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Chinese Scholar's Study

All is quiet. A trickle of water flows in the garden outside the window. A breeze whispers through the window screen. An inky brush slaps softly against paper as you write at the desk. At home in 18th century China, you might easily forget that a bustling town lies beyond the walls of this room.

Clay tiles cover the walls and floor. They keep the place cool even in the sweaty heat of southern China. You see no bright colors or flashy gold here, only the shine of polished wood. Glimpses of the miniature garden outside take the imagination to a wild place far beyond the edge of town.

Of course, no one would mistake this room for a simple hut in the wilderness. Even the gnarled tree root in the far corner, now a stand for an antique pot, has the same high polish as the gleaming desk. But a room like this one was more than a quiet get-away spot for a city dweller. It was a place to connect with nature through poetry, painting and music, in search of spiritual peace.

China, Jiangsu Province
The Studio of Gratifying Discourse, 1797

The study was one of the most important rooms in the house of a well-educated government official.
Nature offered a way of understanding the world.
The arts helped literati scholars absorb the lessons of nature.

In the Company of Friends: Join two or three friends to put together a scrapbook of your favorite songs, books, movies, and artwork. Have each friend write a few sentences next to a selection about why he or she admires it. What would be the most comfortable place to do this project? What kind of music would you listen to? What else would you want around you? How might this activity be similar to a gathering of literati scholars?  

The Tools of a Scholar: Tools for painting and calligraphy, such as brushes, ink stones, water droppers, and brush pots, were collector's items among literati scholars. Use the Art Collector function of ArtsConnectEd to choose your own favorites. What different types of tools do you see? What themes do you notice in the decoration? Click here to start. (Click here to learn more about Art Collector.)  

Inspiration in the Past: Literati scholars of the 18th century felt a deep connection to China's past. Browse the Dynasty Guide (part of the Institute's "Art of Asia" Website) to explore the contributions of different periods in Chinese history. Sketch an example of the art of each period in your sketchbook. Which appeals to you most? Why? Choose one to inspire a written journal entry or work of art of your own.  

The Mind's Eye: Objects can lead the imagination to faraway places. Scholars imagined themselves traveling through a landscape suggested by the shape of a rock, for example. Find an object in your surroundings and imagine the journey a miniature version of yourself might take climbing around it. Write a description of the journey. Can another reader identify the object you had in mind?  

At the Museum: The Scholar's Study is permanently on view at The Minneapolis Institute of Arts. Bring along a pencil and paper and see if it inspires a poem in you.  

October 2004