Martin Powers, Sally Michelson Davidson Professor of Chinese Arts and Cultures, is organizing a two-day international workshop and a pedagogical website to explore the art historical art of Song China (11th through 13th centuries). The workshop, April 6 & 7, is organized in tandem with a live performance of Song period music courtesy of the Confucius Institute.

The Workshop
The workshop will embrace both connoisseurship and the study of historical vision. On the first day, an international team of experts in the connoisseurship of Tang and Song painting will debate the nature and dating of a rare scroll attributed to the seminal Tang artist Wang Wei. This scroll will be on exhibit for the workshop at the University of Michigan Museum of Art.

On the morning of the second day, three University of Michigan graduate students will discuss videos they have prepared for illustrating acts of art historical citation. The videos will show dynamically how literati artists distorted space, removed texture, flattened form, or juxtaposed discordant styles. They will develop the digital means to pose counterfactuals: “what if the artist had done this, or not done that?” In this way viewers will come to appreciate palpably the true nature of the artist’s interventions. The videos, as well as a documentary of the discussion of the scroll attributed to Wang Wei, will be available worldwide on this website.

About the Project
In recent years the study of artistic repetition—copying, imitation, emulation—has inspired theorization in a range of fields from Renaissance painting to the art of the Inca’s. Among the various forms of repetition known, citation is unusual in that Classical art no longer serves as a model. Instead, the later artist treats earlier styles as tokens of times past, a metonym for values once cherished but now lost.

In China, literary theories of citation first flourish in Song times. One of the earliest collections featuring such theories drew heavily on the writings of Northern Song literati such as Su Shi and his circle. These same men famously rejected naturalism in favor of more willful styles, yet Song literati painting has never been linked to citation theory. Arguably both developments were rooted in a new, historically conscious understanding of time. The historian Thomas Lee observed a heightened sense of “anachronism” among Song period historians, while Peter Bol noted that Song statesmen no longer viewed the past as a repository of models to be imitated but rather “as a period and set of texts from which to derive general principles . . .”

Literati artists, informed by a historicist view of time, saw themselves as conducting “imaginary conversations” (shenhui) with an estranged past. For long these practices were mistaken for imitations of older styles, and some artists did emulate classical works, but paintings in this tradition do not imitate any single model. Instead they juxtapose recent styles with outdated ways of seeing that mark the painting’s “time” as imaginary and personally constructed. By exploring the ways in which literati artists visualized an obsolete past, this workshop will initiate the study of China’s first art historical art.

Why it’s Important
This project initiates the systematic study of art historical art in China and will generate entirely novel online resources for teaching the history of art and culture in China. This is important not only for understanding China’s intellectual history, but for illuminating the historical roots of modern practice, for many contemporary artists in East Asia, like Ming and Qing masters before them, have made extensive use of citation and art historical art.