AAS Member Spotlight: Frank L. Chance

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Dr. Frank L. Chance, Associate Director for Academics, Center for East Asian Studies, University of Pennsylvania (Retired)

History of Art, primarily of Japan but also of Korea and China. 

How long have you been a member of AAS?

I joined in 1989 when I was in graduate school.

Why did you join AAS and why would you recommend AAS to your colleagues?

I joined AAS in order to network with colleagues, to attend conferences, and to get access to a wide range of materials on Asia.  It has also been helpful in job searches, and of course the book displays at the annual conferences have stocked my shelves. 

How did you first become involved in Asian Studies?

I grew up in Kansas City, and began to be interested in Asia during my high school years, when I hung out at the Nelson Gallery and Atkins Museum.  I got serious about Asia when I took a course titles “Oriental Philosophy” at the University of Kansas, then followed that up with courses on East Asian (then called Oriental) Art.  My first Japanese art history professor challenged me to learn the language, and I believe I far surpassed her expectations.  

What do you enjoy most or what have been your most rewarding experiences involving your work in Asian Studies?

Traveling to Japan, China, and Korea has been extremely rewarding to me—I made new friends, found new tastes in food and drink, and generally enjoyed myself immensely while I was there.  Of course, the ability to get close up and personal with the art works that I originally studied from books and photographs was a great experience as well.  

Tell us about your current or past research.

My first serious research was on Japanese prints and sword furniture at the University of Kansas, and I moved on to work on tea ceramics at the Nelson Gallery before completing my MA.  In Japan, I studied ceramics, tea, and of course the language intensively for five years while supporting myself by teaching English. In the PhD program at the University of Washington, I worked on literati painting, completing a dissertation on the painter Tani Bunchō (1763-1841) in 1986. Since then I have written about Japanese paintings, prints, architecture, and ceramics. I am currently working on an introductory textbook for Korean art, tentatively titled Korean Art: A Comparative History. I also participate in a working group practicing (and learning and teaching) the reading of cursive Japanese texts using unconventional orthographies. 

What advice or recommendation do you have for students interested in a career in Asian Studies?

Learn the languages well but quickly is essential. Of course, that can best be achieved by immersion in one of the Asian cultures, but immersion is not enough—you also need to study diligently and find a good mentor who will help you discover the inner workings of the language. 

Outside of Asian Studies, tell us some interesting facts about yourself.

I play chess for fun, and take photographs both for my personal edification and for professional documentation.  In addition, I have a collection of about 200 saké cups from Japan, China, and Korea, as well as the basic equipment required for tea ceremony presentations, which I practice in the tearoom I built in my 1904 home in Philadelphia.  And, for the record, I have seen every Godzilla movie, including Bambi meets Godzilla.

"...immersion is not enough—you also need to study diligently and find a good mentor who will help you discover the inner workings of the language."

— Frank Chance