The Problem of Influence – How to Assess the Visual Similarities Between the Art of the West and East?

  • Katarzyna Kleiber (Author)

Identifiers (Article)


Each year the set of texts dealing with Western influences on Eastern art becomes bigger and bigger, owing to the contributions of both European and Asian scholars. Unfortunately, the considerable outgrowth of these writings is rarely accompanied by methodological considerations of how to research into the visual similarities between Western and non-Western artworks. In an attempt to fill this gap, this paper examines the main theoretical aspects and challenges of studying Asian art which seem to be based on European architecture, sculpture and painting.

The first part of this paper examines how contemporary art historians determine the very existence of ‘influences’ between artworks. Later on, it is explained how intertextua and post-colonial studies have changed the way art history views the impact of one artwork on another. Having discussed these revisions to our discipline, I ask the question how to pinpoint references of Asian artworks to Western ones, if there is no data about their authors (their education, travels, personal contacts with foreign artists etc.) or the reproductions and replicas of European pictures. Additionally, I raise the issue of the artist’s intention (i.e. if quotations from, and allusions to Western artworks are always conscious and intended). Another issue, which recurs throughout the whole paper, is whether conceptual schemata from Western academia allow art historians to understand and explain Asian art better or whether they just lead to interpretive abuse.Thee final paragraphs off er some concluding remarks.