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Chinese Painting Studies in the West: A State-of-the-Field Article

  • Jerome Silbergeld

Extract

The contemporary study of Chinese painting history varies considerably according to cultural locus, be it mainland China, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, or the West, making broad generalization about the state of the field quite difficult. Where the intellectual and social context of traditional East Asian culture remains most intact, the study of painting has perpetuated the concerns and modes of the thousandplus years of traditional historiography, yet this has become increasingly rare. In the People's Republic, innovation has come largely through Marxist influence, bringing a focus on social aspects of the art, but no systematic Marxist analysis has ever emerged and the influence of ideology is now noticeably on the wane. In the West, where most of those who study Chinese painting cannot themselves paint, do more than dabble in calligraphy, or lay claim to being part of the Chinese cultural elite, and where an understanding of the Chinese context cannot be taken for granted, the need for cross-cultural explanation has generated studies unique in character, blending sinology with Eurocentric art-historical questions and methods. This Western approach, with its skeptical analysis and egalitarian perspective, has provided new techniques of stylistic analysis for reevaluating the traditional dates and attributions of paintings and yielded a new, more objective basis for examining the theory, content, and sociocultural basis of Chinese painting.

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