The problem with studying Asian art are that as an American you have no helpful hints at memorizing the names of artists like those famous Ninja turtles, and the history of Japan, China, and India is a few thousand years longer than America's mere few hundred. Then there are all those place, era, and event names — that in Japanese and Chinese may change depending on the romanization system or in the case of Japanese, the reading of the imported Chinese characters. With all those names and dates, one hardly has time to appreciate the art.
Meher McArthur's 2005 book, The Arts of Asia: Materials, Techniques and Styles, you get to learn about the materials that we all have come to associate with Asia. Confused about jade — what's the difference between nephrite and jadeite? Meher explains it quickly. Want to know what Europeans first thought about silk or why raw silk fabric has bumps in the weave? Want to know why porcelain dishes are called china with a small c? McArthur explains all this and more, covering jade, silk, porcelain, lacquer, ivory, bamboo, paper, gold, wood and stone in a 256-page book that includes 435 beautiful photographs. It answers questions such as: Just what is japanning?
For those who don't know, jadeite and nephrite are both considered jade. Jadeite is considered precious and is not actually found in China, but in Burma. Most Chinese jades prior to the 18th century are actually nephrite and despite what gem traders of Europe would have you think, gem quality jade is harder to find. Meso-American native populations also valued jade, the nephrite variety, but from them is where the term jade came from.
Silk was imagined to be spun from flower petals or spiders webs. From India, to South Asia, to China and Japan, silk has been taken, dyed, woven, and embroidered into different styles and patterns. The variance is astounding as the different cultural costumes it was made into. Silk was, at one time, a carefully guarded secret that was eventually smuggled out and spread.
China had other secrets such as porcelain. Paper was discovered in China over 2,000 years ago. Yet it has changed the world as a medium for communication, art, and learning. The process of lacquering using a fine quality sap was used in China, Korea, and Japan. Ivory, a substance unknown to Europe, was used for carving for at least 4,000 years. Bamboo is another material that we see as inherently Asian and Asia has over 1,200 different species. Instead of considering good character to be solid as an oak tree, some Asian cultures consider the flexible bamboo to be a better personality type.