Memorable Arts: The Mnemonics of Painting and Calligraphy in Late Imperial China
This project investigates memorisation strategies that were employed in the fields of painting and calligraphy in imperial China, with a focus on the Ming (1368-1644) and Qing (1644-1911) dynasties.
It considers art theory and practice as complementary aspects of the same activity, namely, teaching. The core questions are: How do memory aids reflect the society that produced them? What role did they play in education and individual training in the field of arts?
Chinese cultural elites regarded knowledge of artistic practices as highly valuable, not only professionally but also socially. Memory aids they recorded in textbooks were often based on graphic traits of Chinese characters and rhymes. This project takes a social-historical approach to analyse these memory aids in textual and visual formats, including formulae (jue 訣) and charts. It discusses under which circumstances they were composed and how they developed over time. The analysis of both publication context and readership of these didactic works provides insight into the social dynamics of knowledge transmission.
The project advances our understanding of the attitudes of cultural elites of imperial China towards practical activities or skills. It lays a foundation for understanding how practical skills were taught and how these were embedded in daily practices. On a more general level, it engages with art history by examining the relation of texts and images, and it contributes more broadly to the global study of memory, by enabling comparison of Chinese memorisation strategies with those employed in Europe.