2012/ Thru Nov 12, Los Angeles County Museum of Art / Three Perfections: Poetry, Calligraphy, Painting

LACMA Aug Rengetsu

Ōtagaki Rengetsu, 1791-1875, Mountain Crows, Hanging scroll; ink on paper. Image: 14 3/8 x 21 in. (36.51x 53.34 cm) © LACMA, Gift of Gildon and Barbara Beall

Pavilion for Japanese Art, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 5905 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90036

Museum hours: Monday, Tuesday and Thursday 12 noon – 8 pm, Friday 12 noon – 9 pm, Saturday and Sunday 11 am – 8 pm, Closed Wednesdays

For further information about Japanese art exhibitions at LACMA, please call (323) 857-6565


Three Perfections: Poetry, Calligraphy, Painting

Part I: July 26 – November 12, 2012, Pavilion for Japanese Art, East Wing

Since about the 11th century in China special esteem has been given to the arts of poetry, its close relative calligraphy, and painting which was based on calligraphic technique.

In China particularly, all of these arts were the purview of the scholar-gentry at their most creative. Beginning in the imperial academy in China and spreading to the landed gentry, emphasis on poetry in the arts developed with the ultimate goal becoming unfettered expression of the soul of the artist through composition and brush play.

This literati ideal took hold across East Asia, and experienced a renaissance in Japan with scholar poet-painters in the late 17th to 19th centuries.

Though a few of the Japanese literati were retired samurai, fitting the ideal of amateur landed gentry, many artists in Japan took inspiration from the form of Chinese literati arts, but sold their work.

In the 18th century there was a particular fascination amongst art-buying patrons for eccentricity and manifestations of personal creativity, and as a result, literati artists were not strictly bound by patron demands. Such constraints were what the original Chinese literati sought to avoid through their amateur status.

The value of calligraphy in the visual arts of Japan and all East Asia cannot be overstated; indeed, the art of painting, while employing similar brushes, is ranked below calligraphy in the aesthetic hierarchy of East Asian art.

Though understanding the content or meaning of a written phrase certainly adds enjoyment to viewing calligraphy; the writing itself can be appreciated purely on aesthetic grounds such as balance, strength, self-expression, solidity, fluidity, flow, and rhythm.

In this exhibition, the so-called “Three Perfections” of poetry, calligraphy and painting find their expression in both Chinese and Japanese poetry, in Zen aphorisms, and in ink-based paintings brushed to illustrate the sentiment of a poem or story.

“Three Perfections: Poetry, Calligraphy, Painting” is a two-part exhibition of hanging scrolls from LACMA’s permanent collection. Both parts will feature calligraphed poems or Zen sayings, and paintings with inscriptions.  Part I places emphasis on works by literati artists, while Part II will primarily offer examples of Zen calligraphies.


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