Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The west's debt to the east

click photo to enlarge
Today's blog title might look like I'm going to reflect on the role of the "tiger economies", China in particular, and their role in keeping the shaky western economies ticking over. In fact I've been thinking about some earlier indebtedness that is owed to that part of the world.

The debt that the Renaissance owes to ancient Greece and Rome is widely known. What fewer people are aware of is the extent to which this European movement drew upon technologies from India and China. These were transmitted in one of two ways. Either the invention and process were taken and copied (and often improved), or the idea was reported in the west and that was enough for it to be developed there. Gunpowder and paper are generally known to have come to Europe to the east. However, the range of borrowed technologies is much more extensive and includes the horse breast strap, silk, the stirrup, segmental arch bridge, canal lock gates, mariners' compass, printing and business techniques including book-keeping. The rapid growth and change that Europe undertook in the Renaissance would have been significantly slowed without these and many other contributions from the other side of the world.

The contribution of China and Japan to the arts is also not widely known. However, as trade expanded in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries the decorative arts of the east became available and admired in Europe and even prompted fashionable trends. The "chinoiserie" of these centuries influenced painting, English landscape gardening, porcelain design, architecture, and interior decoration. In the nineteenth century artists such as James Abbot McNeill Whistler, the American-born, British-based painter, were heavily influenced by Japanese and Chinese prints and fabrics. Whistler amassed a large collection of such things and artists as disparate as Degas, Van Gogh and Aubrey Beardsley  show the influence of the traditional ukiyo-e style and its major Japanese exponents such as Hiroshige and Hokusai.

It's hard to imagine that Western paintings lacking perspective and shadow, that featured flat areas of colour, had strongly asymmetrical compositions and made a strong feature of empty space, would have arisen in the way that they did without the influence of eastern art. And where painters lead photographers follow, even humble amateurs such as yours truly. My photograph of the grass stems and leaves poking up through the snow wouldn't have been one that I would have thought worthy of making without the august precedents described above.


The photograph I had thought to use today was this one showing a Valentine's Day display at a flower shop in Market Deeping, Lincolnshire. The fine Regency bow window links with my recent posts on that period's architecture, and the subject is topical. However, my newspaper, the radio, the internet, and for all I know the T.V., are awash with ever more tenuous pieces on Valentine's Day and the associated razzamatazz - much more it seemms than in previous years - and I felt the last thing needed was yet another. So, here's the photograph and not another word on the subject.

photograph and text (c) T. Boughen

Camera: Canon
Mode: Aperture Priority
Focal Length: 90mm
F No: f8
Shutter Speed: 1/400 sec
ISO: 100
Exposure Compensation:  +0.33 EV
Image Stabilisation: On