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Grove Art: Subject Guide

Asian Art


Embroidered medallion, silk, 1368–1644 (New York, Metropolitan Museum of Art, Fletcher Fund, 1942, Accession ID: 42.74.6); image © The Metropolitan Museum of ArtThere are many ways to define the geographical region of Asia. For the purpose of this subject encompasses China, Japan, Korea and Mongolia; South Asia, which includes the Indian subcontinent; Central Asia which includes Tibet; and Southeast Asia encompassing Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. The art and culture of East Asia are unified by powerful philosophical schools of thought and linguistic systems such as Confucianism, Neo-Confucianism, the classical Chinese language (including the traditional Chinese script), Mahayana Buddhism, Zen/Chan Buddhism, Daoism, Shintoism (mainly in Japan) and Shamanism. The traditional arts of the Indian subcontinent were made mostly to serve its indigenous religions, notably Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism. Tibet and its art—largely based on Vajrayana Buddhism—are becoming increasingly better known as Tibetan Buddhism. Southeast Asia has diverse artistic traditions influenced by Animism, Theravada Buddhism, Islam, Christianity and Hinduism.

Asian art is diverse and rich spanning thousands of years and dozens of countries. It is known for its ritual bronzes, beautiful ceramics, jades, textiles, poetic painted landscapes, garden design, elaborate goldwork, extraordinary temples, shrines, pagodas and stupas, woodblock prints, shadow puppets and the highest art form in East Asian art—calligraphy. Enduring Asian treasures include works such as Fan Kuan’s Travellers among Mountains and Streams, Katsushika Hokusai’s Fugaku sanjurokkei (‘Thirty-six views of Mt Fuji’) series, and Basawan’s Akbar Restraining the Enraged Elephant Hawa’i. Today the impact of Asia on contemporary art is immense. Since the 1990s, Asian contemporary art has grown exponentially due to a mushrooming of regional biennials and triennials, new contemporary art museums, and the international recognition of artists such as Chinese-born Cai Guo-Qiang, Japanese-born Miwa Yanagi, Korean artist Suh Do-Ho and the Thai artist Rirkrit Tiravanija.



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