A PARABLE ABOUT ORTHODOXY IN ART

11 Oct

Image by Alistair Gentry.

The Song Dynasty artist, writer, polymath and generally intelligent chap Su Shi (蘇軾, also known as 蘇東坡 Su Dongpo, active in China circa 11th century AD) was discovered at his work one day by the same kind of person who nowadays thinks that an artist must play particular types of conceptual games within certain narrow art-historical (usually modernist) parameters if they’re to be taken seriously by the art world. “Why have you painted the bamboo in red ink?” asked this presumptuous visitor, “Surely everybody uses black ink?”

Su replied that he’d never seen black bamboo either.

A thousand years later, Su Dongpo’s red bamboo painting can still be seen in the National Palace Museum in Taipei. Nobody remembers the name of the critic who said that bamboo shouldn’t be red.

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