Three Perfections

Christine Kuan
Nov 17, 2012 6:26PM

For the Chinese, being an artist-scholar requires the mastery of the "three perfections"--calligraphy, poetry, and painting. So many people are shocked that I studied poetry and work in art, but I've always thought of art and literature as completely intertwined. Art strives to break new ground, but artists are always deeply aware of historical antecedents. Chinese contemporary artists are constantly looking back and referring to these conversations that have been going on for thousands of years.

Instead of saying "looking" at painting, the Chinese say du hua--"reading" painting. When I worked in the Asian Art Department at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, I had the privilege of going into cold storage with Mike Hearn to see scroll paintings that were so fragile and so sensitive to light that they could only be unfurled for viewing once every five years. 

We were reading the very same paintings that Chinese emperors held in their hands hundreds of years ago. Through digital imaging, we can now share these treasures with everyone, not just the lucky few who have first-hand access to these works. By allowing students, artists, and researchers to discover digital images of these important works online, we help to further scholarship and inspire new art while protecting the authentic objects from damage and repeated handling. A new kind of perfection.

Christine Kuan