Debating Art: Chinese Intellectuals at the Crossroads

When:
April 13, 2018 @ 10:00 AM – 5:00 PM
Where:
Johnson Museum of Art
Categories:

During the first half of the twentieth century, the movement to “modernize” China was led by Chinese intellectuals who considered aesthetic education and the experience of art to be a cure for an emotionally depressed and morally degraded society. In their view, art was key to broader change, and they promoted an expansive role for it in politics, government, and societal development in general. Art practices were considered among the most important elements associated with “modernization,” and hence became the subject of heated discussions on their role in promoting and establishing “new” cultural movements and sociopolitical reforms.

Intellectual debates on the history and meaning of Chinese art and Chinese culture ranged from linking calligraphy and painting with democracy and political reform, to asserting the role of art in upholding both “modern” and classical traditions. Within painting, Chinese tradition was held up against Western influences. Within calligraphy, proponents of the stelae tradition (beixue) clashed with proponents of the classical manuscript school (tiexue). Members of various artist groups identified themselves as supporters of literati painting or loyal followers of the archaic style; and as adherents of Chinese traditional painting or experimenters with Western styles and techniques.

This exhibition highlights the diverse group of Chinese intellectuals who actively engaged in the political and educational reforms and ideological debates of a unique nation-building project—one that positioned “art” as a solution to the late Qing dynastic crisis and as a catalyst for the formation of the Republic of China. Works on view include paintings and calligraphy from the Johnson’s permanent collection and archival resources from the Cornell University Library to present a range of essential art practices carried out by Chinese intellectuals in the early twentieth century.

This exhibition was curated by Yuhua Ding, PhD candidate in Cornell’s Department of the History of Art, assisted by Elizabeth Emrich, curatorial assistant for Asian art, and under the supervision of Ellen Avril, chief curator and curator of Asian art, at the Johnson Museum.

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