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 Five


Realizing Land
Realizing Water
Realizing Atmosphere
Realizing Vegetation

T E X T - [NOTE: The visuals from the original text are not yet provided]
Ideally speaking, a finished painting shows the artist's attunement to the Way, or Tao [see Part One]; understanding of the Principle, or Li, which guides the operations of nature [see Part Two]; implementation of his ideas, or i [see Part Three]; and application of appropriate methods, or fa [see Part Four], resulting in a synthesis. Synthesis implies a fundamental transformation of the ingredients rather than a simple combination. In the painting, every element of nature becomes a brush mark, every brush mark contributes to the pictorial rhythm, and every rhythm represents an expression of the artist's thoughts and feelings. With a final synthesis attained, there is no method but the artistÍs personal method, there is no style but the artist's individual style.

The Chinese represent synthesis with fundamental transformation by the character hua [Fig. 542], which literally means a state of dissolving or melting. In particular, hua denotes the accomplished state of thoroughly integrating all the inheritance from the tradition, all instructions of the mentor, and all influences from other sources, in an ultimate transformation whereby the artist establishes his own method. Monk Shih-tÍso explains this notion in the following passage:

Tradition stands for all the means to gain knowledge. Synthesis is to know all such means without following any of them. The regrettable thing is that when an artist is trapped inside the tradition, he is imprisoned by the knowledge and therefore unable to achieve synthesis. If the artist's aim is to seek resemblance of what is contained in the knowledge, he has not got a wide view. An accomplished artist should not concern himself with methods, for no method is the ultimate method. All different methods are to be synthesized, but after the synthesis those methods become no method.

Hua is usually associated with pien, another Chinese character [Fig. 543], which means change. Joined together to form one single term, pien and hua mean transformation. Pien however, simply denotes change without incorporating the idea of synthesis.

In this last part of the text, all of the paintings featured are my own work. By their inclusion, I do not mean to claim that I have achieved full synthesis. My work represents only an attempt at synthesis. But it is far easier for an artist to explain his own work than the work of others, and my explanations pertain to the subjects and the compositions, making whenever possible reference to what has been discussed previously in the text. [p. 145]

The process of synthesis leads to the special interfusion of the artist's mind-heart and the subject. The subject may exist in the external world, a majestic mountain commanding the artist's attention. The artist can portray this mountain based on direct observation. He can also paint the mountain as if it exists inside his mind-heart, where it can be seen with his inner eye from all angles and distances, and where it can be explored through different spiritual journeys. In this case the painting represents a realization, which means that something inside the mind-heart is externalized naturally, becoming a new kind of reality. Realization, represented by the Chinese character hsien [Fig. 544], is possible only with the pre-existence of elements constituting the subject inside the artist's mind-heart. The subject could be a chosen aspect of land, water, atmosphere, vegetation, or a combination, and it merges fully with the artist's self as synthesis takes place. Regarding this notion, Chang Huai of the Sung Dynasty wrote the following passage around the Twelfth century:

A painting attaining the Principle should conform to the naturalness of nature and investigate the mystery of matter. In this way, the artistÍs mind-heart fuses with the subjects as the spirit permeates them, incorporating the rhythms of movement and stillness. The effecting of a brush line can then lead to realization of innumerable forms, with shapes and textures pulsating, and the entire piece of work breathing with life force.

[pp. 145-146]

Realizing Land. Land dominates our landscape vision, for it provides artists with probably the widest range of visual experiences. The different manifestations of nature--land, water, atmosphere, and vegetation--are very much interrelated, however, and the artists rarely paint one of the manifestations to the exclusion of the others.

In realizing land, artists represent the variety of land formations by juxtaposing convexity and concavity, by extending height and depth, and by contrasting earthiness and rockiness. They use the open-and-close and rise-and-fall spreading forces of mountains, and the tonal orchestration of light/dark patterns, to generate pulsating rhythms. Depicting water in streams, rivers, springs, or waterfalls, or the presence of atmosphere as fleeting clouds or veiling mist, helps to introduce a stronger sense of movement. Vegetation enhances detail treatment while marking the season.

Thus, paintings that illustrate the realization of land usually include water, atmosphere, or vegetation. While water may be totally absent, mist occurring in the gaps between land masses, and moss dots as simple accentuations are almost unavoidable in Chinese landscape expressions. . . . [on to discussion of specific works . . . .] [pp. 146- ]

Realizing Water. Land generally represents the uncompromising and unyielding strength of a person, stands for hope and aspirations, and provides stability and permanence. Water, however, symbolizes change and irrecoverableness, and has greater emotional overtones. It can be calm and flat as a mirror, showing reflections, but in most instances water flows with a definite direction, never washing the same shore twice. As it moves on continuously, water pounds against land formations and often erodes them. It acts as a powerful shaping force in spite of its soft liquidity. Here is how Kuo Hsi describes the various aspects of water:

Water is a living thing. Its shape could be deep and calm, soft and smooth, broad and stretching, meandering and encircling, full and slippery, gushing and spraying, rushing and radiating, diverting into many springs, flowing into the far distance, hanging down from the sky as falls, hitting and splashing the ground, reposeful with presence of fishermen, delightful with vegetation, displaying charm with mist and clouds, or sparkling with light from the sun. Such aspects give water its life.

Realizations of water can emphasize its rippling patterns [which reveal its state of calmness or agitation], its direction of flow, and its speed of progression. Water widens and narrows, bends and jumps, becomes visible and is hidden, and merges and splits, but all of its forms occur in association with the land that frames it or shapes its course. . . . [on to discussion of specific works . . .[pp. 154- ]

Realizing Atmosphere. Atmosphere is present in any landscape as the air immediately above the surface of land or water. Air is transparent and invisible. Air carrying moisture becomes translucent and even completely opaque, seen as mist and clouds, which can be effective elements in a composition. In Figures 548, 549, and 561, mist and clouds introduce large areas of void, which lead to a redistribution of weights and transformation of materiality into immateriality.

It is rare for atmosphere to be the only subject featured in a painting . . . . [on to discussion of specific works . . .[pp. 164- ]

Realizing Vegetation. Vegetation does not have to be explicit in a landscape painting. Figures 546 and 552 both treat subjects abstractly, and vegetation is totally absent. Introducing vegetation in the form of moss dots may add rhythmic effects and richness of texture without making direct reference to the objective reality. Trees and shrubs, however, help to enhance naturalism by defining the season and suggesting scales of different elements.

It is possible to feature vegetation as the exclusive subject in a painting. Flowers [probably with birds or insects] constitute a large category completely separate from landscape painting, however, as do plum trees and bamboos. Trees can be given special prominence in a landscape, always in conjunction with some land formations.

I seldom include large trees in my work for they tend to diminish the scale of all other elements in a painting.. . . . [on to discussion of specific works . . .[pp. 168- ]



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