Chinese Art

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Hats off to the British Museum for combining fine photography with clear writing to explain ‘Chinese Art in Detail‘ to a beginner. That’s surely what museums are for – to blow away any cobwebs and bring their collections to life.

I learn that the hierarchy of Chinese art places calligraphy and painting at the top, closely followed by jades and bronzes – as objects of scholarly reverence and contemplation – all sitting above the decorative arts: lacquer, porcelain and silk. Sculpture was reserved for graves, temples and shrines.

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A five toed dragon reveals an imperial purpose (a toe was chipped off lacquer work if it left the emperor’s palaces) while scholars practised the ‘three excellences’ of painting, poetry and calligraphy (with incredibly intricate jade brush pots) producing mystical landscapes designed to express their cultivation.

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But most remarkable is the scale and organisation of Chinese arts and crafts. Genuine mass production dates back to well before the Han Dynasty (208 BC to 220 AD) with multiple stages, many distinct craftsmen and multiple inspectors producing the highest quality lacquer and porcelain in great quantities.

Only China knew how to produce silk or fire fine cobalt blue porcelain for long periods of history. And China’s vast scale of production ensured Chinese design served and responded to the insatiable demand of the silk routes, the near East and Europe for many centuries.

Cranes, peaches, fish, all symbolise long life and prosperity. And China’s arts and crafts often secured them for its many imperial dynasties. Bronze, jade, lacquer, porcelain, silk, scrolls, statues, woodblock prints and more – there may be no oil paintings, but the details and workmanship are amazing.

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Well done to two UK public institutions of culture – a small seaside library and the unmatched British Museum – for bringing them to life from centuries past to the present day. China is as much a part of our collective past as our present and future – and this book shows its intricate art is worth a closer look.

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Toxic

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What happens when you are dealing with a toxic situation with toxic people and potentially toxic consequences? You go toxic obviously.

But I’m searching for another way. In the past when I’ve had to do this, I haven’t been able to stop myself ingesting some of the toxic waste. Less doing bad things myself, more feeling sad, bleak and dark hearted. So who better to accompany me on my latest toxic clean-up than His Holiness the Dalai Lama?

As if by magic, his face was gently radiating out from a prominently placed book at our seaside library last weekend when I took the kids.

This is why we need libraries.

It takes a human to recognise that on one of the wettest winters on record, the Dalai Lama on ‘The Art of Happiness’ would be a good book to strategically place right by the entrance. Those quietly helpful, studious folk – librarians – know what they’re doing…

So what has the Dalai Lama to say?

Simple really:

1) Promote happiness and reduce suffering – especially your own.

2) Treat others with compassion, interest and openness.

3) Welcome intimacy with many – not just a few – with a few words, a smile or a simple kindness.

Easy really.

As I started writing this, I was going to choose a toxic ‘skull and crossbones’ to illustrate the post.

Now, having written it, I shall choose a beam of sunshine. That’s the Dalai Lama difference.

Libraries

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I rediscovered the eighth wonder of the world today… lying largely idle, but substantially reinvented – the library.

The Girl-Wonder and I had a super afternoon in our seaside town library. Enrolled in five minutes, then books galore and her poem written (albeit at times sullenly) then typed and printed for free (counted as homework) on the library computers.

As a gale raged outside and rain lashed and lightning cracked, we sat snug and quiet in gentle and genteel comfort. The librarians were kind and welcoming, offering us upwards of 30 books at any one time – and free internet and wifi to boot. What’s not to like?

And the briefest of browses threw up ‘The Seventy Wonders of the Ancient World and How they were Built.‘ Exactly the kind of book you’d never think you’d want to read, never search for and certainly wouldn’t pay £25 for. But, in fact, it’s well worth skimming – in an evening – for a whistle-stop tour of what the Ancients built and how.

A good few edifices I’d never heard of in this tome. But the Pyramids still stand proud – built a clear 2000 years before the other seven ‘Wonders of the Ancient World’ which all went up after 600 BC.

Perhaps there’s hope for libraries yet. Well done to our local council for looking after theirs. Not quite the Library of Alexandria, but not half bad for a seaside amenity. We were back the next morning for more…