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Everything in the world exists within the tip of a brush
Emotive Images
The Three Perfections
Sites of the Mind
Ideas and Ideals
Words and Worlds of Imagination


       The literary arts and the fine arts both represent products of the human spirit, reflecting two sides of the same coin. Poets and writers use words to express and describe the world and their ideas, and artists rely on such visual elements as form, line, shape, and color to do so. Although the techniques may differ, the aesthetic experience they yield is often very similar. For example, when reading or hearing the lines, "I stop my cart to look at the late maple leaves; A frost has already set on the autumn blossoms," the colors and scenery appear as if looking at a painting. The lines "I stumble upon a peach blossom forest, lining the shores for hundreds of paces. No other trees are around. The fragrant flowers display their beauty, along with the scattered blossoms," vividly suggest the author's illusory world of ideal beauty. Since antiquity, artists have been inspired by literary works in their creations. In doing so, artist and audience alike can take delight in the literary and visual arts through a single masterpiece. As the literary great Su Shih (1036-1101) simply put it, "Painting is in poetry and poetry is in painting."

      In the Chinese tradition, the literary arts and fine arts are inextricably bound together. The most notable example is the relationship between poetry and painting. Back in the 11th century, it was said that "Poetry is painting without form, and painting is poetry with form." It was at this time that paintings became known as "soundless poems". Su Shih once praised the poet-painter Wang Wei (701-761) with the following lines, "Savoring Wang's poetry is [like having] a painting in a poem. Looking at Wang's painting is [like having] a poem in a painting." Not surprisingly, the 11th-century landscape painter Kuo Hsi felt that an artist who captures the essence of a poem will naturally be able to convey it through a visual image. Under Emperor Hui-tsung (r. 1101-1125), lines of poetry were even frequently used to test painters at court. In illustrating the line, "Scattered peaks conceal an ancient temple," for example, most painters showed the tip of a pagoda, a roof, or even an entire building. The top candidate, however, depicted only a banner peaking out from the mountains, suggesting a temple concealed within the vast landscape. Hence, allusion is ideal for conveying the infinite possibilities of a poetic line. As scholar art became the mainstream of Chinese painting, artists not only described the natural world but also turned to art to express their feelings and ideas. Lines of poetry and writing provided an ideal vehicle for expression and illustration by artists, and "Painting is in poetry and poetry is in painting" became a distinctive feature of Chinese art. Influenced by the fusion of literary and visual arts, Chinese artists have produced countless works for their own expression and aesthetic enjoyment as well as for the appreciation of literary-minded audiences.

      As mentioned by Lu Chi (261-303) in his "Essay on Literature," everything that exists in the world can be expressed with the tip of a brush. As the first work in this exhibit, viewers can also appreciate the beauty of this piece through Lu Chien-chih's calligraphic transcription from the 7th century. In China, the arts of writing, calligraphy, and painting were all done with brush and ink, revealing just how much they have in common. Since antiquity, calligraphers have taken joy in writing out verse and literature, forming a unique feature of Chinese calligraphy. Likewise, China's literary tradition has also inspired countless painters to take up the brush.

       This special exhibit of Chinese art with literary themes is divided into five categories; "Emotive Images" includes lyrical art inspired by such works as the poetry of Tu Fu, "The Songs of Ch'u", and "The Book of Poetry"; "Sites of the Mind" introduces illustrations of such famous places in Chinese history and literature as the Prince T'eng Pavilion, the Yueh-yang Lookout, and the Red Cliff; "Ideas and Ideals" revolves around the reclusion and utopia found in such works as T'ao Yuan-ming's "Homecoming Ode" and the "Peach Blossom Spring"; "Words and Worlds of Imagination" includes works inspired by such writings as "The Songs of Ch'u" and the "Goddess of the Lo River"; and "The Three Perfections" of poetry, calligraphy, and painting shows how artists converted the immortal lines of writers into visual images.

        This special exhibition from the Museum collection includes works in a variety of media, including painting, calligraphy, ceramics, lacquerware, and carving. It is hoped that visitors will not only appreciate the beauty of Chinese poetry and literature, but also enjoy these splendid works of art. As the worlds of art and literature merge into one here, they provide a feast for the eye as well as the mind.