Thursday, October 8, 2009


Eight months between blogs, and now only two days. I forgot, in writing the previous one, to include information on publications of my writings in Chinese. This is for those of you who read Chinese, or want to let you Chinese friends know.

First of all, the Sanlian Book Co. in Beijing has published new editions of four of my books, the four that were published in Taiwan by Rock Publishing International but have been out of print for some time: the three Yuan-Ming books (Hills Beyond a River, Parting At the Shore, The Distant Mountains) and Compelling Image. An earlier mainland-Chinese edition of these, published in Shanghai, was poorly produced—newsprint-quality paper, no color, sloppy design, illustrations missing—and has, I hope, disappeared. The new Sanlian books are on good paper and well designed, with lots of color, and are relatively inexpensive. My contact in the company tells me that their first printing has sold out entirely, less than a month after it appeared. But they will be printing lots more, and it will be available in Taiwan and in Chinese bookstores elsewhere: be patient.

A translation of a fifth of my books, The Painter’s Practice, has been nearly finished for some time, and is presently going through final correction and completion. Sanlian will publish that as soon as it is ready.

An anthology of my shorter writings in Chinese translation, ranging over my whole writing career, has been in preparation for some time in the Art History Department of the China Academy of Art at Hangchou, carried out mostly by Professor Gao Minglu under the supervision of Professors Fan Jingzhong and Hong Zaixin. It should appear soon.

A less happy report: the journal Yishu pinglun or “Arts Criticism,” in its issue for September 2009, printed what was intended as an announcement of my forthcoming book on what I call “vernacular painting” which will be published next spring by the U.C. Press in Berkeley. It was to be accompanied by a few of the illustrations from that book. But although my RA sent these to their editor by YouSend, they somehow failed to open or download the pictures and thus never received them. Worse, the editor chose three entirely unsuitable meiren (beautiful women) pictures to print with it, giving the false and bad impression that my book is all about those (they are treated in it, along with many other subjects) and trivializing it with two low-class examples. (The third is a well-known painting by T’ang Yin, fine but irrelevant.) Perhaps worst of all, their editor moved my opening paragraph, which announced this piece to be an excerpt from my book with summaries of the rest, to later in the article, so that it now reads as though it had been written especially for them. This was dishonest. But I learned about these actions too late to stop and reverse them, and the damage is done. Please advise your Chinese friends about this, and tell them not to take this article as it appeared as representing my real intentions.

Yang Le, my contact at the Sanlian Book Co., has asked me to write, for their publication Dushu, an account of my relationship with the historian Joseph Levenson, and I have done so, in draft. When it is finished I will put the English text on my website as one of the Responses and Reminiscences, and a Chinese translation of it will appear in Dushu.

All for now, James Cahill



I haven’t written a blog for about eight months, and I am sure that most visitors to my website have long ago given up looking to see if there is a new one. I’ve been unusually busy—but that is supposed to be what blogs record, not what keeps them from being written. No excuses.

Three more items have been added to the “Responses and Reminiscences” series. This series is apparently—as I know from emaiils—gaining a considerable readership, and I enjoy writing it.

Some of you know already, and others will find out before too long, that my big project right now is producing, for non-profit distribution of some kind eventually, a series of videotaped and recorded slide-lectures (in effect) on early Chinese painting, especially landscape painting, through the Sung dynasty (the end of the 13th century.) These began as a relatively simple plan to video-record my old lecture series on that subject; they have grown far beyond that plan, largely through the good cooperation of my producer/director/editor Rand Chatterjee, founder and president of a local company called Chatterbox Films Ltd. The series is being sponsored, and eventually will be distributed, by the Institute for East Asian Studies in Berkeley. I now have on my iPhoto Library screen around 1500 images, made mostly from slides, both from my own collection and from the History of Art Visual Resources Collection, with Jan Eklund as Director and Samantha Zhu as East Asian specialist—I have depended very much on their help. My series, which is titled “A Pure and Remote View” (after the great Hsia Kuei scroll, which will be a climax), was motivated in part by my feelings of guilt, for myself and my whole generation of Chinese painting specialists, over having failed to produce the comprehensive history of this great material that we badly need. Just at the time in the 1960s-70s when we had at last attained the visual mastery that such a history needed to be based in, through large slide-making and photographing projects, this kind of “narrative art history,” or Gombrich-style style history, went out of fashion, and our younger colleagues are disinclined to attempt any such history. I think of myself as, for better or worse, the only survivor both able and willing to do it, and since I am no longer in a position to write it as a book (as I once meant to do, after finishing the “Later Chinese Painting” series), am doing it in this video-recorded form. It will be announced on my website and in emails to a great many friends and colleagues when it is ready for distribution. It will, I emphasize, be only a supplement to proper academic courses in early Chinese painting, since it will offer mostly the visuals, leaving out the longish lectures on history and philosophy and so forth that any such course needs, leaving out Buddhist painting entirely (my decision based on my incompetence in this area). But as a visual resource it should prove really valuable to our field of study, a major late-life offering from this old sensei.

At the end of the list of “Writings of James Cahill” is a new entry, a pdf of the original libretto (1949) of the chamber-opera “A Day At Creed’s” or (the title I didn’t like but have had to accept) “Creedo in Unum Bookstore.” (See R&R 57 about this.) The disk with a recording of this is still in principle available; contact me if you really want it.

I will also be putting on my website, as time permits, several essays-with-images, and will announce them in future blogs. I will conclude this one with a puzzle:

Here is a rhyme-puzzle I made up long ago, which few people have solved. (One of my former students, Mary Ann Rogers, determined to get it, spent two days was it? and did.) It's simple: What rhymes with ice-water? (Three-syllable rhyme, please--otter and potter won't do.) Send answers through the “Contact” form.

All for now, James Cahill

Saturday, February 7, 2009



The big news in this blog is that there is not only a new item that will appear under Directory when you go to "Writings of J.C.," on my website, it is that this item is for the first time illustrated. The new item is "Chang Ta-ch'ien Forgeries," and when you click on it, two sub-items appear below: the second (should be first, but no matter) is titled the same, and is a long text, mostly a list with notes of nearly fifty "old" paintings that I suspect of being forgeries really painted by Chang. (I stress in the introductory paragraph there, and will stress again here, that I don't claim to be right on all of them: some genuinely old paintings, wrongly suspected, may well be on that list.) The really new part, however, is that when you click on "images" just above that, and then on the same word (underlined) when it appears at right, you will download an image file with images from slides—a drawer of them that I've been accumulating for years—made from most, nearly all, of the suspected paintings, numbered as on the list. PLEASE UNDERSTAND (once more) that I am in no sense "publishing" these; they can only be looked at, like slides; this is in effect a kind of online slideshow, offered for the use of anybody interested in pursuing this big problem of Chang's forgeries, and interested in reading and seeing the candidates offered by one specialist who has been working on them for more than six decades. I don't try to include Chang's forgeries of Shitao and Bada Shanren, or of other Ming- Qing artists with a few exceptions; mostly these are his attempts at Song and pre-Song styles. Some who read this list and my comments will be outraged to find favorite and trusted works there; to them I can only say, again: this is a list of what seem to me strong candidates, not proven offenders. (That won't reduce the outrage much, as I know already from what is, I believe, one angry reaction.) So, read, look, enjoy, send me responses if you want to via the "Contact" pull-down on the website. (A safe suggestion, since emails can't contain explosives or anthrax germs.)

Note: when this double item, Chang Ta-ch'ien Forgeries and Images, was first posted, an incomplete version of Images was put on, missing quite a few of the slides/images. AFter we discovered this, it was replaced, only a few days ago, with the complete version. So: if you downloaded the "Images" file from the Chang Ta-ch'ien Forgeries during the first few days it was up, trash it and download the new one. How can you tell? If you reach no. 5, the "Sun Wei" scroll, and have only a single detail of two seated figures (from the first half of the scroll) it's the old version; discard and get the new one, which for no. 5 has that detail plus two slides/images of the two halves of the scroll. Or: no. 23, the "Wu Wei" scroll in Shanghai, has only two images in the incomplete version, seven in the complete version.

Also newly posted are three new items in the "Responses and Reminiscences" series. No. 61 is on word usage, descriptive and prescriptive, with some examples of "wrong" usages that I marked in the margin back when I was reading term papers etc. Added to it later is a note on what I mean by "wrong"—it's not breaking-the-rules. No. 62 is on "A Collector I Did Like" (in contrast to two I didn't, the subjects of no. 59): Richard Hobart. And no. 63, just finished a few days ago, is a long, rambling, and I hope entertaining account of "Useless Projects and Elaborate Pranks" that I engaged in during my early years, a set of reminiscences occasioned by a response to one of them, the "Creed's Bookstore" chamber opera, and ending with several attempts to answer the question: Why did they [I and my collaborators] do them? The last of these attempts, and the one that goes deepest into the question, is a long Addendum that still rings true when I reread it.

Now that my research assistant Barry Magrill has conquered the technical problem of putting pictures on the site, new possibilities open up that will be explored and exploited in future months, and noted in blogs that will follow this one.

James Cahill