Taoism and the Arts of China

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9780520227842: Taoism and the Arts of China
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Taoism and the Arts of China brings together a remarkable collection of art from one of China's most ancient and influential traditions. Produced to accompany the first major exhibition ever organized on the Taoist philosophy and religion, this opulent book includes more than 150 works of art from as early as the late Zhou dynasty (fifth-third century b.c.) to the Qing dynasty (1644-1911). Many of these works are paintings that show the breathtaking range of style and subject that makes the Taoist heritage so rich. Sculpture, calligraphy, rare books, textiles, and ritual objects are also represented.

Like the exhibition, the book is organized thematically. It begins with the sage Laozi (to whom the Daode Jing is attributed), and moves on to explore the birth of religious Taoism and the interaction between Taoism, Buddhism, and Confucianism. A wealth of subjects are covered: the gods of the Taoist pantheon, ritual, the boundaries and intersections between Taoism and popular religion, Taoist Immortals and Realized Beings, the role of alchemy, sacred landscape and its significance, and Taoist temples and their architecture.

Taoism and the Arts of China includes an engaging series of introductory essays by scholars with a deep understanding of their subjects. Among the topics discussed are a historical introduction to Taoism, archaeological evidence for early Taoist art, and a general introduction to the functions of art in religious Taoism. Lavishly illustrated with over 150 color images, this volume affords a sweeping view of an artistic terrain that until now has received too little exposure in the West. Its publication constitutes a major advance in Western understanding of this important tradition.

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Review:

Taoism and the Arts of China, the catalog for a blockbuster show in Chicago, represents an explosion of recent research into Taoism, China's most important indigenous religion and one of the world's oldest mystical traditions. Western scholars and Chinese intellectuals have tended to regard Taoism as folk religion, colored by magic and superstition, yet it is based on a sophisticated philosophy dating back 2,500 years to the teachings of Laozi. Taoism has no supreme being, though gods and goddesses were invented to put a recognizable face on the infinite Void of the Tao ("the Way"). Matter and energy are regarded as interchangeable (as in modern physics).

To represent the art inspired by Taoism over the millennia, the Art Institute of Chicago brought together 151 ritual implements, paintings, sculptures, and documents from 50 national museums, temples, and private collections worldwide. These objects are divided into three sections in the catalog and used to illustrate Taoism's philosophical origins; its organization and ceremonies; and its development into popular religion. Lively captions explain the significance of each item; for example, a 2,000-year-old stone panel showing the supposedly historical meeting of Confucius and Laozi, after which an awed Confucius described Laozi as a dragon (a symbol of the Tao). Essays by five leading scholars place religious Taoism in the context of Chinese art and history--a complex task, lucidly handled. This is a landmark study. With popular Taoism rebounding in modern China, Taoism and the Arts of China presents truly pioneering scholarship, expanding our appreciation of a once unfashionable area of research. --John Stevenson

About the Author:

Stephen Little, Pritzker Curator of Asian Art at the Art Institute of Chicago, is an authority on Chinese and Japanese art. His numerous publications include Spirit Stones of China (California, 1999), Visions of the Dharma: Japanese Buddhist Paintings and Prints in the Honolulu Academy of Arts(1991), and Chinese Ceramics of the Transitional Period,1620-1683 (1983).

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