7. Audience Jason Kuo asks about "the role of the audience in shaping my writings."

I respond:

This was pretty much answered in answer #2 above [on my "voice" in writing.] And, although the nature of the audience does shape my writings, I've always found it easy to adapt them from one outlet to another: lecture or paper for symposium becomes article for academic journal, etc. I've done a lot of writing for exhibition catalogs, and have always believed that they should be an opportunity for getting writing of scholarly substance into print--the two I did with grad students at UCB, Restless Landscape and Shadows of Mt. Huang, both had writing by them and by me that broke new ground in their subjects (the latter was especially praised in a NY Review of Books piece by Jonathan Spence.) For a long time, exhibition catalogs were a chief outlet for writing on E. Asian art in the U.S., with relatively few books of other kinds coming out; I was critical of this trend, arguing that the objects in an exhib. cat. were limited to what one could borrow, and necessarily distorted the subject somewhat--ideally one should choose the pieces that most represented whatever art-historical development/school or whatever one was writing about.

Chinese Audience: I haven't consciously slanted my writings to Chinese or Western audiences, or scarcely at all. (I've added "New Preface for Chinese Readers" to some of my books when they appeared in Chinese.)
The Rock Pub. Int'l Chinese editions of my Weatherhill books have done very well in Taiwan, and now one of them (late Ming) is in print in mainland China, along with Compelling Image. Poor reproductions in both cases--even producing a cheap book, they could have made better decisions about what to reproduce larger, how to arrange the pictures with the text, etc. Chinese journal and book publishers haven't yet become aware of how important the quality and completeness of the reproductions are--they would often just as soon leave them out; it's the text they want. One of the chapters of Compelling Image was published (in Duo Yun?) with the principal work for that chapter missing (it was back among the color plates in the original book and they didn't notice it, or look.) As for what impact these have had on the Chinese scholarly community, you probably should investigate that independently. My impression is that they have opened up the subject in positive ways, along with annoying some of the Chinese scholars.

About that: I don't think one can necessarily say (as you do in the most recent email) that these Chinese scholars have "misunderstood" my writings; I think they've been somewhat upset at finding well-established old Chinese beliefs & formulations left behind, or denied, as I've been doing for years. When Martin Powers & I had a College Art session on "New Directions in Ch. Ptg Studies" (L.A.. *CLP 8 & 70) I argued that it was time, if our field was going to progress, to make the distinction between what we believed to be art-historically true and what was "poetic truth," old and endlessly repeated sayings that were in danger of being taken more seriously than they should be: calligraphy and ptg have a single origin/are a single art and the like. I said that when we start a study of early bird-and-flower ptg we typically begin by quoting the old thing about Xu Xi vs. Huang Quan, and xieyi vs. xiesheng, and from then on it's "like running the hundred yard dash in a deep-sea diving suit." And so forth--you know the cliches and the arguments. It's natural enough that scholars within the native tradition would resent this recommendation that we depart from their favorite formulae, just as Dutch scholars have been upset by Svetlana Alpers's new ways of writing about Dutch painting. But it still needs to be done.

Maybe I've been unnecessarily confrontational on occasion--my Hongren piece which you mention, delivered at the first international symposium on Ch ptg in China (1984 was it? in Hefei) was a deliberate response to the Chinese specialists who had been coming to the U.S. and going about the museums and collections pronouncing too many of their holdings fake--time for one of us to do the same to them, i felt. And it was taken that way ("Prof. Cahill has attacked Chinese scholarship!" Real quote). It really needed to be done, and I felt secure enough, both in my own standing and in making that particular argument (with lots of comparison slides etc.) to do it. Seals don't match those on any reliable Hongren work, and style certainly doesn't, whereas it's completely in keeping with Xiao Yuncong's work. Anyway: from my earliest time at the Freer I've been annoyed by Chinese, whether scholars or collectors or just anybody, who spoke with an air of authority, implying: "I'm Chinese, and therefore I know the truth about this." All Chinese, that is, can lecture all non-Chinese from positions of authority on any subject in Chinese culture. Nonsense, and offensive nonsense.

But, to be more positive, I think that the appearance of my writings in Chinese translations has had, and even more will have, an opening-up effect on the Chinese scholarly community, if only by problematizing many formulations they simply accept and repeat, but also by introducing new ways of approaching their subject--some original with me, others adopted by me from other Western scholars. The younger Chinese today are fascinated by theory, and read translations of Western theoretical writings in art history and cultural theory. But my writings supplement that reading in two important ways. First, I have never been able to write anything that is not perfectly clear in my own mind (right or wrong being another issue) and that clarity tends to come through, I've been assured by native readers, in translations, if they are well done. And: I demonstrate ways in which Western approaches can be--I think profitably--applied to Chinese painting studies. These, as I say, are quite apart from issues of rightness and wrongness--readers can disagree, but they've been introduced, ideally, to other ways of thinking about the subject.

Latest Work

  • Conclusion Conclusion
    VI Conclusion It is time to draw back and look, if not at the whole Hyakusen, at as much of him as we have managed to illuminate in this study. Dark areas remain, and doubtless many distortions, but...

Latest Blog Posts

  • Bedridden Blog
    Bedridden Blog   I am now pretty much confined to bed, and have to recognize this as my future.  It is difficult even to get me out of bed, as happened this morning when they needed to...