Sketching Ideas

Writing’s Visuality in Chinese Flower-and-Bird Painting

Peter Sturman
Professor, Department of History of Art and Architecture, University of California, Santa Barbara

Xieyi, “the writing or sketching of ideas,” refers to a particularly free-form mode of painting in China that showcases the artist’s virtuosity wielding a quick-moving brush to capture vibrant and seemingly spontaneous images. Forefronting the dynamic potential of the brush, the technique naturally calls to mind the art of calligraphy, especially the dynamic cursive script, but Xieyi’s association with the art of writing goes far deeper than surface appearances. Spontaneity implies naturalness and authenticity, even spiritual transcendence. Moreover, for scholar-official painters, Xieyi’s linkage to calligraphy offered an essential bridge between image-making and literary expression.

In this talk, Professor Sturman will trace some of the rich history of Xieyi painting in flower-and-bird painting, its vital ties through calligraphy to the early formation of literati painting, and its multifaceted expression in the paintings of later masters such as Xu Wei (1521–1593) and Bada Sharen (1626–1705).

Sponsored by Friends of Asian Art

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