Understanding our Collections

UNDERSTANDING OUR COLLECTIONS Hugh M. Moss • This article was presented as a lecture at the Dallas Convention, October 24, 1985 As- Mr. Moss spoke, he offered opportunities for questions and discussions; these breaks, indicated here by asterisks, were eagerly seized hy the audi– ence. In view of the interested dis– cussion, Mr. Moss has invited ques– tions in writing These, if sent to the editors, will be forwarded to him for Ms response, for publication in later issues of the Journal WE HAVE REACHED a peculiar di– lemma in the evolution of our So– ciety. When we started out, in Lilla Perry's pioneering day, we shared a level of ignorance which, while sometimes frustrating, carried with it the comfort of being shared. We could all sit down to listen with equal enthusiasm to a lecture on how to tell the difference between coral and glass. Over the years, as the available knowledge has in– creased and has been continuously published, a perfectly natural de- . velopment has taken place. Today our amiable group of eccentrics offers a broad spectrum of the lev– els of understanding, so that we range from those who have de– voured and retained and perhaps added to all the published infor– mation on our subject, to those who just look at the pictures and sometimes forget even them. Having lectured-it seems even to me-endlessly, on the details of this or that subject within the fields, I am going to try to attempt this year to deal with our subject in a manner that helps to integrate these two extremes and their varied interests. I WOULD LIKE TO CONTINUE along the path I embarked upon last year, but at an even more theoretical level My aim, in reaching beyond the details to a broader under– standing of Chinese art, is to try to change our perception in leaps rather than in steps. One may study the heavens in detail for a pro– longed period, but the moment someone demonstrates that the world is round and not flat, a new level of understanding realigns all the detailed information we have already absorbed; it also stops us from worrying about falling off the edge. Today, therefore, Twould like to try to demonstrate to you the following: • That our arts, whether we ap– proach them as artist or audi– ence, are a vital part of the evolu– tion of our consciousness and therefore represent at any pOint the state of consciollsness of a particular sacio-cultural group; • That there is a fundamental difference between the states of consciousness which have arisen out of the Western and the East– ern traditions and a failure to grasp this excludes u1e Western viewer from much of Chinese art and leads to a misunderstanding and often, therefore, a shallow understanding of those arts that do appeal; • What the nature of that funda– mental difference is and how it affects the Chinese approach to art, both as artist and as audience. Since we will be dealing with some fairly esoteric ideas, difficult to communicate in words, I will 4 pause after each of these three sections for a discussion to clarify any misunderstandings. ART AND CONSCIOUSNESS THE EVOLUTION of consciousness seems to be the overriding quest of the human race. Whatever our im– mediate, individual, finite goals, we seem as a species to have demon– strated over millions of years that our ultimate aim is to bring our– selves to a paint of perfect under– standing of, and therefore into per– fect harmony with, the universe in which we live. Such harmony in– volves primarily how we feel about the situation in which we find our– selves rather than the situation it– self, how we, as individuals and as a species, think, feel, and react to experience-in other words, our state of consciousness. The evolution of consciousness depends wholly upon communica– tion; without the most basic com– munication of experience, the hu– man race wouldn't even survive. The most sophisticated channels of communication exist in the arts, the arts in the sense of all the creative activities of the species. Without the impulse to turn a functional dwell– ing into something of elegance, to turn gesture into painting, sculp– ture, and dance, to turn sound into music and without our myriad other creative activities, the evolu– tion of consciousness is un– thinkable. Tt is precisely those im– pulses which separate us from other animals. Nor do our arts simply record our evolutionary progress; they are a vital part of it: we think with our arts, but more important still, we