CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

About History Press Release Sessions Schedule Activities Participants Venue Discussion Registration Closed

The Prospect of Art and Art History as I See It


What is the prospect of art and art history in the future?


The world is undergoing rapid changes. Images and material objects have been used in art since time immemorial. But perhaps this is also slowly coming to an end, because a world of virtual reality is arising and reshaping the way we look at the world and human relationships. Therefore, our discussion of art history in the Age of the Image(图像时代)will no longer focus merely on issues of nationality or cultures, but will expand to areas and address how to reconnect, reorganize, redistribute and reconsider art and art history in a shared world of images图像世界, accepting all peoples and taking into account both the past and the present. We hold Congress such as this to discover differences and to clarify terms in order to understand each other through multi-view. We express our mutual admiration while knowing that we differ. Now that this34th World Congress draws the curtain, it is all the more urgent for us to stand together, looking back at our past and looking forward to our future.


As for the future of art history, two issues must be considered.


First, how can we employ a more comprehensive approach to the study of images so as to interpret the past and explain the world?  Images and material objects distill in our collective memory the imagology of the formation and exhibition of civilization and history, from which we learn about where we come from and what we are doing. We also gain various reference points regarding where we are heading. How shall we explain the change in human understanding and the extension of the concept of human rights in the Image Age? Shall we still apply the methodology of linguistics and the study of styles, or that of iconography, or other traditional approaches of art history to study the new situation and new phenomena? Are the approaches of the Humanities and the logical deduction of causality themselves susceptible to doubt? Perhaps now is the time to use images/pictures to explain images/pictures. We live in an age of the image, where ordinary people] can dispense with “language” and quickly exchange information and ideas..and images (!). In the Internet age, the Tower of Babel finally reaches? the sky.


What does it mean--using images/pictures to explain images/pictures? In ancient China, all texts are classified by the term tushu guan. The English translation of the term is library, and the German translation is Bibliothek. Then, does it refer to books? Actually no. It means the combination of tu and shu, with tu at the front and written text following it. As an ancient concept, tu has multiple meanings. First, it refers to pictures/pictorial, that is, figures and phenomena in the objective world caught by the human eyes, the object of mimesis. Second, it refers to icon, whose semiotic nature of being the signifier is equally important in the Chinese context. An icon matters not only for how it looks, but more importantly, the meaning it conveys. Of course, tumay also refer to maps, and especially, the atlases that reveal truth, the so-called hetuin ancient China. In Confucius’ time, the age-old carrier of truth was called hetuluoshu. Although no one knows for sure what hetu looks like, we at least know that tu weighs equally as written words.


Today, we arrive at yet another age when images describe and explain our lives. Film, VR, AR  use images to represent all that happens in the world, and languages are not adequate to sum up, narrate and reflect upon all the images; nor can philology and linguistics replace the study of the image. For these reasons, we are now at a key juncture when art history can make a significant contribution to the world. Shall we take such a contribution as the common goal of art? If so, art history will no longer be merely a follower, a supplement, an ornament of linguistics and the Humanities, but a leader, at the center  ---  advancing to a new era, to new knowledge that opens to a broader and more brilliant future. This is where should be the future of art history. That is to say, what matters the most is not what art history studies but how art history accomplishes its mission. Using visual means and images to do research, using images to describe the field, should be the key goal of art history -- a fundamental discipline in the coming era of knowledge. But this era may already be here!


The second issue is whether the rapidly changing scenario of contemporary art shall be taken as an important subject of art history, and whether art history shall concern itself with disclosing the differences and similarities between people and their creativity inspired by art. These are not easy questions. Art differs from scientific knowledge, philosophical ideas and religious faith; art history concerns the unity of humanity, and the representation and formalization of each individual’s uniqueness. In art, no abstract, verifiable truth is relevant, and the perception of an identical object or phenomenon varies from person to person. In the past, people from different cultures observed each other. Today the parameters of differentiation include not only culture, nationality, ethnicity and religion, but also social class, age and sexual orientation, etc. Even the same person might contradicts himself/herself and change at different stages of their life and under different circumstances.


We hope that a multi-view? two-way observation will make the world a peaceful place, but in reality, differences sometimes makes human nature become more intractable?, fierce and cruel. The urge to maintain or even create an identity, or to differentiate may grow so intense that destruction of cultural relics becomes a trademark, thereby creating new images of horror. In our time, competition and conflict are always present as images. In this Spectacle era, as it might be called, sports occupy a central place in culture, where people compete under the restraint of rules. However, it is art that inspires new thoughts, new ideas and new methods. Art history that forms in the process of studying art is the channel through which we observe the world and explain humanity. Art history must break through the limited realm of art works, images and material objects, and expand to broader areas.


Today, China will hand over the CIHA flag to Brazil and Italy. For the first time, the World Congress of Art History will be jointly sponsored by two countries. It is a joyful event we shall look forward to, and China will do all it can to help in implementing and promoting the 35th Congress. This last summer, we have watched people competing in the Olympics hosted by Brazil. We can seethat wars and turmoil are still going on in the world, which has prevented some of our speakers and other colleagues from attending this Conference. Their participation is much missed.


We hope that world events will not deter participation at the 35th Congress. We can hope!


In this time of turmoil, we can see the positives that the International Committee on the History of Art and the World Congresses of Art History such as this one can accomplish. Here we might contrast our successes of this 34thCongress with those of the recent Olympics. How so? In sports, people obtain pleasure from winning. One person’s victory signals the failure of many frustrated competitors. The winner stands high on the rostrum, a national anthem is playing and a national flag is hoisted. We feel somewhat uncertain as to whether this can promote world peace. The World Congress of Art History is something different. We try to understand differences and discover similarities among the world’s peoples and countries. It is not until we appreciate and respect each other despite all differences that we can appreciate each other, love each other and desire to gather together. We must cherish our differences but also, when we differ, our efforts for mutual appreciation must be all the stronger. The result will be a greater possibility of development. In such an era, a World Congress of Art History can be seen as the opposite to sports competitions. The CIHA Congress provide occasions for us to gather together, to create harmony for the future of mankind.


I thank you all for being here, for your contribution to the 34th CIHA Congress. For the future of art history, I hope we shall unite forever, and it is exactly because of differences that we love what others love and respect what others respect.