October 30, 2019

Lecture with Curator Phillip E. Bloom: “Arhats and the Figural Imagination of Chinese Buddhist Art”

Lecture with Curator Phillip E. Bloom: "Arhats and the Figural Imagination of Chinese Buddhist Art"

Date(s) - Wednesday, October 30, 2019
5:00 pm - 6:30 pm

Graham Auditorium | Hillyer Hall

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A dizzying variety of eccentric figures fill Chinese Buddhist paintings of the Song dynasty (960–1279) onward. Wizened monks dance through the air on clouds; their younger compatriots cavort with dragons and receive offerings from animals and deities. Who are these figures, and what was their appeal to practitioners of Buddhism? More generally, what role did figural paintings play in the lives and practices of premodern Buddhists? Focusing particularly on depictions of arhats—semi-human, semi-divine monks widely worshipped in East Asia for their supramundane powers—this talk will show that such playful paintings of unconventional figures served as media through which premodern viewers imaginatively experienced subject positions other than their own. Figure painting, we shall see, became a prompt for poetic experiences of awakening.
Phillip E. Bloom (PhD, Harvard University, 2013) is the June and Simon K.C. Li Curator of the Chinese Garden and director of the Center for East Asian Garden Studies at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in San Marino, CA. A specialist in the art, ritual, and landscape architecture of Song-dynasty (960–1279) Buddhism, his research has appeared in The Art Bulletin, Archives of Asian Art, Bukkyō geijutsu, and Dazu xuekan, among other publications. He is currently completing a book manuscript, tentatively titled Nebulous Intersections: Sensing Ritual in Chinese Buddhist Art, ca. 1178.