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Dimensions of Originality

Essays on Seventeenth-Century Chinese Art Th eory and Criticism

By Katharine P. Burnett

Publication Year: 2013

This book investigates the issue of conceptual originality in art criticism of the seventeenth century, a period in which China dynamically reinvented itself. In art criticism, the term which was called upon to indicate conceptual originality more than any other was "qi" 奇, literally, "different"; but secondarily, "odd," like a number and by extension, "the novel," and "extraordinary." This work finds that originality, expressed through visual difference, was a paradigmatic concern of both artists and critics. Burnett speculates on why many have dismissed originality as a possible "traditional Chinese" value, and the ramifications this has had on art historical understanding. She further demonstrates that a study of individual key terms can reveal social and cultural values and provides a linear history of the increase in critical use of "qi" as "originality" from the fifth through the seventeenth centuries, exploring what originality looks like in artworks by members of the gentry elite and commoner classes, and explains how the value lost its luster at the end of the seventeenth century.

Published by: Chinese University Press

Title Page, Copyright Page

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pp. 2-9


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pp. ix-xii

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pp. xiii-xv

The topic of originality has been on my mind for a long time. I was fortunate to be able to work through it in various settings. Some of the material contained in this book was presented in papers at the following conferences: Midwest Art History Society 23rd Annual Meeting, Cleveland (1996); Conference of Art Historians of Southern California, Los Angeles (1997); College Art Association Annual Conference, Toronto (1998); Quadrennial International Conference of the Comité International d’Histoire de ...

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Notes to the Reader

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pp. xvii-19

Because this book builds its arguments upon textual research and analysis, translations are followed with a transcription of the Chinese text. This has been done because scholarly integrity requires the transparency that technology now enables. In so doing, the author is conscious that translations are inherently disputable, and therefore, that she lays herself open to the criticism that other renderings may work better, especially as the body of knowledge grows and new methodologies arise. ...

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pp. xix-xxx

In the area of the arts, originality has long been a central issue of debate. What is an original work of art, for example, and what is a copy? How is originality defined when emulation or imitation can be an intrinsic aspect of a work of art? The answer affects how viewers respond to the objects before them, and how audiences judge the endeavors of artists. The definition given to originality also has consequences for the art market, as a work’s authenticity factors heavily in setting its value in the gallery ...

Part I

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Chapter 1: Some Problems of Expectation

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pp. 3-39

It is curious that although the topic of originality has received much attention in European and American art histories, it has been neglected in studies of Chinese art and theory. More curious still is that new research on the topic has met with stiff resistance from some unexpected quarters. It is only logical to ask, therefore, why this is so? While I cannot pretend to ...

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Chapter 2: Some Problems of Interpretation

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pp. 41-62

In China, just as in parts of Europe and the US, the concept of the “original” within the art historical lexicon developed a meaning separate from the “originary.” The category of originary implies not only a preference for the authentic over the forged, but also a concern with the aesthetic sources of artworks. In fact, any culture that requires art to be taught holds artistic traditions relevant, and in valuing the production of certain earlier artists ...

Part II: Ideas and Words

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Chapter 3: How Ideas Spread Across China And Among The Classes

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pp. 65-80

Before entering a full discussion about originality in Chinese art theory and criticism, it is helpful to outline some of the factors that aided its development. China’s seventeenth century marks a transition of dynasties, social values, and cultural expression. By seventeenth century, I mean China’s “long” seventeenth century, from about 1570 to 1720, a period that covers the last seven decades of the Ming (1368–1644) and the first eight decades of the Qing (1644–1911) Dynasties. ...

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Chapter 4: The Importance Of A Word

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pp. 81-100

Artists, theorists, and critics of seventeenth-century China persistently demanded the quality of newness paired with uniqueness—what I will call “originality.” Analysis of period criticism reveals a discourse of originality, and indicates that Originalist artists, who have traditionally been identified in English-language scholarship as “individualist” or “eccentric,” shared a common excitement over the newness, uniqueness, contemporaneity, and originality of their work. ...

Part III: What the Theorists and Critics Had to Say

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Chapter 5: Pre-seventeenth-century Art Theory And Criticism

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pp. 103-134

While theorists and critics of all periods valued originality, the manifestation of this value in the visual arts necessarily differed from one period to another. Whereas those of the seventeenth century particularly enjoyed an extremely bold expression of this value, and indicated their appreciation of this value frequently through their use of the term qi ...

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Chapter 6: Seventeenth-century Painting Theory And Criticism

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pp. 135-166

The fearlessness of his challenge is one of the salient, unifying qualities of seventeenth- century painting, and this bold call for originality was tracked, discussed, and praised in contemporary art theory and criticism through the use of qi and its cluster of associated terms. This essay examines these texts relating to painting theory and criticism in the seventeenth century. ...

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Chapter 7: Seventeenth-century Calligraphy Theory And Criticism

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pp. 167-200

A sibling art of painting, calligraphy, the preeminent visual art of pretwentieth- century China, has its own complex history and unique set of demands. Regardless of its textual content, however, calligraphy can be compelling solely because of its visual power. ...

Part IV: Images

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Chapter 8: The Other Dong Qichang

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pp. 203-219

... Though seventeenth-century art experts broadly appreciated Dong’s art and writings—especially those expressive of what is now termed an Originalist aesthetic (where Originalism is defined to be the seventeenth-century trend to emphasize qualities regularly identified in conceptually original works of art such as newness, difference, and contemporaneity), those of the eighteenth century and later tended to hold an appreciative but more conservative and essentializing view of Dong’s art, one that constricts his contributions to ...

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Chapter 9: What Originality Looks Like

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pp. 221-287

... These feature centrally placed massifs, such as his well known hanging scroll, Landscape: Pine Lodge amidst Tall Mountains, undated, (Asian Art Museum, San Francisco), and strange luohan images, such as his undated Five-hundred Luohans (Cleveland Museum of Art). As much as these works speak directly to the discourse of originality, a more complex landscape painting exists that even more powerfully proclaims Wu’s theoretical ideals in image and word: ...

Part V: The Legacy of a Concept

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Chapter 10: The End of Originality

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pp. 291-324

Whereas expressions of originality and difference dominate aesthetic discourse in the late Ming Dynasty (1368–1644), open and explicit interest in these ideals continued during the first decades of the early Qing (1644– 1911) yet was met with some resistance. As the new Manchu state sought to legitimize itself in the eyes of its Han Chinese subjects, it established controlling social and cultural policies. On the surface of it, these policies ...

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pp. 325-330

... The same is true for a significant body of art from the early decades of the Qing Dynasty (though a countervailing movement of stylistic Orthodoxy was also operative then). It was not just that qi/unbalanced had become more important than zheng/balanced, but that qi was an indicator of the new, different, and original as opposed to the normative/zheng standards. As theorists and critics such as Dong Qichang ...

Appendix: Instances of the Use of Qi, Yi, and Guaiin Sobriquet Dictionaries

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pp. 331-337


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pp. 339-383


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pp. 385-402


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pp. 403-414

E-ISBN-13: 9789629969141
Print-ISBN-13: 9789629964566

Page Count: 444
Illustrations: Y
Publication Year: 2013