Foreword to James Cahill article
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Foreword to James Cahill article

It is not often that a journal decides to accept for publication a twenty-year-old manuscript. Archives of Asian Art is pleased to accept this article for a number of reasons. First is the lasting importance of the topics it engages: the relationship in Chinese painting history between literati and professional artistic styles, their conventions and their audiences’ expectations of them; the encounter between collector choices and random survivals, which artificially shape (expand or limit, focus or diffuse) our opportunity to see and understand the distant history of this medium; the scholarly engagement, unusual in our field, with “second-class paintings” (the author’s own term for those discussed here) in order to reconstuct a history of common practice, rather than the more typical engagement with exclusive “masterpieces,” which creates what we ought properly to recognize as a history of exceptionalism. To amplify a bit, the literati-professional relationship referred to here contributes to a long-standing dialogue concerning the tension between artistic freedom (in this case, the literati artists’ much-esteemed “spontaneity”) and prescribed social roles, conventions, and expectations. That discussion has sometimes taken on its own conventions, dividing participants into “lumpers” and “splitters”—the latter (including the author, Professor Cahill) arguing that an artist’s social background (whether “lofty” scholar or “lowly” artisan) can be discerned in the style of his work, which conformed to the social expectations that bore on him; the “lumpers” claiming this to be unreliable, deterministic, and socially biased.1 What is intriguing about his article, however, is its concern with a group of works (rare for having been archaeologically excavated) which, in the author’s words, “do not raise the amateur-professional issue by displaying any clear distinctions between ‘amateurish’ and ‘professional-looking’ works, but rather by representing types of painting in which the distinctions are minimized or imperceptible.” This is not a reworking of old arguments but a new and nuanced approach to them, in which the author has abandoned his steadfast “splitter” position and instead blurred the “lumper-splitter” distinction.

More briefly, then, a second reason for bringing forth this article now is that little scholarly literature bearing on the subject has come forth in the past two decades. (A few important exceptions could be noted.2) Publication here will, I hope, keep these important issues alive and inspire a new generation of scholars to consider them. Finally, a third reason for Archives, in particular, to welcome this essay is that it serves to complement an earlier, outstanding article published here by Professor Cahill, “Continuations of Ch’an Ink Painting,” similarly concerned with the complex and subtle modes of transmission and transformation of earlier conventions into the art of later times.3

Jerome Silbergeld
Princeton, February 2012
Jerome Silbergeld

Jerome Silbergeld is P. Y. and Kinmay W. Tang Professor of Chinese Art History at Princeton. His writings include “Changing Views of Change: The Song-Yuan Transition in Chinese Painting Histories,” in Asian Art History in the Twenty-First Century, and “The Emergence of ‘Literati Painting’ in the Song Dynasty,” in The Blackwell Companion to Chinese Art (forthcoming). [jsil@princeton.edu]

Notes

1. Richard Barnhart, James Cahill, and Howard Rogers, The Barnhart-Cahill-Rogers Correspondence (Berkeley: Institute of East Asian Studies, University of California, 1982); James Cahill, “Tang Yin and Wen Zhengming as Artist Types: A Reconsideration,” Artibus Asiae 53 no. 1/2 (1993): 228–248.

2. Two examples come quickly to mind: Kathlyn Liscomb, “Shen Zhou’s Collection of Early Ming Paintings and the Origins of the Wu School’s Eclectic Revivalism,” Artibus Asiae 52 no. 3/4 (1992): 215–254, directly concerned with some of the same paintings as here; and indirectly, Hou-mei Sung, Decoded Messages: The Symbolic Language of Chinese Animal Painting (New Haven and London: Yale University Press; Cincinnati: Cincinnati Art Museum, 2009).

3. James Cahill, “Continuations of Ch’an Ink Painting into Ming-Ch’ing and the Prevalence of Type Images,” Archives of Asian Art 50 (1997–1998): 17–41. [End Page 5]

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