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8.1 Materials, Processes, and Techniques in South, East, and Southeast Asian Art

5 min readโ€ขjanuary 19, 2023

Charly Castillo

Charly Castillo

Minna Chow

Minna Chow

AP Art Historyย ๐Ÿ–ผ

34ย resources
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In this guide, we'll be giving an overview of the art styles, mediums and art techniques of South, East, and Southeast Asia.

Art Forms and Styles of South, East, and Southeast Asia

There are a lot of different art forms and styles from this region because it's so big. Here are just a few important examples to keep in mind when you're thinking about attribution questions.
  • Art commonly depicts either gods or nature.
    • The vast scale of nature is a theme in Daoist art, as exemplified by the elongated mountains of 201. Travelers among Mountains and Streams.
    • Floral motifs are common in art from Mughal India (1526-mid 1800s), which we can see in both the 209. Taj Mahal and 208. Jahangir Preferring a Sufi Shaikh to Kings.
  • Most of the buildings in this unit are temples with carved figures made of wood or stone.
    • Outside of temples, this unit also features some of the larger buildings of AP Art History, such as the Forbidden City and the Taj Mahal.
  • Paintings tend to be two-dimensional, without the scale and perspective of European paintings.
    • Paintings tend to be in ink on paper or silk, not paint. This means that you'll tend to see flat colors with minimal shading, and no large brushstrokes or textured canvases.
    • Paintings will often be accompanied by calligraphy, such as in 203. Night Attack on the Sanjรด Palace.
Distinctive art forms from South, East, and Southeast Asia include...
  • Buddhist stupas, or dome shaped monuments housing relics of Buddhist figures.
  • monochromatic ink painting on silk and paper, which developed in China.
    • Other regions took inspiration from Chinese painting for their work (ex: The Court of the Gayumars)
  • the pagoda, an architectural style based on Chinese watchtowers and inspired by Buddhist stupas.
  • Japanese rock gardens, tea houses, and related ceremonies associated with Zen Buddhism
  • Japanese woodblock printing
    • Example: 211. Under the Wave off Kanagawa (Kanagawa oki nami ura), also known as the Great Wave, from the series
      Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji
    • These woodblock works went on to inspire the Impressionists of Unit 4.

Painting and Calligraphy

Painting in this unit usually takes two forms: wall painting and manuscript or album painting.
The wall paintings such as 205. Portrait of Sin Sukju (1417โ€“1475) would have been hung up... on a wall, and may have been used for ancestor worship, while the manuscript or album paintings would have been shown to people at private events. Some paintings, such as 203. Night Attack on the Sanjรด Palace, were so long that they would have been rolled out, bit by bit, for people to admire.
As mentioned before, the painting styles that developed in India and East Asia favor contour drawing of forms over modeling. This means that figures were depicted through an emphasis on lines rather than in the three dimensional modeling format you'll see in Renaissance paintings. You won't find the heavy emphasis on contrast (chiaroscuro) or the hazy outlines (sfumato) of other European art.
A special ink-related art form highly emphasized in Units 7 and 8 is calligraphy. Calligraphy was an important art form in these regions. In Islamic art and Chinese art, calligraphy was at times considered the highest art form! Islamic calligraphy is often used to write out lines from the Qur'an; in Chinese art, you'll often see lines of poetry accompanying artworks.
Calligraphy was also prominent in Islamic art in Asia (in AP Art History, this mainly applies to Mughal India), and is found on architecture, decorative arts objects, and ceramic tiles, and in manuscripts.

Ceramics and Metal Art

Ceramic arts have flourished in Asia since the prehistoric era, and they're the reason that we call China china! Many advancements in ceramic work were developed in this region.
In AP Art History, we discus two major ceramic works from China: 193. Terra cotta warriors from mausoleum of the first Qin emperor of China and 204. The David Vases.
Compare and Contrast Question: How do the ceramics works from China compare to the ceramics from other units, such as the Niobid Krater?
Another material used for a similar function is metal, used to create sculpture, arms and armor, and famous ritual vessels.

Sculpture and Construction

This unit contains a lot of monumental architecture in the form of temples, palaces, and tombs.
Temples are a major part of this unit's architecture. In this unit, they tend to be in stone or wood. Furthermore, you'll see a lot of stone and wood carving in the temples of this unit. These take the form of relifs (carvings etched into the wall) and/or statues.
Rock-cut caves containing Buddhist imagery, shrines and monastic spaces span across Asia: In this Unit, you'll be learning about the 195. Longmen Caves in modern China.
You can generally split South and Southeast Asian buildings in a separate category from the East Asian buildings we're studing in this unit. East Asian buildings of this unit have a great deal of Chinese influence; you'll see the triangular tile roofs of Todai-ji in the Forbidden City as well.


At last, we come to textile works: an important but often overlooked aspect of art!
Important textile forms from this region include:
  • silk and wool-tapestry weaving
  • cotton weaving
  • printing
  • painting
  • carpet weaving
We focus on two textile (or textile-related) art pieces in this Unit: 194. Funeral banner of Lady Dai (Xin Zhui) and 205. Portrait of Sin Sukju (1417โ€“1475). The Funeral Banner of Lady Dai is painted silk. While the portrait isn't a textile work outright, a significant part of that image is the embroidery on Sin Sukju's chest, representing his rank badge.
Browse Study Guides By Unit
๐Ÿ—ฟUnit 1 โ€“ Global Prehistoric Art, 30,000-500 BCE
๐Ÿ›Unit 2 โ€“ Ancient Mediterranean Art, 3500-300 BCE
โ›ช๏ธUnit 3 โ€“ Early European and Colonial American Art, 200-1750 CE
โš”๏ธUnit 4 โ€“ Later European and American Art, 1750-1980 CE
๐ŸŒฝUnit 5 โ€“ Indigenous American Art, 1000 BCE-1980 CE
โšฑ๏ธUnit 6 โ€“ African Art, 1100-1980 CE
๐Ÿ•ŒUnit 7 โ€“ West and Central Asian Art, 500 BCE-1980 CE
๐Ÿ›•Unit 8 โ€“ South, East, and Southeast Asian Art, 300 BCE-1980 CE
๐ŸšUnit 9: The Pacific, 700โ€“1980 ce
๐ŸขUnit 10 โ€“ Global Contemporary Art, 1980 CE to Present
๐Ÿ™Exam Reviews

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