Lara Blanchard, Luce Associate Professor of East Asian Art, is one of three co-authors of a new textbook on Asian art history. The book titled “Asian Art,” seeks to illuminate the diversity of Asian artistic traditions and covers art and architecture from India, Southeast Asia, China, Korea and Japan from the prehistoric period through the 21st century. Blanchard’s co-authors are Dorinda Neave of Capilano University and Marika Sardar of the San Diego Museum of Art.
Blanchard wrote the introduction, which provides some background on Asian cultures and languages, explains the roles of artists and patrons in artistic practice, summarizes the types of media used in Asian art and architecture, gives an overview of how formal analysis works, and discusses the beginnings of art history in Asia. The five chapters she wrote to comprise Chinese art and architecture covers distinct eras of Chinese history, beginning with the Neolithic and early imperial periods and ending with the contemporary era.
“Asian Art” places art and architecture in social and historical context and examines connections to religions, philosophies, politics and literature. At the same time, it considers how formal elements of art and architecture can encode meaning. The authors consider various aspects of the role of art in Asia including: why art-making was a meaningful form of expression for both artists and patrons, how art encompasses the values of distinct Asian cultures, and how it provides another means of understanding developments in Asian history.
“Art, architecture, and visual culture generally function as a window into the past. They provide an unparalleled vehicle for understanding Asian history because artists, artisans and architects were responding to what was going on in their societies and cultures at the time–or, in some cases, responding to what had happened in earlier periods,” explains Blanchard.
She notes artists associated with the elite art traditions in Asia tend to be extraordinarily conscious of their history and are often deliberately evoking that history: “Art collecting was quite important, so artists were familiar with what had come before their time. In addition, Asian intellectuals and connoisseurs wrote some of the earliest critical responses to art anywhere in the world, and these texts were widely disseminated.”
Some of the earliest patrons of the arts were rulers and other people of high rank, and the art and architecture created for them often proclaims their political status and their role in society, according to Blanchard. Other important patrons included religious practitioners and institutions, and the teachings of the Asian religions as interpreted in a particular time and place were encoded in the art and architecture created on their behalf.
“Asian artists and architects often focus on the meaning of images and formal elements–so often, when I am teaching about architecture, sculpture, painting, calligraphy, or ceramics, I am explaining the significance of the different elements, and how it is possible to ‘read’ art and architecture and figure out what the maker is trying to convey,” says Blanchard. “Artists and architects draw upon phenomena observed in nature as well as literary images and religious and philosophical ideas to invest their work with meaning.”
The book is fully illustrated in color and is also available as an e-text that includes a number of interactive features.
Blanchard is chair of the art and architecture department and has been teaching at the Colleges for almost 13 years. She received her M.A. and Ph.D. at the University of Michigan and her B.A. at the College of William and Mary. Before coming to Hobart and William Smith, she served as an instructor at the University of Michigan. She also previously held a research fellowship at the Freer Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C. Her professional affiliations include being an Associate in Research for the East Asia Program at Cornell University, and a member of the Association for Asian Studies and the College Art Association.