The Art of China: Spirit and Society

The Art of China: Spirit and Society

The Art of China: Spirit and Society

The Art of China: Spirit and Society

Excerpt

China boasts a proud and ancient tradition of art and civilisation, a tradition which has never been interrupted or lost its vitality. Her gifts to the world are many; porcelain and silk, lacquer, paper and tea, wisdom, poetry and enlightenment. We all marvel at her and praise her, and many of us love her, but hardly anyone realises how little we actually know about her, or how one-sided what little knowledge we have still is. There are still immense reserves of works of art and of books to be revealed. Excavations in the last few years have greatly deepened our knowledge, but the earth yet holds great hoards of treasures. There are many blank areas on our maps of Chinese art history, and many gaps in our tables of historical development. For hundreds of years, hundreds of learned men have been working on the art history of Europe and the Mediterranean lands, but such studies are only just beginning in the lands outside Europe. There are indeed introductions to the study of Chinese art, and books providing a general survey of the subject; and it is an ever fascinating task to sketch the general picure again and help to fill it out. But there are very few really reliable fundamental publications, from which to establish a solid basis of knowledge as a foundation on which further work can be based. Even museum catalogues are inadequate. The great number of special studies of matters that are clearly of subsidiary importance, give the false impression that the main facts are often astray in a wide open sea. That is the joy and grief for all who try to make progress in the study of art outside Europe. One is continually faced with the unknown waiting for some discoverer to bring it to life. So this book cannot and does not attempt to give a final picture, or even a systematic account, of Chinese art. My endeavour is to make the best out of what is now possible, to avoid what has often been reproduced before, and to take advantage of coloured illustrations to call attention to things less well-known. Such illustrations, it is hoped, will make the beholder long to see the things themselves and handle them. I take this opportunity to offer my sincerest thanks to all those experts, collectors, men of learning and institutions whose friendly help has lightened my task. They will all agree -- museums were indeed founded because of this belief and live by it -- that only the original itself can reveal the full value of a work of art.

If an account of three millenia of high aesthetic achievement is to be compressed into a few pages with a small number of illustrations, obviously one must stick to restricted basic themes. Here my first care has been to try to grasp the spirit of each successive epoch. An epoch is not quite the same thing as a period. Its boundaries may spread over a wide expanse of time. It begins with a genius, a thought, or an event which gives . . .

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