New Bearings in Esthetics and Art Criticism

A Study in Semantics and Evaluation

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superior artistic principles which have been evolved as a result of sensitive and trained experience, reflective inquiry, and cultural equipment. Between such principles definitive judgment cannot justly be made.
One may specifically and usefully apply the principle of psychological relativism by considering the divergent Chinese and western attitudes toward the painting of birds and flowers.87 Contrary to us, the Chinese, because of their almost equal interest in all forms of life, hold that living birds and flowers are among the most important artistic subjects and use them, consequently, as the themes of large, monumental works. Still life, on the other hand, is abhorrent to the Chinese, who require of art living associations in the things represented: thus in Chinese writings, we find references to the "gentleman bamboo/' The Chinese want associative overtones, that is to say, which plastic form alone does not provide; and for this reason, they tend to disparage western artists like Chardin. Moreover, if we compare, say, Sung Chinese and post-Renaissance western representations of birds and flowers, we observe four main differences: (i) The Chinese are indifferent to artistic "self-expression"; though their interest in human associations is great, expressionism in bird and flower painting (as in the flowers, for example, of van Gogh) is for them a too personal and insufficiently generalized artistic style, (ii) In contrast to the seventeenth century Dutch fondness for an abundance of natural details, the Chinese represent only a few living birds and flowers and stress the importance of voids and space, (iii) In their compositions, the Chinese are uninterested in the balance and symmetry of western unity; their unity is based, rather, upon a fusion or equilibrium of tensions, (iv) The Chinese consider plasticity and rich color harmonies (as in the still life of Cezanne) of negligible importance because, for them, the
87. I am indebted to Professor George Rowley's analysis of the following distinctions.