Asian Art 01. Introduction
How is Asia defined? What is Asian art?
- As a geographical concept, what we regard Asia today is a large landmass consisting of the Indian subcontinent (including Nepal and Sri Lanka), East Asia (China, Korea, Japan), Tibet, Central Asia (Afghanistan etc.), and Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Thailand, Burma, Indonesia, and so on). The major works of art that we examine in this class come from these five regions.
- Alternatively, Asia in history could be understood as a grand network of trade along the Silk road–including both land and sea routes–which connected the East and the West. It was via these trade routes that travelers, merchants, monks, pilgrims, and warriors moved from one place to another, from oases to oases and trading posts to trading posts. It was during the same process that various forms of art were spread from their original birthplace to other parts of Asia; this was especially true to Buddhist art and architecture which started in India and proliferated in all of the five regions mentioned above. Exploring Asian art through the trade routes further allows us to uncover probable connections and mutual influences between Eastern and Western art.
- In spite of the transregional interactions in Asia, different regions have also developed their own style and expressed their own cultural characteristics. In fact, as Sherman Lee has pointed out, Asia is not one, but many: it is a conglomeration of different peoples, cultures, and traditions, and it would be futile to try to seek any ubiquity or homogeneity in Asian art. This means that when looking at Asian art, we always have to pay attention to both cross-cultural commonalities and regional distinctions.