Sunday, 22 January 2012

Just thinking out loud!

 I've just bought a couple of books about Chinese art, as I thought they may provide inspiration and, in the case of the motifs, maybe a free motion quilting pattern or two!

Below is a photo from the book Chinese Art In Detail (it's a British Museum book). It's a contemporary woodcut with water soluble ink by Lian Dong (born 1926) It's called Warm Water of the Dragon River, and was done in 1984.

I loved the simplicity of it.

This says "ice flow" to me, perfectly. It's very easy to see this as fabric and stitch.

It's a woodblock print and portrays a spring scene. "The desolate Dragon River begins to thaw, and only a few small birds stand on the nearest ice block to lend a sense of scale. The print is dominated by strong horizontal bands, in contrast to the narrow, vertical format of the traditional Chinese hanging scroll. It represents a new trend that began in the 1980's in which landscape was depicted as a subject in its own right. Bold white highlights are created by the embossing of the white paper, which also outlines the crests of the hills and the rich black of the water."

I also learned that the term "orient" derives from the Latin word oriens, meaning "east" Many ancient temples including pagan temples and the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem, were built with their main entrances facing the East. To situate them in such a manner was to "orient" them in the proper direction. When something was facing the correct direction, it was said to be in the proper "orientation". 

The word "orient" changed meaning lots of times. Originally it meant Egypt. It later extended to North Africa and Morocco. During the 1800's it spread to India and to a lesser extent China. By the early 1900's it was used to include North Africa, and southeastern Europe, and today is used to mean China, Korea, Japan, and peninsular Southeast Asia, but not the whole of of Asia.

Washington state prohibits the use of the word "oriental" in legislation and government documentation, preferring the word "Asian" instead. Oriental is thought derogatory.

When thinking about the word "Orientation", I seem to gravitate towards Chinese and Japanese art, but have learned that much of the things I like such as these birds, wallpaper decorated with flowers and pagaodas, and willow pattern plates, were actually made specifically for export to foreign countries, and were not for their own use. So I suppose that most of the historical Chinese art I've been looking at is a western view, and that the art the Chinese made for the Chinese was a bit different and more subtle.

Symbolism is important, and many of the scenes and creatures depicted have meaning which, I confess, has largely passed me by: for example, in the West the dragon is traditionally regarded as fearsome and possibly evil, but the Chinese regard it as a symbol of the Emperor, and also with rain-giving, and therefore fertile crops. It's important, and a thing to be encouraged.  To me, it's just a dragon!!

Some of the most persistent motifs are connected with the quest for immortality and longevity: cranes, peaches, turtles and pine trees, all mean long life. Bamboo, bent in the wind but never broken, symbolizes the integrity of a scholar.

Chinese art was very hierarchical both in techniques and materials. At the top was calligraphy and painting, followed by jade and bronze. Below these came the decorative arts such as lacquer, porcelain and silk. Sculpture was reserved for religious and funerary use. These different classes of materials came about because of the value put on them by the Chinese; they had value if related to antiquity, or the scholarly.

Anyway, although I'm busy doing a quilt unrelated to the Orientation exhibition at the moment, I thought I'd let you know that I'm still thinking about it!!


  1. That is all fascinating Annabel - and explains why there was an Egyptian Gallery at the Oriental Museum ... a fact that had me a little un-sure. I am very bad at Geography .. but wouldn't have called Egypt part of the Orient, now I understand it's inclusion. And symbolism is always interesting to understand - Hilary x

  2. VERY interesting. These are facts I never knew that have changed the way I think of an observe Asian art.Thank you

  3. Hilary: Yes, I had no idea about the Egypt link, or the Indian one. It usefully covers loads of places!! Beth: It's all been quite new to me too, and has made me stop and think a bit. It's always good to have a challenge. Annabel