Arnold Chang (American, born 1954)
Lofty Cliffs, 2006
Ink and color on paper 55 3/4 in. x 28 1/4 in. (141.61 cm x 71.76 cm)
Crocker Art Museum Purchase with funds from the Spencer Joe Fund in memory of Honorable Spencer Avery Joe2006.97
Arnold Chang’s interest in Chinese painting began when he was ten years old and his father took him to an exhibition of works by the 20th-century Chinese master Zhang Daqian. This exhibition not only sparked his interest in Chinese art, but also provided the catalyst to consider his ethnicity. The fact that he was born in the United States gave him a markedly different entry point into the discourse on Chinese art from that of his peers living in China.
During China’s Cultural Revolution, artists were discouraged from painting in any style other than the populist-realist style that propagated Maoist ideology. With the end of the Cultural Revolution in the last quarter of the 20th century, many Chinese artists chose to experiment with new styles, media, and technology.
Chang pursued traditional Chinese painting while studying in Taiwan during his junior year at the University of Colorado. There, he learned objective standards of quality in Chinese painting and later, in his studies with art historian James Cahill and the critic, painter, and connoisseur C. C. Wang, he realized those standards have an art-historical basis.
The traditional method of painting that Chang learned is referred to as literati painting. The literati (wen ren hua) school of painting arose in China in the 11th century. Based on the idea that the expressive quality of the work exceeds the importance of the subject, a literati landscape expresses the character of the artist, rather than verisimilitude to a particular scene. Although Chang works in this classical mode, with traditional brushwork, structure, and composition forming the core of his work, he melds these traditional techniques with his own personal vision of landscape. —EA