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Feeling the Present: Blue and white bowl in the museum and braised pork rice bowls sold on the street

Wei-Tien Chang, Institute of Sinology, Ludwig-Maximilians-University of Munich

1. Folder of Time and Space

Art is past and art could take viewer back to the past. But whether it’s creative thinking or art that transforms into culture, it emphasizes people’s participation in the present, rather than participation in the past. The production and experience of art are real events that take place in society, intertwined with past and the present. 

People view art for obtaining of possible information lurking within the art. Information is expressed in the form. But only by viewing is not enough, people need media to help us watch. “Light” is a medium that helps people viewing. It illuminates art that people could see. At the same time, light is also a form of artistic expression: Different light sources could change the angle from which people view art. (*1)  Light is both a form and a medium in the art system.

Time and space are the necessary media for people to view art. Time and space are one, (*2) when people watch art, the human brain measures and calculates the time and space involved in the artwork according to its own time and space. It’s as if creating a folder, people further perform various classifications related or unrelated to viewing objects in the space-time folders opened in their minds. This concludes that possible information viewer accounts to exist within the art. (*3)

This spatiotemporal folder helps people clarify and interpret the information they watch. The spatiotemporal folder only generate imagination, not art. Even when creators produce art, they need to open a spatiotemporal folder in their minds, so that specific works of art can be generated through this space-time. (*4) In other words, the artwork is the concrete existence. In contrast, the space-time constructed by the mind or the space-time surrounding the artwork is imaginary. (*5)


Time and space have meaning because of the arrangement of objects, and meaning is also a medium for people to communicate with art. (*6)  When opening the time and space folder, the meaning is already in this folder. If it is said that people obtain information on art by creating/opening folders, then the museum’s action is the other way around, providing a space-time folder for viewer to use. Through the theme of the exhibition, the description of the exhibits and the design of the exhibition room, the museum excludes more time and space folders that may be varied after viewing, so that the audience can read the explanatory words and open the information prepared by the museum for the audience in their minds folder. 


2. The blue and white bowls in the National Palace Museum’s collection and the braised pork rice bowls sold on the roadside

Meaning is shared by people in social systems. (*7) When people enter the museum and look at the blue and white porcelain bowls displayed in the exhibition room, many elements on the porcelain bowls , such as blue and white color matching, patterns of flowers, animals, etc., can be obtained through the pre-structured time and space folders of the museum to get information on the product. The museum uses the original meaning in the society to structure the space-time folder. While watching, the viewer enters the space-time folder designed by the museum. On the other hand, viewers are also likely to involuntarily open their own time-space folders in their minds, and at the same time match the meaning of the art objects they watch in their internal folders.


After entering the exhibition room and watching the blue-and-white porcelain bowls, apart from the ones provided by the museum, how many possibilities will there be in the time and space that people’s minds produce? On the one hand, the answer to this question can be “all possible”, because the human mind is free; on the other hand, the second answer to this question can also be “limited”, because people are also limited by the society in which they live.


Perhaps when people see the blue-and white bowl of the National Palace Museum (Fig. 1), apart from trying to imagine the appearance of the 15th century palace tableware and guessing what dishes were served in the bowls according to the time frame of the museum, do they also think of the braised pork rice bowl from a roadside noodle stall (Fig. 2), or the rice bowl with blue and white patterns on the cupboard at home?


Fig. 1. Bowl with bamboo and stone decoration in underglaze blue, Ming dynasty, Yongle reign (1403-1424), National Palace Museum.

Fig. 2. Bowl with bamboo decoration, 1945-1965, Yingge Kilns, Taiwan, National Museum of Taiwan History.
(Open Government Data License, version 1.0)[] (accessed at 2022/06/30).



It is not because people creatively compare the blue-and white bowls of 15th century emperors to tableware at home, but the blue-and-white bowls trigger some memory images of traditional cuisines. Because of the limitations of meaning existing in the social system, it is easier for people to enter the current time and space folder after viewing the container with blue and white patterns. Just like the photo of the finished product when the online recipes teach people to make the braised pork rice is served in a blue and white bowl.  Connecting to a current event is arguably easier than the generation of creative thinking, and more often than the inspiration of creative thinking.

Apart from the space of the museum, people are used to holding common street food dishes such as braised pork rice, beef noodles, and braised platters in blue and white containers. Is it because the use of such a decorated container can give the user a sense of presence in the life of an emperor, or is it that it affects the memory and taste buds of traditional cuisine? In particular, these containers with blue and white patterns, which are favored by Taiwanese street food merchants, are often not made of ceramic materials. Because of the fragile nature of ceramics and the low cost of plastic, many shops use plastic utensils with blue and white patterns. Even if the material is changed, the blue and white features remain unchanged.



3.    Feeling the Present: Custom and the Art of Ordinary


At the same time, restaurants that belong to Asian cuisine, such as Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai and other restaurants, also often use blue and white food utensils. These dishes, which belong to the East Asian cultural circle in a broad sense, all use blue and white porcelain tacitly. China, the birthplace of blue and white porcelain, is generally defined as the birthplace of the East Asian cultural circle. The contents contained in the blue and white patterned food vessels are not far from each other, mainly noodles and rich dishes. Chinese cuisine in Japanese cuisine; Vietnamese beef noodles (Pho) and Thai cuisine are also served in blue and white containers.  

Compared with some viewers who will convert the elements of blue and white porcelain into other forms to display after viewing blue and white porcelain. However, there are also some viewers, such as the shop selling snacks, due to the inherent social custom and culture, in the choice of food utensils, they prefer to choose the blue and white patterned food utensils to match the meal. Now in the 21th century, even though people can easily taste food from all over the world in the city, there are not many shops that serve pasta or curry rice in blue and white bowls, or this combination does not become a trend.

Obviously, the space-time folder contains not only the visual experience. Maybe the emperor 700 years ago saw the blue and white bowl, and the music played during the meal would appear in his mind; Today’s visitors to the museum, after watching the blue and white bowl, are likely to have Jay Chou’s pop song,'Blue and White Porcelain' in their minds. Although time and space are imaginary, because people cannot go back to the past through time and space, they are more constructed around the artworks they see in front of them, that is, to imagine and feel according to the time and space they are in now. In other words, playing Jay Chou’s 'Blue and White Porcelain' in the imperial court seven hundred years ago and playing court music of the 15th century in a snack bar are both out of place, out of the current social custom, and unusual. 

Creative thinking keeps the art system alive in the evolution of time and space; Art that can popularize and arouse consensus and resonance in society can transform art into a culture rooted in society. Ordinary blue-and white porcelain bowls may be more infectious and expansive in society than blue-and-white porcelain bowls in museums. While we continue to explore creative thinking from art, we should not ignore those artistic elements that have long been deeply cultivated in society. 


*1   Niklas Luhmann, Die Kunst der Gesellschaft, Frankfurt am Main, 1995, p. 166.

*2.  Ibid., p. 179.

*3.  Ibid., p. 183.

*4.  Ibid., p. 184.

*5.  Ibid., p. 185.

*6.  Ibid., p. 173.

*7.  Ibid., p. 173.

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