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Great Image Has No Form, or On the Nonobject through Painting

by Francois Jullien University of Chicago Press
Pub Date:
Pbk 288 pages
AU$89.00 NZ$92.17
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In premodern China, elite painters used imagery not to mirror the world around them, but to evoke unfathomable experience. Considering their art alongside the philosophical traditions that inform it, The Great Image Has No Form explores the “nonobject”—a notion exemplified by paintings that do not seek to represent observable surroundings.

François Jullien argues that this nonobjectifying approach stems from the painters’ deeply held belief in a continuum of existence, in which art is not distinct from reality. Contrasting this perspective with the Western notion of art as separate from the world it represents, Jullien investigates the theoretical conditions that allow us to apprehend, isolate, and abstract objects. His comparative method lays bare the assumptions of Chinese and European thought, revitalizing the questions of what painting is, where it comes from, and what it does. Provocative and intellectually vigorous, this sweeping inquiry introduces new ways of thinking about the relationship of art to the ideas in which it is rooted.

List of Illustrations

Translator’s Note


Web of Texts and Corpus

1. Presence-Absence

2. From the Foundation-Fount of Painting

3. Vague-Drab-Indistinct

4. The Great Image Has No Form

5. Theory of the Sketch

6. Empty and Full

7. Not Quitting, Not Sticking

8. Quitting Form to Achieve Resemblance

9. The Spirit of a Landscape

10. On the Truth in Painting

11. Gaze or Contemplation?

12. Peindre n’est pas dépeindre

13. Ink and Brush, Form and Color

14. What Does Painting Write?

15. Image-Phenomenon: Painting Transformation and Life

Gallery of Chinese Paintings

Glossary of Chinese Expressions



François Jullien is professor at Université Paris Diderot, a member of the Institut universitaire de France, and director of the Institut de la pensée contemporaine.