This book is a survey of the art of the Chinese potter, from the earliest times to the present day. It will provide an account of our present knowledge of the origins and development of the art, and will serve as a guide to the literature in which it is discussed, but it will be concerned less with archaeology and history than with the appreciation of the wares themselves.
The subject is one which may be regarded from widely different points of view. The antiquarian may study the uses of the surviving pottery objects, discovering and describing (for example) the various forms of Chinese wine-vessel or tracing the history of the Buddhist begging-bowl; or he may consider the tomb-figures for what they represent, making researches into the origin of the Chinese breeds of horse and dog, and studying the relevant folk-lore and burial customs. The historian, again, may study the social and political background, providing a picture of Chinese society as a setting for the pottery; or the scholar may devote himself to the texts referring to pottery, or study its iconography, with no reference in either case to the aesthetic merit of the wares he illustrates. Different again is the approach of the scientist, who may believe in the supreme importance of chemical analysis as an aid to ceramic studies. Excellent books on Chinese pottery have been written from all these points of view. But the approach I propose is a different one. I shall be primarily concerned with the wares themselves--with the attributes, such as the shapes and proportions, the colours and the textures, which make us call them beautiful. These alone, in my opinion, can justify the attention I shall give them. I do not propose to attempt to explain here why we consider them beautiful, why a certain profile or brush-stroke, or a certain arrangement of curved surfaces or volumes, or a combination of colours, should have the power to move us profoundly. It is enough for the present to know that they can perform this miracle. I would only stress the fact that this appreciation of beauty is in its essence a simple thing, direct and not dependent upon reasoning or even upon knowledge, scientific or other. It depends upon what Charles Vignier called, after Don Quixote, l'amoureux choix . . . ce discernement exquis, cette sensibilité quasi-infaillible', which govern the taste of the gifted amateur. Such discernment may reach the truth where the laborious analysis of the Teutonic method must always fail. To have learnt to see the whole work, and to have come under its spell, rather than attempt fruitlessly to analyse it into its meaningless parts, must be a first requirement in all art criticism.
But since no terminology exists in which the abstract qualities of pottery may be rationally discussed, it might well be thought sufficient to affirm one's choice in an anthology of pots and leave it at that. To make such an anthology has indeed been a most important part of my intention here; I have tried to bring together, in suitable order, as many masterpieces as space allowed me, and I might have left them to speak for themselves. There is in fact much to be said for allowing works of art to make their appeal undisturbed by any chatter of commentary. Yet this, I hold, is not enough, for two principal reasons. In the first place it must be said that while beauty is the final justification for the . . .