The Art Historical Art of Song China

A workshop at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

April 6–8, 2017


Richard Barnhart, In Search of Wang Wei

Wang Wei (701-761), one of China’s greatest poets, left a legacy of ineffable poetry that is still read and admired around the world. He is also remembered as a great painter despite the fact that not a single painting by him is known to have survived and the reasons for his stature have not been identified. Seeking to recover what remains of Wang’s lost art, and to separate it from the debased replicas of his Wangchuan compositions said to have been copied by Guo Zhongshu (and many others), and the archaic snowy landscape handscrolls supposedly copied by Yan Wengui and Xu Daoning, we find it inextricably imbedded in the very origins and identity of Song landscape painting itself. The painter Wang Wei who emerges from this examination was the peer of Dong Yuan and Fan Kuan, and as important as Li Cheng and Guan Tong in establishing the character of Song landscape painting. Back to schedule

Marty Powers, Art Historical Art in Song China

Over the past fifty years many eminent scholars have contributed to our understanding of the uses of the past in Chinese painting. Richard Barnhart was perhaps the first to use the term “citation” to describe a very special manner of referencing the past in Song literati painting. In light of recent research on Song historiography and literary theory, the time is right to revisit this phenomenon. As Peter Bol observed, Song intellectuals did not view the past as a model to be followed; they saw the past “as a period and set of texts from which to derive general principles . . .” about society, government, or policy. Because they perceived Song society as more rational and more just than past ages, they could no longer imitate a past that was seen as irrevocably passé. This necessitated the invention of art historical art, deliberate references to anachronistic methods/fa in art. An examination of extant literati paintings reveals that several artists shared a common repertoire of art historical referencing techniques, including the juxtaposition of multiple and incompatible styles; the replacement of the horizon with conflicting lines of site; and the willful manipulation of the plane of recession. All this is consistent with the Song theory of citation/yongshi. This concept appears in literary criticism by followers of Su Shi and his circle, and enables us to make sense of the new set of art historical referencing techniques in use at the time. This paper will survey these new materials and comment on their significance. Back to schedule

Peter Sturman, Citing Wang Wei: Mi Youren’s Reckoning of the Past

Mi Youren (1074-1151), one of the few painters active during the Northern Song-Southern Song transition whose works survive, provides a rare window on the trauma of the Jurchen invasions of 1127-1130 that almost brought down the dynasty and their effect on painting. Comments by Mi reveal that the evocation of Wang Wei’s name continued to be a part of the literati painter’s practice at the end of the Northern Song, but what did Wang’s name mean precisely? Wang, in fact, presented multiple images as a painter—portrayer of figures, landscapes, even bamboo. More importantly, as Mi Fu pointed out, there was little understanding of what constituted a genuine Wang Wei painting, as attributions of all kinds had proliferated. The practice of citation in painting will be reviewed against this backdrop, with attention paid to how political and social contingencies through the first thirty years of the twelfth century shaped the decisions of both painters and calligraphers. Mi Youren, witness to near dynastic collapse, presents particular urgency in his use of citation, layering evocations of both the near and distant pasts to affirm continuity in a period of great uncertainty. Back to schedule

Robert Harrist, Memory, Mountains, and Elegant Graffiti by Song Literati

Scattered across mountain in China are inscriptions from the Song period that record journeys by prominent people, such as the poet Lu You, as well as not so prominent local scholars, who sought out earlier carved writing at sites such as Jinshan, Cloud Peak Mountain, and Mt. Tai. Unlike scholars of jinshixue who only collected rubbings of inscriptions, the writers of these Song texts insisted on seeing writing in situ. The texts they left behind at sites they visited, like colophons added to paintings or works of calligraphy on paper or silk, comment on historical and art historical matters and express also subjective responses to the interaction of landscape and writing from the remote past. This paper will argue that the production of these inscriptions was a distinctive feature of Song literati culture and inspired the countless carved texts in later centuries. Back to schedule

Richard Vinograd, Looking Forward to Looking Back: Past, Present and Future in the Imaginary of Song

Our sense of the Song imagination is doubtless conditioned by our (art) historical image of the Song. How that is characterized depends somewhat on how expansively the Song is conceived – as polity, culture arena, or era – but it has surely included a sense of the Song as attuned to a vividly felt present along with abundant references to the past. Our appreciation of Song cultural actors’ sense of the future is likely limited by our ex post facto knowledge of the Song as an era of regimes whose futures were dramatically cut short, but there is ample evidence of contemporary awareness of the new, of future-directed legacies, and, in some arenas, of future as promise. My remarks will focus on such questions of temporality in and of the Song, and on the complex interrelationships of present, past, and future in Song era arts. Back to schedule

Copyright © 2016–2017