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CRITICAL DISTANCE: REPLACING THE PRACTICE OF CHINESE ART HISTORY

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Using the approaches of contemporary critical theory, this article examines the construction of the art history of Bronze Age China. In doing so, it becomes evident that an adherence to normative definitions of art and writing has restricted access to the visual resources available from this period. Although there is evidence that significant ideological connections existed between these aspects of early Chinese representation, this relationship has been virtually ignored in Western disciplinary practice. The disconnection is maintained by the operation of universalizing assumptions: that Bronze Age writing functions in essentially the same way as phonetically-based systems and that ritual imagery can be articulated as an art form, extractable from its environment. Only after identifying the limitations imposed by such assumptions is it possible to reintegrate these expressive elements and create a more complete visual analysis.

Affiliations: 1: School of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston/Tufts University

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