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‘Collected like Clouds’: Facts and Fantasies in the Daitokuji Five Hundred Arhats

When: Tuesday, May 16, 2017
5:00 PM - 6:30 PM  

Where: Kresge Hall, Trienens Room, 1515, 1880 Campus Drive, Evanston, IL 60208 map it

Audience: Faculty/Staff - Student - Public - Post Docs/Docs - Graduate Students

Contact: Hana Thomson   847.491.3230

Group: Department of Art History

Category: Academic


Phillip Bloom, Associate Professor, Art History, Indiana University-Bloomington

Buddhist art makes an uneasy object of social historical analysis. Although we might hope that textual archives will provide direct insight into an artwork’s visual form, the fragmentary nature of the documentary record invariably frustrates such desires, rarely requiting our fascination with the visual imaginaire that structures the artwork. Nevertheless, it is to social historical analysis that we must turn for the fundamental facts upon which subsequent interpretation may rest. A dialectic, then, is necessary—a movement from social fact to visual fantasy and back again. Focusing on two paintings from a set of one hundred crafted between 1178 and 1188 near the important Chinese port of Ningbo, this presentation will engage in precisely such a dialectical analysis. This set of paintings, now largely held in Daitokuji Monastery, Kyoto, Japan, depicts saintly monks (arhats) both engaged in the mundanities of Chinese Buddhist monastic life and performing supramundane feats that transcend space and time. To make sense of these paintings, this presentation will first investigate the specific social and economic contexts within which the works were produced. Challenging the inherent interpretive limits of such an approach, which has hitherto dominated scholarship on the set, we shall turn our attention to the sensory imagination of ritual that underlies the artworks, engaging with both the material facts and mental fantasies embodied in the paintings. Ultimately, this presentation will illuminate the ways in which the set simultaneously roots us in social reality and opens to us visions otherwise accessible only to the most gifted monastic gazers.

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