for paintings, and choice of particular hermits as exemplars of particular decisions to accept or reject service under more or less virtuous rulers, were related convincingly to the central issue in the lives of the court and high-official patrons for such paintings, the issue of chu-chu , accepting or declining posts, being appointed to official positions or retiring from them, and to the ethics of all these choices.

The student who did this study is Chinese, from Taiwan; and other examples could of course be cited of Chinese specialists, whether from Taiwan or overseas Chinese in the U.S. or Chinese in mainland China, who are doing innovative art history that departs from traditional Chinese approaches. Graduate students in China are attracted to new trends in foreign art history, insofar as they are able to learn about them; one of them told me, after one of my lectures, that my approach was close to what she herself had been wanting to do, but that she had difficulty finding anyone with whom she could talk about it, or who would support this direction in her work. I told her that in fact there were numbers of people in China who felt as she did, and that they should all form an organization, a Chinese Art Historians Association as a counterpart to the Chinese Artists Association. I added facetiously that they might stipulate that artists are ineligible to join. She said she did not think China was ready to go that far just yet, but that she welcomed the idea. (Later I learned that the idea of forming an art historians association has been under discussion for some time, but has not yet been realized.)

The irony of the matter is that Chinese scholars can usually do this kind of study, when they choose to, better than we outsiders can, because of their unmatched competence in dealing with the documentary sources, their access to sources unknown to us, and their generally broader knowledge of Chinese history and culture. My intention in arguing as I am here is to encourage those who want to practice this kind of art history, or may want to if they are better acquainted with it; I am certainly not admonishing anyone to stop doing their kind of scholarship and begin doing our kind. Chinese art historians, including young scholars but older ones as well, need to have more options open to them, and more sympathetic and understanding responses when they attempt untraditional and unfamiliar directions in their research and writing.

There are obstacles still to be overcome, even apart from the tendency noted above to treat art, old or new, always from the viewpoint of the artist. One is a quite understandable distaste for social and political interpretations of art among many scholars in China, as a reaction against the official mandating of such interpretations during the earlier years of the P.R.C. I began one of my lectures in China by pointing out that a curious turnabout has taken place. In the 1950s and early 1960s Chinese writers on art were compelled to evaluate and interpret it by social and political criteria, and wrote interpretations that some of them will now disavow. We, meanwhile, were inclined to stress style and individual expression. Now we seem to have switched sides: many Western art historians, influenced by Marxist art history without accepting all of its premises, are now attempting to study "the way a work of art looks and what it means. . .as functions of the society in which it was made and viewed," and to "consider art as a social practice." (Svetlana Alpers, in Representations 12, Fall 1985, p. 1), while our Chinese colleagues, no longer constrained to do that, are revelling in the freedom to emphasize the individual genius of the artist--the very anathema of Cultural Revolution doctrine about art and culture. Even while sympathizing with them, however, one may hope for a counter-swing back to a middle ground in which both kinds of art history can coexist and be valued.

Another obstacle to the acceptance in China of the kind of art history being practiced in other countries is, I think, the very perception of it as foreign. Chinese specialists are proud of their tradition of art-historical scholarship, and have good reason to be--it is, as I began this essay by remarking, older and also, until quite recent times, richer than any other. If it has undergone some decline recently, the causes are more political than any inherent weakness in it. But also involved is the well-known Chinese sense of exclusive possession of the truth, at least about their own culture. My relations with Chinese colleagues have on the whole been on a friendly basis of mutual respect. But along with a great many favorable, or at least courteous, responses to my lectures and writings, I sometimes encounter a response that could be stated (although in fact it is never so directly stated) as: Since you are neither a painter nor Chinese, how can you possibly have anything to say about Chinese painting that will interest us? The response is reasonable enough, within this way of thinking about art history. But that it is a special Chinese response becomes obvious if we once more consider parallel situations: if we were, for example, to compile a bibliography of major studies of the history of Italian painting over the last seventy years, we would probably find that most of them are by people who are neither painters nor Italian; and no one argues that this diminishes in any way their value. There can even by advantages in viewing cultural phenomena from the outside: one is less committed, for example, to those grand but tired old formulations--paintings are soundless poems, Chinese artists convey the inner spirit rather than (like Western artists) the outer appearance, etc.--which are all too often brought out by Chinese writers as though they still merited acceptance as profound and eternal truths. And as an outsider one can try, at least, to take a more objective stance on those issues that arouse ethnocentric passions, such as the presence and importance of European influence in 17th century Chinese painting, for which I have been arguing (with clear evidence, I believe) in recent years, but which Chinese scholars mostly seem to regard as another foreign attempt to erode the autonomous development of their cultural tradition, and to oppose vigorously.

To the degree that new ideas and methodology in art history are perceived as impositions from outside, then, they will have a difficult time taking root in China. One would like to be able to persuade those who have this perception that on the contrary, ideas adopted deliberately from outside can be liberating rather than constraining: like the engravings and other works of art from Europe that opened the eyes of late Ming Chinese artists to new options, ways of escaping the confines of their tradition, ideas from other schools of art history, adopted by choice and under no constraint, could now enrich the range of ways in which works of art, and art-historical phenomena, can be studied and understood by Chinese scholars. It is of course a true exchange, operating in both directions: one could as easily take as parallels the way French artists in the later 19th century accepted enthusiastically from Japanese prints some new ways of composing and coloring pictures, or Abstract Expressionist artists and others in U.S. took what suited their purposes in the 1940s and 50s from Chinese calligraphy.

Finally, I would suggest that art history in China would be on a firmer footing if it could disentangle itself, more than it usually does, from two other large sets of concerns, both in themselves entirely worthy and important, both closely related to art history and yet distinguishable from it. One is art theory, the other authentication. Both are able to make the claim that art history without them is insecure, since it obviously needs a solid theoretical basis, and obviously must distinguish genuine from false works of art before it can proceed. Both claims have considerable merit; but in fact theorizing about art and arguments about authenticity are, perhaps should be, both more or less endlessly ongoing pursuits, and art history must proceed on its own, somewhat independently of them.

Highly sophisticated theoretical discussions have been a principal strength of the Chinese literature of art from its beginnings, and continue today; the present Chinese fondness for theorizing about art may be only a continuation of that. Or it may be another function of the domination of art history by artists, who, for reasons I do not entirely understand, seem to be more strongly attracted to art theory than to art history. An essay by Xue Yongnian of the Central Academy, published in Meishu yanjiu (1985, no. 1), makes the convincing suggestion that the emphasis on theory over history in art studies of the past decades might have been because theory was judged to be more applicable to the concerns of present-day art and artists. Whatever the reason, writings by artists and others on large, general aesthetic issues make up a substantial portion of the contents of art journals in China. If I see this phenomenon as subtly undermining the status of art history, it is because art theory and art history are too often confused--asking about art history courses and programs, I would often be told about courses in art theory and aesthetics, as though they were the same thing. Also, this pursuit seems to draw off too much of the thought and energy that might otherwise go into art history. Thoughtful writing, that is, tends to be directed into these large, general questions; it is too seldom that a comparable thoughtfulness is directed toward writing about works of art, and art-historical problems, in theoretically interesting ways.

Authentication (jianding ), which is one part of connoisseurship but might also be regarded as an equivalent for art works of the Chinese practice of kaozheng or textual criticism, has a similarly old and distinguished history in China; to be an expert in painting and calligraphy in traditional China, as Wen Jia or Dong Qichang were, was above all to be able to distinguish true from false, or at least to persuade your audience that you could do so. From Ming-Qing times onward, and probably earlier as well, the fundamental act of the authority on painting appears to have been to stand in front of the work and say authoritatively: this is clearly genuine (or clearly fake, as the case may be). Again, this is an essential pursuit; we all must make judgements, as best we can, on the authenticity of the works we study. The practice of authentication has a negative effect on art-historical studies only when it becomes an end in itself, when scholars in the field cannot get beyond it and begin to argue that we can only start to deal with works of art in other ways after we have determined finally, to everyone's satisfaction, their dating and authorship--an end which, alas, will probably never be reached. Meanwhile, we must get on with other things.

I would like to end by saying that my most recent stay left me more than ever fond of China, its museums and academies and the people in them, many of whom have become good friends. If there are some who will find one or another of the arguments I have made here disturbing, there are others who are in essential agreement with them, as I know from talking with them; and it is to these people that I want to offer encouragement, with the hope that the discipline of art history in which they are engaged will come to be acknowledged, more than it is now, as an independent and respected pursuit. It is to the future of art history in China, then, that this essay is finally dedicated.

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