What is Oriental Art?

The word ‘Orient’ evokes images of the East of days past: Chinese men with the traditional queue hairstyle with a long braid and the top of the head shaved; Turks reclining on low sofas, drinking tea and wearing loose şalvar trousers and jubbahs, loose coats; or Indians in their colourful, silken jackets and the women in saris, posing in a photo next to an elephant. The Orient was the faraway region of beautiful silks, magnificent ceramics, decorative architecture, tea, spices, and other treasures only seen in pictures or museums. Perhaps people used to talk more about the Orient when it was still exotic and unknown to most westerners. Nowadays, we are more specific, and rather than just talking about the East or the Orient, we discuss its nations of the subregions of the Asian continent, such East Asia, South, South-East Asia, or the Middle East.

Different Interpretations of Oriental Art

The term ‘Oriental art’ can be interpreted in different ways. One natural interpretation is to take it as encompassing the whole of the Orient, which is Asia. In this blog, we use the term in its broadest sense. Another interpretation uses the word ‘Orient’ to refer mostly to East Asia, especially China, and consequently, ‘Oriental art’ as referring mainly to Chinese art. There are problems with the other use, though, as the numerous Chinese artistic styles and eras may overlap with neighbouring countries, such as Korea and Japan. For this reason, it is best to take ‘Oriental’ as referring to Asian, broadly speaking, and when we want to be more specific, we can add which country, culture, or historical era we are speaking of. After hundreds of years of simplifying the world and crudely dividing it into accepted cultural entities such as ‘the West’ and ‘the East’, it is better to talk more precisely.