Notebook, 1993-

Preface - Way - Principle - Idea - Method - Synthesis - References

[Wong, Wucius. The Tao of Chinese Landscape Painting, Principles & Methods. New York: Design Press. 1991.]


Part One - (cont.)

Between heaven and earth, there is Li, and there is also ch'i. Li is Tao which is beyond physical appearances and forms the basis of living things. Ch'i lies in the substance of physical appearances, and is essential to all living things. Therefore, man and all other living things must possess this Li to acquire their individual natures, and must possess this chÍi to acquire their appearances.

The notion of ch'i, however, was considered the most important quality in a painting by Hsieh Ho, of the fifth century, who put forward the Six Cannons:

1. Infuse ch'i/yün to show life-movement;

2. Establish bone method in using the brush;

3. Respond to matter by creating form;

4. Distinguish objects by applying colors;

5. Arrange elements in appropriate positions;

6. Study earlier examples by copying them.

Artist and art essayists have regarded these canons as the supreme guidelines in painting. The canons determine various goals of artistic pursuit, with the first canon having paramount importance. There have been numerous interpretations of this canon, but put in simple words it means that a painting should breathe with life.

In varying interpretations, ch'i and yün either represent separate concepts or stand as a single term. Ch'i , standing for breath, incorporates such meanings as spirit, energy, and force, all used in a cosmic sense. The Chinese character yün [Fig. 14] can mean organic harmony, concord, charm, resonance, or rhythm. When ch'i and yün function together as a single term, the term refers to the vital breath of harmony, incorporating the meanings of both characters.

In reference to these terms, the Sung painter Kuo Hsi [circa 1020-1090 A.D.] has written the following, which points out their relationship to the way the human body functions:

The mountain has water as its blood, has vegetation as its hair, and has mist and clouds as its looks. Thus the mountain becomes alive with water, exuberant with vegetation, enchanting with mist and clouds. Water has the mountain as its countenance, pavilions as its eyes and brows, and fishermen as its spirit. Thus water acquires charm with mountains, vivacity with pavilions, and profundity with fishermen... Rocks are the bones of Heaven and Earth. Bones should be strong and deeply hidden, and not shallow and exposed. Water is the blood of Heaven and Earth. Blood should circulate freely and not sluggishly.

The notions of ch'i and yün tend to overlap considerably. If regarded as a separate notion, ch'i represents spontaneity and visual movement, one element rhythmically leading to another, marks and tonalities in orchestration, and shape and voids in active interaction. In the same way, yünrepresents organic integration, intrinsic order, and spiritual beauty. With ch'i providing the essential life, activating pulsations, and circulations, the painting achieves yün, expressing internal harmony while emitting a quiet external charm. Furthermore, ch'i constitutes the yang side of the vital breath that affects the viewer with some kind of radiating energy, whereas yünconstitutes the yin side, which absorbs the viewer into the painting, providing him with transcendental satisfaction. [pp. 18, 19]

Appearance and Spirit. Thus the artist, whose primary aim is to generate vital breath in the painting, concerns himself more with the inner spirit of the subject than with its outer appearance. In Chinese art theory, outer appearance is given the character hsing [Fig. 15], also meaning shape, and inner spirit the character shen [Fig. 16], also meaning divinity. Faithful adherence to the outer appearance produces a high degree of realism, but this might be done at the expense of the inner spirit. The Chinese artist, seeing appearance only as a means of achieving spirit, tends to place spirit above appearance, to the extent that appearance is transformed to near abstraction. The Sung poet-painter-calligrapher Su Shih [1036-1101 A.D.] voiced his opinion boldly in the following two lines of a poem:

Judging a painting in terms of appearance
Reveals the mental capacity of a small child.

Successfully capturing the inner spirit of the subject matter in a painting provides the vital breath. The outer appearance might invite the viewer towards an initial appreciation of the painting, but appearance may be forgotten once the viewer is in contact with the inner spirit. [p. 20]

Reality and Truth. Outer appearance consists of everything seen directly by the human eye. Through this particular sense organ, we discover the natural environment, which is one component of objective reality. In Chinese the character shih [Fig. 17] stands for reality but also means mass or solidity, something occupying space in the confinement of time. Reality, in this sense, is the totality of information perceived through the human eye, and the inadequacies of the eye impose strong restrictions on our perception of reality. In fact no two people can see the same reality in quite the same way. In acts of seeing, we tend to focus on certain details to which we are attracted or which we search for, and by doing so we ignore details that might be of interest to other people. We can say that the material world is reality, with an outer appearance that can be seen. When visual information is taken in, it becomes a vision of the particular seer. The seer might regard his or her vision as objective, not modified by preferences and associations. All visions, however, are selective in that at the very moment of seeing, the eyelids determine what can be seen by acting as a frame. The seerÍs varying relationships with varying objects also affect vision. Of course, the Chinese artist working on a painting is not interested in representing reality as such. Instead of representing reality, the Chinese artist pursues truth, or chen [Fig. 18], which is of permanent validity, not what is fragmentarily and momentarily experienced with the eye. Truth, to the artist, is both mass and void, both the material world and the artist as he fuses himself completely with his subject matter. Void is hsü [Fig. 19], the opposite of shih, and is generally considered by artists as more important than mass in a painting. [p. 20]

Sight and Scene. As the artist wanders in nature, he normally searches for a picturesque place or one of special appeal to him. He might paint this with faithfulness to its outer appearance, conveying the sight to a viewer. This sight represents a slice of reality, perceived at a certain location in a certain moment, as objectively as possible.

What the artist paints, of course, is only an illusion: three-dimensional objects given two-dimensional shapes on a two-dimensional surface. But illusion is the vehicle for communication between the artist and the viewer. It results from the artist's effort to merge his individual self or to identify with what is painted. Reality becomes truth as the Chinese artist stresses the inner spirit and presents the elements in an arrangement that complies with the Principle. The image originates in reality, selected and visualized by the artist, but in the process of depiction the artist makes changes as necessary to produce convincing effects.

If the artist, encountering the sight, finds its elements affecting his mood, stimulating his feelings, thoughts, or memories, he may paint a picture with noticeable deviations from what is seen by others. Employing obvious rearrangements, transformations, distortions, special emphasis, exclusions and abbreviations, expressive brushstrokes, or symbolic associations, the artist attempts not to objectively render a sight but to create a scene, although the painting might still convey some degree of illusory realism.

The word sight is represented by the Chinese character ching [Fig. 20], meaning view or landscape. The word scene is represented by another Chinese character, also confusedly pronounced as ching [Fig. 21], meaning state or situation. The notion of scene has its origin in literary criticism, which stresses the importance of permeating everything seen with emotions of the heart. The following quotation comes from Carving a Dragon on the Literary Heart, a book by a famous literary critic, Liu Hsieh [465-520 A.D.]:

Ascending the mountain, flood this mountain with emotions. Gazing at the sea, overflow this sea with ideas. [p. 21]

A scene results from fusion of the artist's self with his subject matter. In creating the scene, the artist must be conscious of his own being, as a person who sees, thinks, feels, and does the painting. He often attempts to identify his self with elements in his work, such as mountains, representing eternal existence, or vegetation representing impermanence. He must recognize his individual self, which distinguishes him from all others. Self is represented by the Chinese character wo [Fig. 22], simply meaning I or me.

As early as the third century, painter and calligrapher Wang I asserted the importance of the individual self in writing:

Painting is what I do as painting.
Calligraphy is what I do as calligraphy.

In the eighth century, Chang Tsao made the following statement, since regarded as the supreme guideline in Chinese painting:

My extxernal mentor is Nature; my internal source is the mind-heart.

Fan K'uan, in the early eleventh century, extended this view by saying that learning from others is not as good as learning from nature, and that learning from nature is not as good as learning from the heart.

In the above quotations, the term mind-heart is represented by the Chinese character hsin [Fig. 23], which constitutes the essential part of the self, where feelings and emotions dwell and where thoughts originate. In contemporary speech we regard mind and heart as two distinct entities, with heart associated with feelings and emotions and mind associated with all thinking activities, but in the Chinese philosophy they are generally combined into one term.

A further part of the self is personality, described with the Chinese character hsing [Fig. 24], also meaning disposition or the intrinsic nature of a person. Personality does not exist on the self-conscious level, but it determines the way and the force with which a mind-heart responds to situations and events. It also affects behavior, largely inherited but shaped by parents, by education, and by the continuous acquisition of knowledge and experience. [p. 22]

NOTE: To be continued:
Feelings and Emotions
Cultivation of Personality
Scholarship and Experience

Materiality and Immateriality
Idea and Spontaneity



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