A Look at the Relationship Between Art and Learning in Chinese Culture

Last week I went to the Boston Museum of Fine Art’s special exhibit “Fresh Ink: Ten Takes On Chinese Tradition” in an effort to further immerse myself in all things China in preparation for my trip to China in April.  As described by the exhibit’s website, “In this groundbreaking exhibition, contemporary Chinese ink painters engage in dialogue with classical artworks from China’s past.” Modern painters came to the MFA in Boston, selected an ancient work of a Chinese master, and reinterpreted the work.  Inside the exhibit, visitors see the ancient work and the new interpretation side by side. Listening to the audio guide, one hears both the exhibit curator and the modern artists analyze the connections between the works of the past and the present.  Of all the things that I learned while passing through the show rooms, I think the questions I left with will spur the most interesting conversations.  The first question that I’ll look to reflect on is “What is the relationship between art and learning in Chinese culture?”

The first observation that I had while passing through the exhibit was that many of the works displayed in Fresh Ink were created on long scrolls. Each scroll of art includes a section at the edges of the work where several Chinese characters left a message to viewers about the work.  The audio guide suggests that many of these texts express reflections on the work of art itself.  The guide suggests that when an artist finishes his work, he invites friends over to write criticisms and reflections of the work on the scroll.  What does this say about the culture? What does this say about the culture’s ability to engage in constructive-criticism? What does this say about the culture’s appreciation for critical reflection?

As educators, we often talk about the importance of reflection and constructive-criticism.  How often do you have your students submit their work with criticism from classmates included in the margins?

(This painting is part of one of the modern works presented in the exhibition. The piece shows women holding one of the ancient scrolls. If you click on the picture and look closely, you can see the writing at the end of the scrolls. This image was found on http://www.mfa.org/exhibitions/fresh-ink and should only be used for educational purposes as described by the MFA’s Terms of Use Page.)

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