A Woman Artist: A Poem for a Painting

COOL POEMS: Introduction > THE POEMS

Topic: A Woman Artist

Author: Huang Tingjian (1050-1110)

A Poem for a Painting by Aunt Li

On spotless desk, deep in her chamber, exploring with brush and ink;
Her hair is white, but a hundred pounds of force moves in her wrist.
Flourishing branches, withered twigs, each is as it is.
Hang it in a great hall; the wind would shake the walls!

Comments: The artist here is portrayed as a literatus (she “explores” playfully rather than carefully following the rules—see the Women and Art unit). Huang emphasizes the power of her brushstrokes, attributing to this aging woman stylistic qualities gendered as masculine at that time. Had this been written in 1990 it might excite criticism for the assumption that being masculine is a good thing, but it was in fact written in the 11th century. As such it stands as a very early argument that women should be taken seriously as artists. That this topic was debated more generally at that time is evident from the fact that it arises in the works of several poets who felt they needed to argue against the biases some of their contemporaries held towards women in the creative arts. By way of comparison one might think of Addison arguing for greater respect for women in early 18th century England. Addison is not generally construed as being patronizing for his time; it would likewise be inappropriate to attribute such a judgement anachronistically to Huang Tingjian.

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