Taoism and the Arts of China

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9780520227859: Taoism and the Arts of China

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:

Mention Taoist art and people are most likely to think of tai chi. But a few centuries after the famous philosophers Laozi and Zhuangzi, the Taoist religion sprung up and brought with it a panoply of ink washes and images, immortals and iconography. In the year 2000, the Art Institute of Chicago mounted the first major exhibition of Taoist art and published a whopping catalog to go along with it. Full color photos, details, and two-page spreads splash across over 400 pages of catalog, featuring ornately embroidered silk priest robes, ritual swords inscribed with hexagrams from the Yi Jing, talismanic calligraphy, and rare money tree statues. Constellations and dragons, yin-yang symbols, and grotesque gods with Don King hair appear in paintings and relief, dating as far back as Charlemagne. And in case you're not up to speed on the history of Taoist religion and art, four experts chime in with extended essays, one of whom is even an ordained Taoist priest. So hang out with the seven worthies of the bamboo grove, watch Laozi ride an ox, or get lost in the clouds around an ethereal temple. Taoism and the Arts of China is a real find. --Brian Bruya

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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Little, Stephen, Schipper, Kristofer, Hu
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