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Elvira Dottori Sisani (1895-1935)
2012, oil on canvas, 18×20 cm
Elvira Dottori Sisani (1895-1935)
The Winking Owl: Visual Effect
Eugene Y. Wang
The Winking Owl: Visual Effect and Its Art Historical Thick Description (Part 1)*
And yet this great wink of eternity,
Of rimless floods, unfettered leewardings.
-HART CRANE, "Voyages" (1926)
Can a painting such as the one shown here (fig. 1) say anything at all? In Western academic settings questions like this either appear to be worn-out commonplaces that induce yawns or are suspected to be quibbles, equivocation and play on the different senses of the word say. In a different institutional universe, however, these same questions may carry frightening implications. In March 1974 a group of painters in China, specializing mostly in traditional ink painting, were charged by the Ministry of Culture with blaspheming "the Socialist system" -meaning the state. Their paintings were put on public display in China's National Art Gallery in Beijing, as the so-called Black Painting Exhibition. The organizers' captions constituted a de facto indictment of the artists' subversive political intent. Among the paintings showcased, the centerpiece was Huang Yongyu's Owl (fig. 1), which shows a squat owl perched on a sparsely budded tree branch, facing the viewer head on, with an enigmatic expression that can be seen either as a wink or as an one-eye-open stare. Its exhibition caption read: "Huang Yongyu produced this Owl in 1973. The owl, with its one eye open and the other closed, is a self-portrait of the likes of Huang. It reveals their attitude: an animosity toward the Proletarian Cultural Revolution and the Socialist system." A grueling chastisement followed the Ministry of Culture's categorical pronouncement. Reprimand sessions ran for months in the Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, where Huang was a professor of woodblock printing, to coerce the painter into confessing his antisocialist stances. The controversy escalated to such a national proportion that it even came to the attention of Chairman Mao, who, irritated by the excesses of the factionalist cultural czars and their overzealous censorship serving their partisan interest, commented wryly: “An owl habitually keeps one eye open and other closed. The artist does possess the common knowledge, doesn't he?" He dismissed the cynical use of art criticism as "metaphysics going berserk; a skewed view!" Mao's pronouncement on the matter quieted the critics and put the controversy to rest, even though he had no intention of changing the overall political tenor of the time. After Mao's death in 1976 the shrill ideological regimentation of the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) and its cultural policies were overhauled, and Huang and his peers were accordingly exonerated. The cultural inquisition by the bigots of the previous regime was dismissed by post-Mao revisionists as political engineering spilling over into and running berserk in the art world. The once castigated artists of the Black Paintings became heroes, and their paintings received critical and popular acclaim. Out of a field of eight candidates Huang was awarded the commission to design the composition for the ninety-foot monumental tapestry of a mist-shrouded mountain panorama that was to be hung on the wall behind Mao's statue in the Chairman Mao Memorial Hall.
Fig. 1. Huang Yongyu, Owl. Inscription in 1978. Ink and color on paper. 60 x 92 cm. After the 1973 version. From Huang Yongyu and His Paintings, trans. Yang Xianyi et al., ed. Zheng Xiaojuan and Xiao Shiling (Beijing, 1988), p. 12.
It is easier to settle the political scores than the art historical accounts, and it is easier to exonerate the artist than the painting. There is a consensus now that the painter was a victim more sinned against than sinning, that he became an innocent pawn in a game of high-level power politics, and that the inquisition to which the painter and his painting were subjected made a travesty of art criticism. It is not clear, however, how innocent the painting was. Does the painting contain the message it was charged with?
The post-Mao interpretations of the painting invariably involve a reassessment of the 1974 inquisition and remain polarized in their assertions: the painting suffered from either overreading or underreading. For the majority of the apologists, to vindicate the Owl is to stress its iconographic innocence and to insist that the painting contains none of the messages imputed to it. If anything, they claim, it is an expression of a loner or an antihero who nonchalantly eyes the frenzy and turmoil of the time with a half-resigned, half-sneering aloofness, "with one eye open and the other closed." The charge brought against it grossly overstated the case. An opposite opinion, held mostly by Western scholars, while acknowledging the pernicious bigotry of the inquisition, insists on the political-satirical thrust of the painting; in retrospect, these scholars claim, the cultural czars of the Maoist years did not overread the painting, as some argue, but actually underread its "implied political criticism." In spite of the polarity of the assertions, the majority of critics share the same conviction that the painting has an intrinsic cognitive content or a hidden message.
The nature of the case seems to make this assumption almost intractable. The interpretation of a painting here has acquired the character of a quasi-litigation that hinges on evidence, or the lack thereof, on the basis of which the painting is understood. Since the issue at stake is blasphemy, the charge and acquittal all hinge on verbal evidence; in the case of a painting, the verbal evidence is deduced or teased out of the pictorial matrix by reducing the latter to some set of discursive propositions.
The artist's own characteristically strong compulsion toward verbal witticism also makes him particularly susceptible to being perceived as voicing a view or a position through the visual medium. As prolific a writer as he is a woodblock designer and painter, Huang glides from one literary genre to another with perfect ease-moving with facility through poetry, plays, fables, aphorisms, and fiction. In fact, as he admits, his primary passion is writing novels, his second, writing fables, his third, woodblock printing, and his fourth, painting. A consummate artificer of both images and words, he is as eager to give shape to his thoughts through pictures and words as he is inclined to let the two forms of logic cross paths, if not stand in each other's way, which makes his painting all the more suspect of being a cleverly veiled polemic. It is no coincidence that the charge leveled against him by his persecutors follows a typical, albeit crude, iconographic procedure: first noting and singling out prominent visual features, and then matching them with the painter's writing as evidence of the subtext of the picture. To entertain the notion, therefore, that the Owl is unaffected by the artist's well-known loquacious disposition may seem like wishfully looking the other way. So, again, the question comes down to this: Did the painting itself say anything? Does it contain an encoded message?
The owl's wink itself seems to reinforce the impression that the bird's enigmatic expression indeed contains an encoded message. For "to wink," according to the philosopher Gilbert Ryle, "is to try to signal to someone in particular, without the cognisance of others, a definite message according to an already understood code." The overwhelming central frontality of the owl, which claims the viewer's attention, makes explicit the painting's impulse to communicate with the viewer. Believing that the painting was wrongly charged with conveying a message it did not contain, one is likely to go about showing that it in fact means something, but not the kind of meaning that was unfairly imputed to it. This is an occasion for some radical alternative thinking. The enduring assumption that a painting is a deposit of meaning not only got this particular artist into trouble, it has also led art historians into a methodological morass. Wouldn't it be better for us to drop altogether the notion that a painting as such has an intrinsic message or cognitive content?
This is no doubt an old question. The emergence of aesthetic consciousness and artistic autonomy had long ago denigrated the idea of truth in works of art to the extent that there is a "modern embarrassment in even speaking about truth in regard to works of art." In response to this "deep prejudice," philosophers such as Hans-Georg Gadamer have argued that "the experience of art contain[s] a claim to truth which is certainly different from that of science," and that "artistic experience is a mode of knowledge of a unique kind, ... i.e. the transmission of truth." While Gadamer emphasizes the experience of art, instead of locating the truth and knowledge exclusively in the works of art themselves, his dialectical nuance tends to be glossed over in the loud apology for the truth value of art. The popular assertion that art carries a special mode of cognitive truth has hardened into a critical commonplace and orthodoxy. Artistic style is considered by many a "means of communication, a language not only as a system of devices for conveying a precise message ... but also as a qualitative whole which is capable of suggesting ... diffuse connotations as well"; it may reveal "unsuspected levels of meaning" and contain "a particular content" or "an inner content." To argue otherwise is to be suspected of resuscitating the antiquated notion of aesthetic autonomy and its art historical methodological correlative, that is, formalism. This is not my contention. I do not deny that art communicates with its viewer and that the experience of art can result in a cognitive insight. However, I do want to revisit the question of whether in certain types of paintings, that is, paintings devoid of textual or topical reference, such as Huang's Owl, the cognitive content resides in the artwork itself, and whether thinking in this way will do us any good in fully capturing the complex and dynamic communicative process that involves both the artwork and the active participation of the viewer.
This is a difficult negotiation. In making a case for one side, the pendulum may easily swing, out of control, to the other polarity. In recent years, a surging art historical interest taking cues from reception theory has installed the viewer on a pedestal. While this is a salutary move in general, it at times occurs at the expense of-or even to the exclusion of-artworks. Forsaking the old art historical responsibility of explaining why a picture looks the way it does, many of us flock to the side of the spectator and assiduously track down the contingencies and fluctuations of viewers' responses irrespective of the visual efficacy of the artwork itself, as if the latter were inconsequential and irrelevant. The situation runs parallel to the philosophical tension between essentialism and relativism, and the literary-historical dichotomy of textual authority and reader's assertion. The crux is always where and how to find a meeting point between the two. Is there a way we can walk the tightrope without privileging either side? In other words, can we conceive of the work/viewer relationship not as a binary opposition but as a coherent continuum?
While this in itself may not require persuasion, the challenge is always to locate and describe this continuum with some degree of precision. This is what I have in mind in the following inquiry into the Owl case. I want to register two points. First, we will do well to stop talking about the intrinsic meaning or cognitive content in paintings like Huang's Owl; instead, to anchor our interpretation we can substitute for it-and hence identify-the visual effect. This notion, which is methodologically more enabling, will allow us to negotiate more precisely between the artwork and its viewer. Second, in characterizing the communicative process involving the painting and its viewer, instead of positing the painting as a source that beams out an encoded meaning to be picked up by a well informed recipient, unerringly in an ideal situation, we might better conceive of this process as the painting working its visual effect on its contemporary spectators, whose viewing experiences can thus be turned into a cognitive or meaningful process; that is, the painting strikes them in such a way that they are galvanized into thinking their own private thoughts. In short, what resides in the artwork is the mechanism or device that produces visual effect, not meaning or cognitive content; it fulfills itself in the act of viewing that may generate meaning external to it. Our art historical responsibility is to correlate the formal elements in an artwork that produce the effect with the external meaning production that responds to the effect.
The Limits of Iconography, or Iconography of What?
The entrenched assumption that a painting has an "intrinsic meaning or content" and that "the ultimate goal" of interpretation is to "penetrate into" it finds its most compelling exposition in Erwin Panofsky's introduction to iconography. Assessing Panofsky is beyond the purpose of the present endeavor, but suffice it to say that his iconographic method is context-bound in that it is a solution to problems arising from a limited phase of European art, in particular, that of the Renaissance, a figural art that thrives on the creative reintegration of classical themes and motifs across the intervening span of the Middle Ages. The binary opposition and interpenetration of classical pagan mythology and Christian theology, with their corresponding emblematic trappings, figural postures, and period costumes, allow the iconographer to decipher, for instance, a mythological figure in the guise of a Christian saint-that is to say, one system of concepts in the guise of a different period-specific representation, or vice versa, or a combination of two. The objects of Panofsky's iconographic interpretation can therefore be conceived as partaking of a grand masquerade in which a figure or an idea is often poised or cloaked as what it is not. He is thus able to speak of investment of meaning as a matter of in-vestment. There is always an inner something to be unclothed and unpacked. His conception of Netherlands painting as seemingly innocuous natural domestic scenes masking hidden symbolism further testifies to his notion of meaning as an interior deposit.
Panofsky's iconography still remains a powerful tool with regard to the context from which it arose and for figural art in general. He does admit, though, its inadequacy to later artworks, such as "European landscape painting, still-life and genre" -in short, "the later, over-sophisticated phases" in which "content" is derived from the immediate visual efficacy of a straightforward image rather than referentially cloaked, that is, in the guise of a conventional allegory. He does not specify whether such a "content" is still "intrinsic" or not-though this seems to be assumed-nor does he explain how to go about unpacking its iconographic meaning methodically. In any case, the assumption about "intrinsic meaning or content" dies hard; and because of it there is no lack of zealous efforts to "penetrate" or divulge the hidden meaning more or less in the vein of the iconographic scheme. It is this commonly shared assumption that gave the extremist zealots in 1974 the foothold to take the painter of Owl to task.
Let us see how visual effect would be a better guiding principle than "intrinsic meaning" by mapping the owl painting onto Panofsky's well known three-strata scheme. To recall, the first level is a preiconographic identification of the object being represented according to our practical knowledge and daily experience; the second level is identifying the concept or themes associated with an image by relying on the knowledge transmitted in textual sources; the third level is discerning, on the basis of "intuitive synthesis," formal properties as cultural symptoms and extrapolating from them either the "inner meaning or content" or certain "tendencies of the personality, period, or country under investigation."
The first level involves identifying "factual" and "expressional" matters. In the case of Owl we have no problem recognizing the figure as an owl. We do have a problem identifying and characterizing the emotional expression on its face, even though Panofsky thinks "the matter seems simple enough .... Everybody can tell an angry face from a jovial one." To begin with, we are not even sure whether the painting purports to show an anthropomorphized owl winking at the viewer or depicts more faithfully the nocturnal bird's natural disposition of keeping its one eye open and the other closed. The problem is analogous to the hypothetical situation Ryle once envisioned. Suppose, he says, two boys "swiftly contract the eyelids of their right eyes." For the first boy, this is an involuntary twitch; for the second, a wink to an accomplice. Then a third boy, "to give malicious amusement to his cronies, parodies this clumsy wink." To do this well, he needs to practice or rehearse this parodic facial mimicry in solitude. So the same eyelid contraction has four different imports: twitch, wink, parody of a wink, and rehearsal of a parody of a wink. The differences among the four kinds of acts, as Ryle points out, are "unphotographable," and by extension, with regard to our present case, unpaintable. There is no way we can tell whether the owl's expression is a wink or a one-eye-open stare. The uncertainty naturally undermines any interpretation of the painting based on a single identification.
Panofsky does concede that "even in this sphere we encounter a peculiar problem .... Expressions depicted in a work of art may be unrecognizable owing to the incompetence or malice aforethought of the artist." For Huang incompetence is not a problem, whereas "malice aforethought" is often his stock-in-trade. In fact, as we shall see later, part of the rules of the game of the pictorial genre to which Huang's painting belongs is precisely to allow and revel in impish "malice aforethought." What we call visual effect often results from such contingencies.
The second level of iconographic analysis requires knowledge of the conventional associations of the owl in Chinese tradition. We could indeed invoke a range of traditional texts to get a sense of the general Chinese perception of owls in which the owl is considered a harbinger of night, the inauspicious, the world of dreams and nightmares, and the numinous world of death. Even leaving aside the question of how closely ancient texts may bear on a twentieth-century painting and granting the artist's erudite learning, we may bring to bear a more recent campaign to correct the old bias against owls.
Since the late 1950s, the owl's moral character as an agent of dark unknown forces has been recast. In these years, as China experienced drought and famine, it was necessary to do whatever possible to stop voracious sparrows and mice from competing with the starving humans. Nationwide campaigns were launched to kill these destructive birds and rodents. Accordingly owls, the natural enemy of these malevolent creatures, were highly appreciated as "beneficial birds" diligently preying on mice and sparrows. With the ingrained Chinese cultural aversion toward the bird, however, the owl was a hard sell. Its apologists had a lot of explaining to do, and they did this in campaign style. Children's books were written in which owls were described as lovable heroes dutifully guarding the crop fields against marauding medleys of rats and sparrows. The campaigners even made an educational film featuring owls as the protagonists. In this they accomplished the impossible, since shooting film requires glaring light, and owls, nocturnal by nature, were averse to even the dimmest of light. It took extraordinary skill and ingenuity to coax these reluctant, light-dodging birds into the studio and train them, much against their disposition, to swoop down on scurrying mice in the floodlights. The owl's public image was improved, at least among the generation that grew up with the picture books featuring owl heroes. Huang was an active illustrator of children's books, so it is likely that he would have known of these campaigns. Upon his post-Mao exoneration, Huang repainted a number of variations of the 1973 Owl with the inscription: "This is a benevolent bird." So two conflicting associations-the sinister bird of traditional belief and the benevolent bird of the modern campaign-make equal potential claims on the owl image.
The problem is that matching textual sources with the image, as part of a conventional iconographical procedure, fails to take into account the workings of the visual effect of the painting. It represents not only an owl, but one whose look seems to oscillate between a wink and a one-eye-open stare; in fact, we cannot even be sure if the use of the owl is not simply a pretense to put up that enigmatic facial expression. If so, the owlness is only of secondary importance. In other words, we are not sure if it is the owl or the owlish wink-or whatever that is-that should concern us. In any event, each of these identifications would require us to come up with an iconographic match with textual traditions of a winking owl, or a one-eye-open owl, or winks or one-eye-open stares on human faces or other species. Even if we come up with matching texts and conventions, we are still short of accounting for an owl that is none of these, or all of them at once. This unschematic condition is what the visual effect of this painting is all about.
The third level as proposed by Panofsky, compared with the other two levels, is the least regimented in its requirement. It hinges on the "synthetic intuition" and "insight" of a "diagnostician." Its only checks are parallel insights into documents in other spheres. The persecutors of Huang coincidentally followed precisely this procedure. They checked Huang's writings and brought the insight gained therein to bear on his owl painting and diagnosed in it the "tendencies of the personality" of the artist: a disgruntled person nursing a hatred of the socialist status quo. Hence the charge. No doubt, this is a travesty of iconography. But Panofsky's own formulation already betrays a tension between what he sees as the "intrinsic meaning or content" in an artwork and his implicit concession to the primacy of the diagnostician whose "insight" and "synthetic intuition" define a "cultural symptom." In other words, what Panofsky sees as the "intrinsic meaning or content" residing in an artwork is in fact shifted to the diagnostician's "synthetic intuition," which takes over as the locus of meaning production. Panofsky himself had a premonition of "how ... dangerous [it would be] to trust our intuition pure and simple!" Huang's misfortune shows it to be dangerous, indeed.
* Eugene Y. Wang; The Winking Owl: Visual Effect and Its Art Historical Thick Description, Critical Inquiry, Vol. 26, No.3 / Spring, 2000, pp. 435-446.
The Winking Owl: Visual Effect and Its Art Historical Thick Description (Part 2)
The Winking Owl: Visual Effect and Its Art Historical Thick Description (Part 3)
 Fang Dan, "Pi heihua yuanshi cailiao" (The original document of the Castigation of the Black Paintings), Nanbeiji 105 (Feb. 1979): 27; hereafter abbreviated "PH."
 See Huang Yongyu, "Shao Yu he maotouying shijian" (Shao Yu and the owl incident), Jiushi niandai 247 (Aug. 1990): 102.
 See Joan Lebold Cohen, "Art in China Today: A New Freedom-Within Limits," Artnews 79 (Summer 1980): 67; Liang Tianwei, "Huang Yongyu de maotouying fengbo" (The controversy over Huang Yongyu's Owl), in Huang Yongyu et aI., Wushimang luntan (Mr. Much-Ado-About-Nothing's Forum) (Hong Kong, 1989), p. 153; Huang Yongyu, "Shao Yu he maotouying shijian," p. 102; Julia F. Andrews, Painters and Politics in the People's Republic of China, 1949-1979 (Berkeley, 1994), p. 373; and Shelley D. Hawks, "Painting by Candlelight during the Cultural Revolution: Assertions of Autonomy and Expertise in the Battle over Culture" (paper presented at the annual meeting of the American Historical Association, Seattle, Jan. 1998).
 Liang, "Huang Yongyu de maotouying fengbo," p. 153. A slightly different version of Mao's quotation runs: "How can a painting in black [ink] avoid being black? ... An owl by nature keeps its one eye open and the other closed" (Huang Yongyu, "Shao Yu he maotouying shijian," p. 102).
 Critics Group of the Ministry of Culture, "Yige jingxin cehua de fandang yinmo" (An anti-Party scheme: the true story of the Gang of Four's criticism of the Black Paintings), in Jiefa pipan Sirenbang wenxuan (Collected essays on denouncing the Gang of Four), 3 vols. (Hong Kong, 1977), 3:151.
 Joan Cohen points out that Huang "was chosen because of his artistic skill, but the unfairness and absurdity of the 'black paintings' persecution just a few years earlier must have had some weight in the choice" (Cohen, "Three Chinese Artists: Realism and Beyond:' p.69).
 Fang Dan, "Qicai Huang Yongyu (III)" (Huang Yongyu, a rare genius), Nanbeiji 83 (Apr. 1977): 62-63. Fang Dan himself, however, sees the painting as a veiled criticism of Mao's wife. See Fang Dan, "Qicai Huang Yongyu (III)," p. 63.
 Ellen Laing's interpretation of the painting runs:
Painted for a friend, Huang Yongyu's Winking Owl …, it was claimed by his detractors, scoffs at socialism. But the implied political criticism is more acute than this. Although it was not mentioned in the published materials on Huang, the owl in Chinese popular lore and tradition is an ominous bird: "The voice of the owl is universally heard with dread, being regarded as the harbinger of death." The owl was considered "a transformation of one of the servants of the ten kings of the infernal regions, i.e., is a devil in the guise of a bird." As a creature of darkness and ill omen, its power begins on the summer solstice, the day of the sun's greatest strength but also the day the sun begins to wane. The ominous connotations of the owl and the symbolic association that might be made between Mao's waning years and Jiang Qing's waxing political power surely figured in the castigation of this painting and its maker. Further, Huang Yongyu had earlier (1962) gotten into trouble for his "counterrevolutionary" ''Animal Crackers" poems in which he used animals to lampoon political figures. [Ellen Johnston Laing, The Winking Owl: An in the People~ Republic of China (Berkeley, 1988), p. 86]
For Chinese critics' reservations about American scholars' insistence on the "political implications" of the painting, see, for instance, Wan Qingli, "Wo suo zhidao de Huang Yongyu" (Mr. Huang as 1 know him), in Huang Yongyu, ed. Huang Heiman (Hong Kong, 1993), p. iv.
 See Fang Dan, "Qicai Huang Yongyu (I)," Nanbeiji 81 (Feb. 1977): 95.
 See Sha Ming, "Huang Yongyu de manman changlu" (Huang Yongyu's long journey), Jiushi niandai 323 (Dec. 1996): 6.
 Gilbert Ryle, "The Thinking of Thoughts: What Is 'Le Penseur' Doing?" in Collected Papers, 2 vols. (London, 1971), 2:480.
 Richard J. Bernstein, Beyond Objectivism and Relativism: Science, Hermeneutics, and Praxis (Philadelphia, 1983), p. 118; hereafter abbreviated B.
 Hans-Georg Gadamer, Truth and Method, trans. and ed. Garrett Barden and John Cumming (New York, 1975), p. 87.
 Gadamer proposes a model of "play" for describing the experience of art. Play, by virtue of absorbing the players into the rules of the game, erases the dichotomy between the subject and object to the extent that the play itself becomes the "subject." Thus Gadamer is able to overcome Kant's "radical subjectivisation," which is the cornerstone of aesthetic autonomy (Gadamer, Truth and Method, pp. 91, 93, 87; see also B, pp. 120-25).
 The position is summarized in Meyer Schapiro, "Style;' in Anthropology Today: An Encyclopedic Inventory, ed. A. L. Kroeber (Chicago, 1953), pp. 304, 306, 305, 306; italics mine.
 To many art historians, reception theory is misconstrued to be a privileging of the reader (and by extension the viewer), while in fact its leading practitioners are always on guard against the "solipsism and anarchy" of the reader as much as against the "tyranny of the text" (Stanley Fish, Is There a Text in This Class? The Authority of Interpretive Communities [Cambridge, Mass., 1980], p. 7). Its exemplary critical procedures engage the textual mechanism much more closely than is commonly understood.
 Wolfgang Iser was among the first to propose the replacement of "meaning" with "effect" as the primary focus for the study of literary texts (Wolfgang Iser, The Act of Reading: A Theory of Aesthetic Response, trans. pub. [Baltimore, 1978], p. 54). Fish is another major proponent of this shift, activating likewise, in the vein of J. L. Austin, "the replacing of one question-what does this mean?-by another-what does this do?-with 'do' equivocating between a reference to the action of the text on a reader and the actions performed by a reader as he negotiates (and, in some sense, actualizes) the text" (Fish, Is There a Text in This Class? p. 3). Their proposal is now two decades old. Its enduring relevance to art historical inquiry remains to be fully mined.
 See Erwin Panofsky. Studies in Iconology: Humanistic Themes in the Art of the Renaissance (New York. 1962). p. 9; hereafter abbreviated SI.
 For a more recent assessment of Panofsky's iconographic method, see Brendan Cassidy. "Introduction: Iconography, Texts, and Audiences," in Iconography at the Crossroads: Papers from the Colloquium Sponsored by the Index of Christian Art, Princeton University, 23-24 March 1990, ed. Cassidy (Princeton, N.J., 1993). pp. 3-15.
 Henri Zerner alerted me to this point.
 Ryle, "The Thinking of Thoughts," 2:480, 482, 480.
 In the Shang period, the owl was a cultic object, evidenced in the owl motif on Shang bronzes. In Han times, owls were regarded as either foreboding the inauspicious or as agents heralding the passage to the other world in tomb settings. See, for instance, Zhengzhou Municipal Museum, "Zhengzhou Xingtongqiao Handai huaxiang kongxin zhuanmu" (The tomb with brick-tile carvings at Xingtongqiao, Zhengzhou), Wenwu 14 (Oct. 1972): 47, fig. 14: II, 14:13, 14:21. For a discussion of the early Chinese perception of the owl as well as the owl images on the Mawangdui Name Banner, see Liu Dunyuan, "Mawangdui Xi Han bohua zhong de ruogan shenhua wenti" (Some mythological issues in the Western-Han silk painting from Mawangdui), in Hunan Provincial Museum, Mawangdui Hanmo yanjiu (Studies in the Han tomb at Mawangdui) (Changsha, 1979), pp. 281-91. See also Laing, The Winking Owl, p. 86.
 See Huang Yongyu, Huajia Huang Yongyu Xiangxi xiesheng (Sketches of West Hunan by the painter Huang Yongyu) (Changsha, 1982), pI. 22.
 The organizers' caption for the owl painting in the Black Painting Exhibition cites some aphorisms Huang had previously written and uses them as evidence for Huang's subversive intentions. See "PH," p. 27.