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PHD Art History, Chinese Visual Culture

A few years ago, I was sitting in the former Rubel Library at XXXX University with my classical Chinese tutor and we made an electrifying discovery.  We solved a mystery of two versions of an eighteenth-century painting scroll depicting eight scenes of ghosts, by the artist, Luo Pin (1733-1799). At that moment, the power of Luo Pin’s creative imagination enabled me in a flash of inspiration to see the complexity and enigma of Chinese history and culture.  It was at this moment when I came to clearly understood what I most wanted to emulate in my life, Luo Pin’s example as an artist, philosopher, and teacher. My long term career career goal is to become a “professor in practice,” where I will publish scholarly and critical writing, hold a teaching position at an art school or research university, and continue to produce and exhibit my artwork. I believe that the Ph.D. program in the History of Art at XXXX will provide me with the optimal environment to accomplish my goals.

If I am accepted to your program, I plan to draw on the diverse expertise of the XXXX art history faculty for inspiration.  For example, I plan to continue to study Asian art with my master’s thesis advisor, Prof. XXXX. I also plan to study specifically with Prof. XXXX.

While I am very interested in continuing to conduct research in the history of Chinese visual culture, I am equally if not even more eager to study current trends in international art. In light of installation art’s current dominance of the gallery and museum exhibition spaces around the world, one idea that I am formulating is an examination of the emergence of installation art as a ‘global’ style--similar to the “International Style” of architecture that emerged after WWI--using the work of Chinese-born artist, Chen Zhen (1955-2000), as a case study.

Perhaps the most formative experience of my adult life was my participation in the 1987 Duke Study in China program.  I was fortunate to be in China during an exceptionally open time, well after the end of the Cultural Revolution, but before the economic constriction that led to the Tiananmen Square incident of 1989.  I studied and traveled extensively throughout the country and, in short, lived, breathed, and drank in the local flavor of China.  The trip left me with a deep wonder and abiding respect for Chinese art and culture.

My subsequent trips to Asia were also important.  After college, I moved to Taipei to continue independent study of Chinese language.  Amid teaching English as a second language and writing for a bilingual magazine dedicated to improving the environment, Simple Earth, I directed and produced a 15-minute video on urban pollution called “Evernocs.”  I later spent five weeks traveling around Japan: visiting Kyoto, Nara, Tokyo, among other important cultural places.  I returned to a rapidly modernizing China in 1995 for five weeks to participate as a technical official for “The Tour of China” professional cycling race. Perhaps the most valuable outcome of my experiences living in Far East Asia so far has been gaining an acute sense of the rapidly changing global contexts of how we perceive and understand the west vis à vis the east.

Experiences outside of graduate studies have been invaluable to me in terms of further developing my interdisciplinary interests and solidifying my decision to pursue a doctorate.  Over the past few years, I have taken numerous art courses at MIT, RISD, Mass College of Art, Harvard, and the Museum School, which have provided me with a good grasp of the inside culture and teaching styles of distinguished art schools.  I have also written art criticism for Art New England and the NY Arts Magazine.  This engagement has further intensified my passion for ‘seeing’ art and sharpened my skills of close observation and interpretation.  On the other hand, working for several years as an assistant to Prof. Philip Heymann at Harvard Law School has brought me into close contact with important issues of criminal justice, international law, and human rights, and given me critical insights into the challenges lying ahead to preserve liberties in times of political violence and terrorism.  This experience has inspired me to incorporate these issues as part of my own critical consciousness as a theoretician and as an artist.

Finishing two graduate programs, one in history at Harvard and the other in studio art at the Art Institute of Boston, have left me very highly motivated to pursue a Ph.D. in the history and theory of visual arts. My thesis project at Harvard, “Seeing Ghosts in Late Eighteenth-Century China in Luo Pin’s 1766 Guiqu tu (Ghost Realm Amusements) Scroll,” required translation of classical Chinese texts.  Thus, I spent a year working closely with a Chinese tutor, Zhu Hong, a post-doctoral researcher from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences.  Together, we translated colophons from the scroll as well as large sections of the artist’s writings on his philosophical beliefs gleaned from Buddhism and Confucianism that had never before been available in English. My thesis won the Allan R. Crite Prize for “singular dedication to learning and the arts,” an accomplishment that not only capped off a stage of radical personal growth, but convinced me to work on developing my thesis for publication.

My course of study in the MFA program at the Art Institute of XXXX, meanwhile, was not only greatly beneficial to my development as a visual artist, but was invaluable in terms of deepening my understanding of contemporary art.

The field of visual arts is at a critical juncture. The current generation of curators eloquently supports “newness” as they see it, most notably in new media arts and installation art and more and more artists are becoming engaged in those art practices.  On the other hand, on parallel tracks, there is also a rapid intensification of the construction of new museums and building additions to older ones around the world.  These phenomena, coupled with the rapidly growing strata of international art fairs as well as international biennales and triennials add to a visibly confused if not chaotic stage of art appreciation. Therefore, I see a great need for artists to have vast working knowledge of art history and theory. I myself understood that need some years ago, and that is why I am so enthusiastic about the possibility of embarking on the Doctoral Program in Art History at XXXX. Such training will help me to greatly enhance my artistic and philosophical dialogue with one of the chief sources of my inspiration, Luo Pin.


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