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In both modern and pre-modern critical writing, both “East and West,” the brushstroke eventually came to be characterized as a vehicle of personal expression in defiance of the "stifling" rules of naturalistic representation. By the mid-twentieth century, the image of the bohemian master flinging paint would have been familiar to both Chinese and European art lovers. It doesn’t follow, however, that the seductive rhetoric of the brushstroke has been thus deconstructed, or understood. This paper surveys the cultural politics of the brushstroke in debates between and among European, American, and Chinese intellectuals, over a period of four centuries.
Martin Powers is Sally Michelson Davidson Professor of Chinese Arts and Cultures at the University of Michigan, and former Director of the Center for Chinese Studies. In 1993 his Art and Political Expression in Early China, Yale University Press, received the Levenson Prize for the best book in pre-twentieth century Chinese Studies. His research focuses on the role of the arts in the history of human relations in China, with an emphasis on issues of personal agency and social justice. His Pattern and Person: Ornament, Society, and Self in Classical China, was published by Harvard University Press East Asian Series in 2006 and has been awarded the Levenson Prize for 2008. He has served on numerous national committees, including NEH, ACLS, and the advisory board of the Center for Advanced Study in the Visual Arts. He has taught in the History Departments at Tsinghua, Peking University, and Zhejiang University, and has published articles and essays in multiple venues in Chinese, including an editorial series in the journal of culture and current affairs, Du Shu. In 2009 he was resident at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton writing a book on the role of "China" in the cultural politics of the English Enlightenment. In the Spring of 2012, he delivered the Wang Guowei Memorial Lectures at Tsinghua. Together with Dr. Katherine Tsiang, he is co-editing the Blackwell Companion to Chinese Art.