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Chinese Landscape Painting
An Unique Culture Grown from An Unique Land

18 May 2009
 

Traditional Chinese painting with brush and ink is considered as an extension of calligraphy, a more abstracted art form. This unique style of landscape painting is restrained and subtle in colour, but bold and daring in perspective, pursuing to illustrate not the world we see but the world we sensually feel or conceptually perceive, which ironically can be a more honest approach to portray and reflect the reality.

Starting as a setting for human dramas and closely related to the other crafts, such as pottery, bronze ware and jade articles, Chinese landscape painting became an independent form of expression since the 4th century, and reached its dazzling height during the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and the Ming Dynasty (1468 - 1644), when a large number of the monumental works in Chinese visual culture history were created.

Like most other fine Chinese arts - music, dance and poetry for instance - painting is regarded by ancient Chinese as a way to articulate their philosophical understanding of the cosmos in general and the world around in particular, and a tool to help cultivating spiritual development.

From traditional Chinese point of view, tombs are the tunnels to the world under that is ruled by the force of yin, and mountains are the passages to the world above which is dominated by the power of yang, so on the Eight Trigrams panel of the mystical Wonder Gate (奇门遁甲), Death Gate (死门) is located in the Earth Graph (坤), while Life Gate (生门) is situated opposite in Mountain Graph (艮). Therefore it is not surprising to find that the typical Chinese landscape paintings are normally centred on mountains, since which are the places that inspire high aspirations.

In fact, many mountains in China, especially the ones crowded with Daoist temples or Buddhist monasteries, have distinctive qualities that are seldom seen elsewhere on the planet. The configurations of the hills often appear to be uncanny, and the atmospheres in the mountains rather peculiar.

Zhangjiajie (张家界) National Park in China's Human Province (湖南), a misty scene after rain on 5 May, 2009

Mt. Lu (庐山) in Jiangxi Province (江西) hills in eerie shape shrouded in haze

横看成岭

侧成峰

It looks like a gentle slope when watching in front

It appears like a soaring cliff when viewing sideways

A close up view of the Zhangjiajie rocky hills

Mt. Yellow (黄山), in Anhui Province (安徽). However this is not Chinese landscape, but Chinese landscape painting produced by contemporary Chinese artist Zhang Dequan

远近高低各不同

 

不识庐山真面目,只缘身在此山中。

The hills, some emerge nearby, others loom in the distance; some reach lofty heights, others assume a humble statues

We are unable to see the entire mountain range, for we are confined within the mountain scope.

It is the unique land that has bred the unique culture, but it is also the unique culture that has shaped the unique land, especially, the mountains. The blueprint of the reality is in our mind, after all.

心随境转即为凡, 心能转境即是圣。

(Photo: 龙弘涛, xinhuanet.com)

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Traditional Chinese Painting

伏闻古人云:'画者圣也。'盖以穷天地之不至,显日月之不照。挥纤毫之笔,则万类由心;展方寸之能,而千里在掌。至于移神定质,清墨落素,有象因之以立,无形因之以生。

--朱景玄 ((841-846))
唐朝翰林学士,苏州人

The highest achievement of painting is to show that can't be seen through mortal eyes, to display that aren't tangible in existence. Using a tiny brush, a great artist can manifest all things in the universe on paper, and bring everything in reality and beyond before his eyes. In the moment when he gets his heart settled, and his mind focused, with subtly-coloured ink leaving its skillfully controlled marks on a white background, the tangibles emulated, the intangibles visualised.

-- Quote by Zhu Jinhong (841 - 846)
An Imperial Scholar in Tang Dynasty
a Suzhou native


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