The Newsletter 57 Summer 2011

The problem with art history

Lucien van Valen

Elkins, James. 2010. Chinese Landscape Painting as Western Art History. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press. 208 pages, ISBN 978 962 209 000 2 (hardback)

In this book Elkins reveals a train of thought about art history in general and provides us with a daring and provocative exercise in understanding the way in which we see Chinese or any other unfamiliar art form: mainly as a subject incorporated in our own western art history. Elkins builds his argument around his study of a large number of leading writings about Chinese art by western art historians during the major part of the twentieth century. While providing us with ample quotations from these books, he notices the presumptions and blind spots that form an intrinsic part of the western art historical method itself. His razor-sharp dissection of the problem shows an open-minded and agile search for a better way to deal with the art of other cultures in a serious and thoughtful manner.

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