Fine Arts | REFUGE, STAGE SET, REAL ESTATE: CHINESE GARDENS IN IMAGES AND TEXTS
A662 | 5227 | Nelson


REFUGE, STAGE SET, REAL ESTATE:  CHINESE GARDENS IN IMAGES AND TEXTS

On the private garden in China, both as a built environment and as a
subject of painting and writing.

The Chinese have long believed that nature is good for you; so
people of means who lived in urban areas made parcels of nature for
themselves. A garden was thought of as a haven, a place of retreat
where one could be oneself, finding one’s own nature in natural
surroundings—a space for artistic and spiritual pursuits. It was
also a work of art: a design project expressing the owner’s
character, vision of the world, and knowledge of the humanistic
tradition. Finally, it was property, a thing of value that might
represent considerable wealth in land, produce, and labor—that
might, in other words, embody status and power despite its would-be
unworldliness. As the setting par excellence for private life,
gardens also came to be identified with sentiments of political
alienation and resistance.

Chinese garden culture is studied through a few surviving gardens
and an abundance of garden paintings. Literary sources
(descriptions, poetry, historical anecdotes) also tell us much about
famous gardens and the people and events connected with them: social
gatherings, private epiphanies, artistic and intellectual
breakthroughs. Along with these materials, we’ll review recent
scholarship on the history, aesthetics, and economics of Chinese
gardens. Students will prepare research projects to be presented in
class and also handed in. Previous coursework in Chinese art is not
a necessity.