Tuesday, December 4, 2007


I announced in the previous blog that we planned to put more CLP (Cahill Lectures and Papers) texts on my website as PDFs (please see that blog for instructions on how to open these.) Now I have chosen thirteen more to be made accessible in this way; they are either openable now or soon will be. Again, I will list them, stating briefly why I believe they may be of interest to students, colleagues, and general readers:

· CLP 7, 1983, "The Status of Writing in Asia." Discussant paper for
College Art Assn. session on this theme. Some comments on individual papers, but also some large observations—one of my thoughtful essays.

· CLP 22, 1995. "Exploring the Zhi Garden in Zhang Hong's Album."
Lecture given at LACMA. Same general content as my published essay (see my Bibliography for 1995) which is accompanied by color reproductions of the leaves; but since that is now rare (out of print) this lecture may be useful as easier to access.

· CLP 27, 1997. "The Japaneseness of Japanese Nanga Painting."
Another assault on this large problem; lecture given on the occasion of an exhibition at the Seattle Art Museum.

· CLP 32, 1999. "Something Borrowed, Something New: Cross-
cultural Transmission and Innovation in East Asian Painting." One more on this large theme (cf. CLP 156 below), lecture given at Japan House, New York.

· CLP 64, 1976. "Life Patterns and Stylistic Directions: T'ang Yin and
Wen Cheng-ming as Types." Deliberately provocative paper given at Wen C-m symposium at U. Michigan. Original reading copy. Important for me. a turning point in my career.

· CLP 64 (1983). "Confucian Aspects of Edo-period Art." Lecture
given at LACMA on occasion of exhibition from Tokugawa Art Museum glorifying Tokugawa rule in the Edo period; another deliberately provocative lecture, arguing contrarily for its oppressiveness.

· CLP 76, 1991. Letter to Judith Smith, giving my discussant's
remarks at great Dong Qichang symposiuim in Kansas City, in which, taking up Jerome Silbergeld's suggestion of "Tung Ch'i-ch'ang, the Theme-park": I named some of the attractions the theme-park might contain.

· CLP 88 (1984). "On the Album of Scenes of Huangshan Attributed
to Hongren." English text for paper given on opening night of symposium in Hefei (read in Chinese by Lin Xiaoping); deliberate shocker, arguing with slides that the album is really by Xiao Yuncong. Intended to make important point: we foreign scholars can do re-attributions too. Published in Chinese (see my Biblio. for 1985), never in English.

· CLP 109 (1992). "Tung Ch'i-ch'ang." Lecture given at Met. Museum
of Art, NY, some months after Kansas City symposium, when exhibition was there; arguing further some of the issues that had surfaced in the symposium.

· CLP 119 (1999). "Cultural Values in East Asian Art." Prepared
comments for panel discussion at Japan Society, NY, on "The Concept of Masterpieces." (Others on panel were Nobuo Tsuji, Robert Rosenbloom, Hans Belting.)

· CLP 151A (1972). "The Problem of Value in Nanga Painting."
Lecture delivered at Asia House Gallery on occasion of my Nanga exhibition there. Attached is list of original selection for exhibition--which was much altered, and watered down, after near-collapse of exhibition—a sad story, which I have now told in one of my "Responses and Reminiscences" (#50, see below) soon to be added to those on my website.

· CLP 156 (2001). "China's Relations with Korea and Japan in Art."
Keynote paper for symposium "Influence, Confluence, ..." organized by NYU in New York. Still another attempt to grapple with this large problem.

That's all for now, and I have no immediate plan for adding more in the near future. I have, however, written four more for the "Responses and Reminiscences" series, which will be added soon:

48. "Aschwin Lippe," remembering a scholar who was also a real prince;
49. "Music in Korea," a narrative of my engagement in music circles in Korea while I was in the occupation there, 1946-48;
50. "My Partly-Botched Nanga Exhibition," a new and revelatory account of how this exhibition almost didn't happen, and ended up quite different from the one I had envisioned; and
51. "Two Admonitory Notes on Chinese Painting Texts," cautionary writings about two of the many traps that Chinese writings set for those who use them.

Previous blogs have contained advice and admonitions to young art historians, intended (shamelessly) to offer a voice of reason and good sense, however retardataire. Messages from students sent through the "Contact" channel on my website indicate that some have appreciated these. Let me add one more here. I have sometimes quoted from a piece of writing by Michael Baxandall without giving the source of it. Recently I ran on my old offprint of this article and reread it, and am inspired to say: whatever direction you mean to follow as an art historian, read this before committing yourself to any one while dismissing others. It is: Michael Baxandall, "The Language of Art History." In: New Literary History: A Journal of Theory and Interpretation, Vol. X, 1978-79, pp. 453-465. Brief, clear, jargon-free; read and reread, both for content and as a model for one kind (rather conversational) of good writing.

Friday, November 2, 2007


Those of you who have opened and read my CLPs (Cahill Lectures and Papers) on my website are aware that on the list that first appears when you open "The Writing of James Cahill," some entries begin with asterisks * which means that they are digitally available, and can be called up by clicking on the corresponding number in the long list that comes down at left. The ones without asterisks exist only in hard copy, and until now have been inaccessible.

Now, however, Barry Magrill has devised a way to make some of those accessible too. Their numbers have been added to the list that appears at left; when you click on one of these, the number appears at right (e.g. "CLP 6"), and when you click on that, you download a PDF which can then be opened. What you will see is a reproduction of the original typescript or printed text, often with scribbled notes by myself. The ones that have been added, or soon will be, are:

· CLP 4, "Awkwardness and Imagery in the Landscapes of Fa Jo-chen." Paper presented at 1978 symposium, never published. Attempts a reading of his paintings and their inscriptions in relation to his political and career choice to serve in the Manchu administration after the fall of Ming.
· CLP 6, "Some Chinese Bird-and-Flower Paintings in Chinese Collections." Attempt at outline style-history of b&f painting from Tang through Southern Song. Useful, since I don't know of any other such attempt.
· CLP 9. "Phases and Modes in the Transmission of Ming-Ch'ing Painting Styles to Edo-period Japan." Published in obscure symposium volume. Valuable in relation to studies of Sino-Japanese relations in art, presently a "hot" topic. Includes pictures, although they aren't very clear.
· CLP 15. "Five Notable Figures in the Early Period of Chinese Painting Studies." Info. and reminiscences on Wenley, Sirén, Sickman, Shimada and Loehr. Paper for 1991 CAA session. Appended are notes on other people and events, used when I turned this brief paper into a lecture. Useful as outline?
· CLP 26, "Foreign and Local Traditions in the Collecting of Chinese Painting." Lecture given at Univ. of Oregon symposium, Eugene, 1997? No real research, "top-of-the-head" remarks, but perhaps useful because this, too, has become a "hot" topic.
· CLP 36. "Afterword" to my published "The Case Against 'Riverbank,'" sent to Kohara and a few others after the 1999 "Authenticity" symposium at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY. Further thoughts, observations, and information. (On this issue, see also CLP 16, lecture on Chang Ta-ch'ien's forgeries; CLP 35, my paper as delivered at Met symposum; and CLP 53, paper written for publication in Geijutsu Shinchô, with new information.)
· CLP 65, English text for essay on 19th-20th cent. Chinese painting published (in Japanese) in Bunjinga Suihen volume titled "Go Shôseki, Sai Hakuseki" (Wu Ch'ang-shih and Ch'i Pai-shih), 1977. Quick, but maybe still useful, short account of this subject.
· CLP 82, discussant paper for symposium on "Mountains and Cultures of Landscape in China," Santa Barbara, Jan. 1993. Includes what I feel to be important observations about Northern Song landscape painting that I haven't made elsewhere.
· CLP 93, "Regionalism in Ming-Ch'ing Painting." Lecture for China House symposium "Local Colors," Dec. 1996 (held on occasion of Hongnam Kim's exhibition.)
· CLP 148. "The Life and Paintings of Tessai." 1973? written for translation into Japanese in an exhibition catalog. Includes some observations that I think important on the "northern and southern schools" issue in Nanga painting.

Other CLPs that I believe to be worth making available will be added from time to time, and announced here. Meanwhile, troubles persist: Part I of CYCTIE has been inaccessible, but will soon be restored. I think I will put it on both as a website text and as a PDF download—the latter with all the indentations etc. of my original typescript.

Comments and questions continue to come in; I welcome them, and try to answer the serious questions. I'm especially pleased by notes from undergrad students who say they find my website useful.


Up to now, my blogs have been occasioned by additions or changes to my website. Some of those are indeed underway, and will be announced soon. But today I want to write, for a change, a commentary on a large issue in our field.

In Berkeley last week I attended a book party given by Danny Goldstine, an old friend, for Alex Ross, music critic for The New Yorker, to celebrate the publication of his new book The Rest is Noise: Listening to the Twentieth Century, a history of 20th century music. We were all given copies of the book, and I have read the first three chapters-and, in spite of a few quibbles, like it very much. It is unabashedly narrative, and praised as that in the jacket blurbs, which see it as "cultural history the way cultural history should be written: a single strong narrative operating on many levels at once," and as a book that "reads like a sprawling, intense novel . . ." It is reportedly climbing on the non-fiction bestseller lists.

Back in 1999 I gave a lecture at Princeton in which I lamented our Chinese painting field's having abandoned the writing of chronological, developmental art history before a really good history of the early periods, especially, had been written-in my much-quoted analogy," It's as though we had abandoned the practice of architecture before we had built our city." When the lecture was published in Archives of Asian Art (LV, 2005) two younger colleagues, Jerome Silbergeld and Bob Harrist, wrote very good responses, behind both of which, however, was an unstated objection: "But we're not doing narrative art history any more-we don't recognize artistic revolutions." Betraying myself as still mired in older-generational practice, I had followed the well-established pattern of seeing certain developments in Yuan-dynasty landscape painting as constituting an artistic revolution, and had proposed a new way of thinking about it. Around the same time, at a one-day conference on "Chinese Painting Studies in Postwar America" organized by Jason Kuo at the University of Maryland on Nov. 13, 2005, Rick Vinograd presented a thoughtful and perceptive paper titled "Narrative and Meta-narrative in Chinese Painting Studies" in which he saw the narrative mode of writing as attractive but definitely outmoded. (I hope his paper will be published in a volume based on the conference that Jason is planning.)

The appearance and success of Alex Ross's book revives in me some hope: perhaps narrative art history has been written off too soon? Anyone who has lived as long as I has read and heard pronouncements that such-and-such a practice was dead, finished, and then watched the supposed deceased rise again, healthy and forward-looking. We were once told, for instance, that traditional tonic music was gone forever-from here on it was going to be atonal, twelve-tone. No question, no going back. Tell that now to John Adams.

Ross identifies the musical compositions and performances that changed the history of music, such as Richard Strauss's Salome; and Stravinsky's Rite of Spring, and builds his narrative around them. He is perfectly aware that they made up only a tiny fraction of the music being composed and performed at that time; he recognizes them as the historically significant works that affected how music was written afterwards. I don't remember whether he uses the word "revolution," but it doesn't matter, that's what he's writing about. And the acceptance and success of his book (he must have been told, in his early education in Berkeley, that "narrative music history is dead") gives me hope that eventually some historian of Chinese painting, perhaps at a late stage in her career, will decide to write, at last, a really good history of early landscape, or of Song painting. And for every severe theoretician who objects: But we aren't doing narrative art history any more! there will be ten readers who think: Great! Thank god that's over!

For now, an example of one of the alternatives to narrative art history can be read in Jonathan Hay's "Intervention" in the latest Art Bulletin (Sept. '07). Having failed totally to keep up with new theoretical developments in cultural studies, I found most of it unintelligible-this in spite of my general admiration for Jonathan and his writings, especially his very fine Shitao book. But among the writers of the responses that follow his piece, the three who are top-class Chinese art specialists don't seem much more able to penetrate his theoretical arguments-for the most part they write, sensibly, about matters they understand, responding to his drawing of the political and cultural context of the painting under consideration (the Kansas City "Li Cheng"), or objecting (as I would) to his too-early (late 10th century) dating of it, or to his attributing it to an artist from whom no work survives (a practice for which he could claim precedents in writings by his teacher Richard Barnhart and his teacher Wen Fong.) Jim Elkins, who does follow (and contribute to) cutting-edge art theory, is able to respond to the theoretical issues in Jonathan's paper in a properly critical way. All of which inspires a curious thought: maybe--if we think of the theoretical/methodological apparatuses in people's minds as like word-processing programs--we should, ideally, identify and choose respondents in whom are installed the same programs as underlie the writing they are responding to. An unrealizable ideal, I suppose. And, as I think more about it, wrong-headed: newer thinking in response to old, or older responding to newer, is itself enlightening, exposing gulfs between our basic assumptions besides arguing the issues.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007


Today's blog is a brief addition to yesterday's. In that I recommended two of my CLPs as embodying the messages I want to pass on to young scholars in East Asian art history, giving them some sense of what the field has gone through over the decades of my participation in it, and some (quite partisan) thoughts on where it might go from here, and on what I feel strongly should not be lost. One more recommended reading should be added, since it fills out the messages of those two. This is *CLP 178, the talk that I gave at the conclusion of the "Returning to the Shore" symposium held in Berkeley on April 28th, organized by my former students to honor my new octagenarian status. It includes, in particular, a citation from toward the end of an essay by Thomas Crow on art history as practiced in the U.S., which rings very true for me, but is stated more authoritatively than I could do it. I am happy to assume the role in which all this casts me (a role noted appreciatively in the anonymous note quoted in yesterday's blog) of representing, perhaps, a Retarded Art History. In an age when problematic or outright wrong directions are so open and tempting, Retarded Art History may well be as useful a corrective as, say, Slow Foods. James Cahill

Monday, September 17, 2007


Today's blog is to celebrate, and respond to, an anonymous message that came this morning via the "Contact" facility on my website. It reads:

"Professor Cahill,
Your website is a godsend. Ironically, your approach is "new" to me. The so-called New Art History is all I've ever known; to me, it is "old", it is the orthodoxy. I cannot thank you enough for your generosity in sharing your knowledge online. No password. No subscription. No membership. Your writings have not only stimulated my interest in style-history and connoisseurship, but have also given me bountiful ideas for research in my soon-to-begin graduate studies. Your noble spirit has my deepest respect."

Blessings on whoever wrote that; it warms the heart of this aging academic, makes him feel he still has a function in his field.

It also inspires me to recommend, to anyone who wants to read the messages that embody what I most want to communicate to young people coming into the field, two of my CLPs ("Cahill Lectures and Papers") that were written especially with that purpose in mind. One is *CLP 112, a talk titled "Passing On the Torch," given at a celebration held on Sept. 18, 1993, planned by Joe Price to honor three senior scholars of the history of Japanese painting as they were nearing retirement: John Rosenfield, Tsuji Nobuo, and myself. The other is *CLP 176, "Visual, Verbal, and Global (?): Some Observations on Chinese Painting Studies," delivered at a one-day symposium organized by Jason Kuo at the University of Maryland on November 13, 2005; attached to it is "position paper" prepared for a public conversation with James Elkins the next day. Together, these two can be taken as embodying the deepest messages that I would want young historians of East Asian art, potential or practicing, to receive from me.

Note of advice: Clicking on "Writings of James Cahill" on the home page calls up the whole list of CLPs; but only those with asterisks* are in digital form and so readable on the website. Click once on the orange "Cahill Lectures and Papers" title at left, under Directory, and a long list of numbers, small and black, appears below. Clicking on any one of those calls up the paper.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007


9/3/07. Two more items have been added to the "Writings" section of my website, both of interest chiefly to people who may want to follow up, as researchers or just out of interest, on my paper "Paintings for Women in Ming-Qing China?" published in Nan Nü: Men, Women, and Gender in China, vol. 8 (2006), 1-54. (Note: the original Nan Nü publication, through a publisher's error, lacked the color illustrations, which were later sent separately in a packet to subscribers. Library copies may be missing them. I have a number of disks with these color illustrations digitized on them, and can send one to anyone who mails me a self-addressed padded disk envelope and a request: serious users only, please.) A Chinese translation of this article was published in Yishushi Yanjiu (The Study of Art Hitsory), vol. 7, 1-37. As I told Harriet Zurndorfer (editor) and Paul Ropp (advisor) when they urged me to publish this, I meant it only as a preliminary form of something I intend(ed) to write up at greater length and in greater depth at some time in the future. For that purpose I kept a file of notes and references to be used in that expanded version; It contains a number of important leads for carrying the theme in new directions. I also kept a separate file titled "Suzhou/Women" listing relevant paintings, those with the subjects I meant to treat, as painted by Suzhou artists (and a few others). This is, in other words, follow-up and expansion material for my all-too-brief study. Uncertain now about when and whether I will write the longer version, I put these notes and picture references on the website for anyone who wants to use them. Send me a copy, please, of whatever you do that utilizes them.

I mentioned somewhere that two-and-a-half chapters from my projected Early Qing volume were on my website. Two are under Writings as Early Qing 1 and 2; the half chapter, on Nanjing painters of early Qing, is under the CLPs, as CLP 154.

We have been having a lot of problems of format, due to the difference between the Microsoft Word program in which I typed the texts and the language of the internet; much is lost in the translation. In the WCP lectures, all spacing, all underlining, all boldface etc. have disappeared, leaving only huge unbroken paragraphs, hard to read. Barry has been working on this, and we will try to have them easier to look at and read before long. Also, both the newly-added sections described above, WP Notes and Suzhou/Women, have come through with everything underlined. Please be patient and put up with these faults.

James Cahill

Monday, July 16, 2007


Again, I must use this blog to apologize for faults in the website and announce the correction of them, thanks to my able research assistant Barry Magrill. First, an extraneous text had been inserted wrongly into the CYCTIE, the "Imperishable Ephemera" section, as Part 2. It has been removed, and the CYCTIE is complete in two parts. (The "Hamlet at Wittenberg" piece is at the end of Part 1.) Secondly, I gave out the wrong numbers for the CLP texts that correspond to the two attachments to my announcement: CLP 178 is the "Berkeley Talk," and CLP 176, now openable, is the "Visual, Verbal, and Global?" paper. Apologies to those who wasted time trying to open it over the past few days.

I have had many positive and interesting responses to my sendout, some from people I haven't heard from in years. Thanks to all who sent encouraging emails. The website will be further improved with corrections and additions; write me if there are problems.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007


The glitches in my website have been largely repaired, and it is ready to be announced. My long-planned send-out will finally be carried out, today and tomorrow. Those of you who receive it: note that if downloading the attachments is difficult or too much time and trouble, the same texts are on the website as CLP 176 and 177.

So, this cumbersome and overloaded vehicle will at last be under way. Piling so many writings and jottings onto it does not imply that I think they are all worth reading; it is intended for free browsing, especially by people with special interests in the many subjects treated in the texts. It will be added to from time to time.

Monday, July 9, 2007


There are still a few minor glitches in the website that need to be corrected, but it is close enough to ready for me to announce it. A note on opening the "Writings" section: There is a "Directory" at left, with the categories in orange type below; clicking once on any of those should make a more detailed menu appear below it in small black type, and clicking on the items in those menus should make the texts appear. For some reason, clicking the "Responses and Reminiscences" one doesn't yet produce a menu, and the latter part of it is unavailable until that is fixed; it goes only to 26 now and should go to 36. For some reason, under WCP, WCP 5 and WCP 5 Illustrations are reversed. The "illustrations" are only notes for myself on where to find slides etc.; not much real information on where to find the pictures. That can come later. In the "Writings" category, there is a "Search" box at the top which should allow you to locate references to particular subjects.

Under CLP, the whole list appears first, with asterisks beside those items that are digitized and accessible on the website. Call down the menu by clicking on that item under the Directory, and then click any CLP by number. Items on the complete CLP list lacking asterisks can in principle be obtained, by anyone with a legitimate research purpose, by writing me and paying the cost of copying it from my hard copy and sending it to you; my research assistant is willing to do a limited amount of that work, with pay for his time of course included. I assume that requests of that kind will be few.

So, have fun. Jim

Tuesday, July 3, 2007


My first words on this "blog" will be an acknowledgement that the name is probably wrong—it appears that "blog" is more often understood as something like "chatroom," with anybody who wants to contributing, and that certainly wasn't what I had in mind—I don't want to take on the administering of any such grand collective forum. This is only to be a place where I can post information and ideas from time to time. As stated in the Welcome, you can email me and I will try to respond, especially if the response can be simple and quick.