The History of Asian Art explores the art and philosophies of four major cultures: India, China, Japan and Tibet. The civilizations of India and China are among the oldest in the world, and we begin with a journey into the India of 2500 BCE—contemporary with the great pyramids of Egypt—when engineers built cities equipped with plumbing and artisans developed a naturalistic form of stone carving they traded with Egypt and Mesopotamia. India’s Hindu culture of today bears traces of the belief systems found in the world’s most ancient texts, originating in this ancient population. China’s early bronze wares were made to appease the dead with food and drink, and the ink landscapes of a later era are considered some of the most profound transcriptions of a nature-oriented philosophy that celebrates a perceived universality of all beings.
Through conversations over images shown, films, and visits to the Chinese Classical and Japanese Zen Gardens of Portland, we dip into the principal art forms of these amazing cultures. We see a Roman beginning for the Buddha’s earliest images, we learn about a Chinese emperor so paranoid he built aerial walkways so that his whereabouts could never be certain, and another who had his entire army cast into clay to protect him in the afterlife; we explore the beginnings of a Taoist philosophy and art that informs martial arts today; we learn to appreciate the intentionally rough aspect of “zen” ware as distinct from more “refined” Chinese porcelains. We look at Japan’s red-light district of the nineteenth century whose images inspired French Impressionism, and we shall explore works of the world’s most famous and controversial living artist, Ai Wei Wei.
The class is organized to bring greater understanding and deeper appreciation for a few of Asia’s oldest continuing cultures, as revealed principally through drawing, painting, ceramics, sculpture and film. And through our journey into the history of these ancient lands, we explore some of the issues that continue to shape world politics, philosophy and art today.