Chinese Paintings, XI-XIV Centuries

Chinese Paintings, XI-XIV Centuries

Chinese Paintings, XI-XIV Centuries

Chinese Paintings, XI-XIV Centuries

Excerpt

The vastness and variety of Chinese painting have only recently begun to be recognized in the West, and such recognition is coming as a major revelation. One still encounters people who, while they are willing to admire individual pictures, complain that they all look more or less alike. But in saying this they betray themselves as never having troubled to look at many of them, or not for very long. Those who have troubled-and it has become less trouble in recent years, with good collections building up in many museums, and exhibitions occurring more and more often -- are aware that the range of styles within Chinese painting is about as wide as that, say, from Michelangelo to Mondrian.

The other revelation, which seems to be slower in spreading, is that while geographically China is on the other side of the world, it is not so artistically. We have had enough of oversimplified divisions of human culture, in which a spiritual East is opposed to a materialist West or at least we have realized that if we must make such dichotomies, China does not fit comfortably into the opposing position. The ways in which the typical Chinese painting differs from the lypical Occidental one are numerous and intersting, but they need not persuade us to approach each Chinese picture with a grim conviction that it is speaking a foreign language, that the artist who painted it was motivated by very different aims from the ones we are familiar with, and that only a broad acquaintance with Chinese history, thought and culture will prepare us to "understand" it. Other exotic arts which we once approached with such trepidation have proven to be more easily accessible than we supposed. Chinese painting lacks, to be sure, that air of simplicity and naïveté which attracts the modern eye to primitive arts -- there is nothing primitive about it at all -- but it has other qualities which should, in the end, satisfy a more enduring taste than the one which admires anything bold and simple as "modern." It is not without its difficulties, but most of them belong to the same kinds of complexity that confront us in Occidental art, and not to any special mysteries of the East. A good part of what Chinese painting has to communicate, and of the artistic means it uses in doing so, should be quite intelligible to the sensitive western viewer who is willing to spend some time looking at it. Provided, that is, that he has not been frightened off by some of our recent obscurantist authors, who suggest by their preoccupation with esoteric allusions and forced symbolism that the "inscrutable Orient" myth, largely debunked elsewhere, may hold out for some time yet in the field of art.

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