Hello and welcome to the first post!
As the “About“ page explains, my intentions for starting this blog are straightforward. I need a stimulus for writing about topics related to my dissertation research, and I want to share with you information about provincial art worlds, in particular Xi’an’s, that you may not hear about otherwise. My posts will aim for clarity, brevity, and evocation, instead of detailed analysis. If you have any questions, however, I will do my best to answer them.
Before I continue, I should explain why I’m spending the better part of a year in Xi’an. In 1961, a Beijing exhibition featuring “practice paintings” (xizuo 习作) by six young Xi’an ink artists took the Chinese art world by storm. Since the establishment of the People’s Republic of China, cultural policy makers had debated the direction of China’s “New Art.” These humbly presented paintings from Xi’an offered an exciting possibility for an artistic program that could carry forward the still-adolescent PRC. Media coverage at the time anointed the six artists the title of “Chang’an School” (Chang’an huapai 长安画派), a namesake that harkened back to Xi’an’s glorious past, and which placed the artists alongside only three other major painting schools in Chinese art history.
In contrast to the misty, densely forested and sparsely inhabited landscapes rendered by coastal artists, the Xi’an artists painted the arid, sienna- and umber-colored landscape and the rural inhabitants of the Northern Plateau region. Even though the Xi’an artists expanded and enlarged the presence of human figures in comparison to their minute scale and number in classical ink landscapes, they avoided the theatrical depiction of human subjects common in Soviet-style socialist realist paintings, a pattern that would eventually prevail during the Cultural Revolution. Firmly committed to China’s ink tradition and to the peasants as their subject matter, the Xi’an artists seemed to have fused the gap between the elite and the masses during their most actively period, the early 1960s.
My pre-dissertation research suggested that the school repositioned ink painting within the apparatuses of Chinese art history, the cultural agenda of its time, and the modern nation. By using the Chang’an School as the primary focus, my project also aims to situate regionally conceived ink painting schools within the global art historical context.
Since arriving in Xi’an, some additional questions that have emerged include the following:
1. The accuracy and usefulness of identifying the six artists as belonging to a “painting school.”
2. The degree of control the painters had over their creations while answering to the needs of the state.
3. How critical narratives of the time and in retrospective explained, constructed, or contradicted the actual artistic production and resulting paintings.
Here are some Chang’an School painting examples, both representative works and my personal favorites (hover over the images for information):