Chinese Landscape Painting as Western Art History

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By James Elkins

This is a provocative essay of reflections on traditional mainstream scholarship on Chinese art as done by towering figures in the field such as James Cahill and Wen Fong. James Elkins offers an engaging and accessible survey of his personal journey encountering and interpreting Chinese art through Western scholars' writings. He argues that the search for optimal comparisons is itself modern, Western interest, and that art history as a discipline is inherently Western in several identifiable senses. Although he concentrates on art history in this book, and on Chinese painting in particular, these issues have implications for Sinology in general, and for wider questions about humanistic inquiry and historical writing.

Jennifer Purtle's Foreword provides a useful counterpoint from the perspective of a Chinese art specialist, anticipating and responding to other specialists' likely reactions to Elkins's hypotheses. This book is a stimulating read for the specialist and non-specialist alike, challenging them to reconsider their fundamental assumptions about art history and to rethink the art historical project in broader terms.


James ELKINS teaches at the Schoolf of the Art Institute of Chicago.


Publication Year: 2010
216 pages, 254mm x 178mm
ISBN: 978-9971-69-523-1, Hardback

NUS Press and Hong Kong University Press