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The Nature Of Chinese Landscape Painting English Literature Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: English Literature
Wordcount: 3433 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

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Every landscape art from a different ethnic group has its own process and perspective of nature. But when looking at Chinese landscape paintings, artists express nature with subtle meanings when they found these elements in nature upon their views, which leads them to wander in their imagination through the landscape. We can enjoy a Chinese landscape painting as a “pure aesthetic experience” (Sullivan, “Symbols” 2) the same way we enjoy music. For thousands of years, since the T’ang Dynasty, Chinese landscape paintings have been known as being descriptive for being both a very detailed expression of nature and a way in which emotions were brought towards nature. The early paintings were influenced by the Confucianism, but it later found inspiration in Taoists. It started with men who escaped the mundane world to explore nature. Along the way, landscape painting became a way to show poetry in nature. The painting of the landscape is not able to separate from its form of painting in nature because it needs to be together in order to have the whole meaning to itself. However, paintings have become the meaning of an “air of living nature, of harmony and peace” (Sullivan, “Symbols” 1) which was brought from the inner landscape that artists express through their soul and mind. As a result, the Chinese were inspired from the history of art and began to create landscape paintings and express them from their unique perspective that they discovered in nature.

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By focusing on a Chinese landscape painting, the viewer will see a spiritual passage from one stage to another, which is difficult to interpret. Scholars express the passage in details such as one of the traditional classic images of a landscape which was described as poetry: “one of these lucid, bristling trees, its darkly tenacious braches seeming to open up a fissure in the sky” (Denny). This image was said in true knowledge that came with the views from scholars. The spirit that’s inside nature provides clues to Chinese landscape paintings so that people can see them in ways to describe them. Landscape painting is “deliberately adopting a quirk of style” (Sparling) because it is given with respect and to deepen the meaning of the art of nature that is painted. Many artists influenced others on landscape paintings and that shows how many different ideas were passed on over time, which later landscape paintings will changed both the way they see nature and they way they paint.

The Style and Techniques of Chinese Landscape Paintings

Landscape painting has its style and techniques that artist have their approaches to art from nature. Artists refer “horizontal rectangle” (Denny) as a landscape painting format because this is the way they see nature in a wider range; the scope of nature is view from right to left or left to right. It seems to imply that the nature is viewed “less as an inert sprawl of unconnected objects and more like a living being” (Denny) because when artists draw a landscape, they don’t draw it with motional objects such as trees were blown by the wind, but they draw the object naturally still, just like the way they are. The Chinese felt nature is a place to live in, which brings to mind that the “calligraphic gesture enabled natural forces to flow, from the ink through the hand and brush and onto the silk or paper and using color very sparingly” (Brenson). Using hand motions from calligraphic brushes was one of the special types of technique that they have been using from time to time for practices. Artist created a special feeling of motion while painting with the brush because it represented the inner spirit of an art. The Chinese have their own image and content that compares other types of landscape paintings. Nevertheless, the Chinese use unique appearances on their paintings such the form of the brush, ink, paper, and ink stone. These essential appearances used on Chinese landscape paintings make it unique and special to paint elements in nature, which is symbolized in the Chinese culture.

Emotions and Mood towards Different Ways to Interact with Chinese Landscape Paintings

Different artists use different styles of painting in landscape painting from the way they feel towards nature. The boneless style of painting in calligraphy is painting the landscape in a natural way with a continuous perspective. The linear style includes trees and the landscape itself that are painted in a wash of red that is brushed over some parts of the mountains. Nevertheless, there are artists that paint with styles that overlap. Artists painted landscapes that stands out to the universe and it was developed to a detailed method of brushstrokes, which applies to the surface of the landscape: a famous artist, Gou Xi, paints landscape that uses “vigorous brush work and clear ink-and-wash style” (Ci 89), which he used it on mountains and rocks by using light ink strokes. Another famous artist, Gong, drew mountains that show metaphors for his own mind that emphasize meditation in nature. In this landscape painting, it says “looking around and looking back over my long life” (Brenson), which allows him to feel that he could find an element in landscape for everything he could express with in his heart and mind. An artist, Synder, has his own view on landscape painting which is different from others’. He “walks the space of landscape painting as if they were actually under his feet” (Hunt 20). He pictures the paintings in his imagination as if he is actually inside the landscape, which is unique.

Communicating about Chinese Landscape Painting in Many Points of Perspectives

The Chinese seek landscape paintings as an advanced form of a visual art, which they communicate with emotions, thoughts, and other types of feelings together in an ideological way. Besides seeing figures and elements on the painting, it is also seen as a rich language to speak out strong emotional and poetic feelings that had been expressed deeply through philosophical and metaphysical ideas. From the experience that painters have in nature, do they really paint what they see? Researchers find painters “use a succession of images that are quite clear and unambiguous in themselves, but they leave hovering, as it were, in some unspecified time and space, so that we are often not sure who or what is the subject of his verse” (Sullivan, “Symbols” 14) because artists’ sometimes paint a landscape that may seem familiar to people. However, they don’t leave any information for the viewers and leave them to figure out on their own, but there’s a meaning behind it on each landscape painting. Scholars are able to understand it well without any given information because they spend years of practice and exploring what they found in nature. Painters take one perspective and view it in three sides in nature which will give them a greater view of perspective with connections between them: “remoteness in height, remoteness in depth, and remoteness in horizon” (Ci 19) because they see it in the distance of connection of every point of perspective such as the size and how deep is the painting. Sometimes, it depends on the scope of the person’s interest that is viewing this painting and shows how much they know about this painting.

The Discovery of Symbolisms of each Element in Landscape Paintings

As scholars viewed these paintings, they discovered that the symbolism of each element in the landscape painting has its meaning. The characteristic of Chinese landscape has a rich meaning into it; the meaning of “mountain and water” which symbolizes “all the aspect of nature,” (Sullivan, “Symbols” 4) which enables people to view the harmonious and peaceful painting and understands it. The symbolism was seen through the contrast of the black ink on white paper or silk in calligraphy. The mountain represents a “long life” and water presents “the sea of happiness”; when they are created in a combination of elements as a whole because together, they symbolize “a long happy life” (4), which creates a spirit in every individual who has this belief. Nevertheless, the mountains are a symbol that “allowed different kinds of political statement” and a symbol of “a world beyond politics” (Brenson) because the motif of landscape paintings are mountains and river, which symbolize their “Han Chinese world and continuous history from ancient times; it is the way that no Europeans landscape motif can” (Sparling) because they have different cultural backgrounds that have different beliefs in nature. For example, the Chinese see clouds as a symbolism of good fortune and happiness but the western culture sees them differently in their landscape painting. This shows that the elements in the Chinese landscape painting is much more than an art because it also shows what these elements mean to them in life and how they can reflect their belief to society.

The Interaction of Mountains

At times, the Chinese will have some sort of feeling towards mountains in another point of perspective. Additionally, they act towards mountains in different ways from each of the individuals. In their imaginary thoughts, mountain that are universal and distinct from the earth such as the Mount Kunlun is “darkness, dread, transformation, and revelation” (Brenson) because it is how they feel towards them in a negative way. They believe that appearances will change in nature from this form because of the frightful point of perspective they see in mountains that is far away from earth, which is not connected to god or the religious view they believe in. In such landscape paintings that show these perspectives of mountains, scholars can understand that “Emperors made sacrifices on mountains” (Benson) because they see mountains are an acceptance to gods of haven. However, it was a practice in the ancient times when kings still existed. Mountains are more powerful than other spirits in nature such as the wind, clouds, and rain. Taoists and Buddhists went to mountains for “prayer and purifications” and artist saw “wisdom and solace” (Brenson) in them because Buddhists connect mountains to the feelings and ideas of Buddha’s enlightenment and what artists sees from the paintings are real, which it seems wise from what was seen through the Buddha’s view. In the Chou Dynasty, mountains were known as a natural formation which is like a piece of material in the universe and describes as “shamanistic shafts connecting heaven and earth” (Brenson) because the mountain is a long pole that has a body of spear and arrows it sprouts from the surface of the earth to the sky. The sense that is inside of nature is rich, such as the relationship of a close or intimate nature; every elements and details that’s in landscape painting has a close relationship among each other, which it forms a rich meaning together because they connects.

The Sense and Mood of Trees

Painters also have different sense and mood towards other elements in nature such as trees. Because in the scenery of landscape painting, trees are connected to mountains, valley, and rivers to make the whole painting more reliable to nature and it is very worthy for trees to be represented in the painting. There are two different groups of leaved trees: “broad leaves will be trees like maple, plane, and catalpa, and Narrow leaves are lime, sycamore, tulips trees” (Sullivan, “Chinese” 140), which they are painted in details because when people look at the painting, they can see what type of leaves that are painted and understand the specific type of leave that is painted to relate to the view that the painter thought in his mind.

A Pine tree is a special type of tree in Chinese landscape paintings; they are special that painters can paint them in any season because they are unchangeable from their beliefs. Using appropriate color or using any ways to paint pine trees is not a problem because “the painter can express himself, and the spirit of the pine trees, in ink and brush alone” (Sullivan, “Chinese” 142); painters express themselves through every aspect in nature and especially in trees because they see tree as a life that was given by the gods of heaven. Pine trees are the trees that are mostly painted in Chinese landscape. They represents the “endurance of human spirit in old page or adversity; the old tree, stripped to its core and symbolizes of essential integrity, is generally a pine or a cypress” (141) because scholars believe that human spirit can last because they are known as an old tree since they exist in Chinese landscape painting in all seasonal paintings. The pine tree is perfect for its being in nature because of the form, which it is being its very nature.

Perspectives of Gardens, Rocks, and Water

Other elements in nature are gardens, which painters paint through their imagination because their minds think how gardens would adopt to the fields of nature like trees, plants, and rocks on that field; the gardens are like a small field of the bigger outside nature. Additionally, artists needs to know how stones should be placed in water valleys or rivers to “narrow or widen the channel and thus alter the rate of low of the water” (Sullivan, “Chinese” 84) because in Chinese landscape, stones are often place above water levels and rocks have to fit in the right place of the water pathway; therefore, painters would need to see the exact dimension and measure to paint water ways and rivers in order to fit the rock in correctly.

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The rocks that are usually painted, are live stones which “eroded by action of water into fantasize shapes” (Sowerby 154); when water acts upon rocks, there’s a motion where the water hits the rock in a surface and splashes away like when sea level changes as time changes in the ocean areas. Water also acts upon rocks in many ways; especially the waterfall that comes towards and hits the surface of the rock. Once rocks are well known to painters, they use them in their homes as objects of art and stones are special types of rocks for them to use for art. Nevertheless, rocks and mountain peaks are essential to nature and are self-contained, which they have a spirit of its own.


In seascapes, the ocean has a boundary because it is a “limitless expanse stretching to the edges of the world” (Sullivan, “Chinese” 98). The ocean spreads to other water pathways and other water areas which will eventually lead to all over the world because the earth is surrounded by surfaces of lands and spaces for water to move around them. The seascapes are the “realm of myth and legend” (98) because it was dominated by one region of nature as whole meaningful scenery, which it separates from other regions in nature. For example, artists cannot “paint mountains without trees or water, or mist without mountains” (98) because it will not mean anything about nature.

Chinese Landscape Painting view in Philosophy’s perspectives

The Chinese believe they have a “little sympathy for immaturity, or for a romantic view that sees nature as a projection of the artist’s own emotion” (Sullivan, “Symbols” 11) because Chinese landscape was expressed with emotions through many landscape paintings. However, looking at nature romantically, it depends on the type of landscape that will give a romantic feeling towards the painters. The romantic feelings can exist naturally between two people which they might feel the same way towards nature. The Chinese also believe that “the older the Chinese painter grew, the deeper grew his understanding, the richer his art” (12) because the painter has a lot of experience and relationship with Chinese landscape as time passes, which they will have a stronger understanding about nature and the painting itself. The painting is master pieces that kept for generations because of its richness and what was really behind the painting of landscape.

Guo Xi believes that Chinese landscape painting should give viewers a “feeling as if they were present on the scene, where they can take a stroll, feast their eyes, have fun and take a brief talent; therefore, he encourages the painters to travel extensively and observe everything closely in an effort to learn from nature” (Ci 9) because he wants people to feel the same way he feels towards nature and understand that nature is significantly pleasurable. He says the reason why people enjoy the view of mountains and rivers was that these landscapes make them “feel close to the hermits living as fishermen and wood loggers in isolation to the troublesome world” (89) because in order to adapt to their way of living, they would need their lands by the area of water where they can farm and fish to keep them to survive. During the dynasty periods, their standard way of living was doing work at home and in farm fields such as chopping woods, gathering plants and rice weeds, and fishing. Fan Kuan believes that “nature is a better teacher than people” (92) because artists and other viewers can get knowledge by looking at the landscape painting in details and express them broadly so that they can learn and understand in every perspective in nature.

Religion’s view in Nature

Buddhism and Taoists discovered nature with the Chinese philosophy and found their perspective in nature through their own beliefs. Buddhism and Taoists found “common ground in their search for beautiful spots for their temples and retreats and in their desire to cleanse the mind of worldly thoughts and craving thoughts communion with nature” (Sullivan, “Symbols” 26), which it enables them to be in a better environment and adapt to a beautiful area in nature to practice their religion. It makes them to feel more clean because the view of nature stands out, which the beautiful landscape will change their view in their way of life and from then, they appreciates what gods of heaven have given them. They also believes that “the truth has to be sought in the mountain inspired many poets and painters to go wandering around to see the nature outside” (26) because mountains were special objects to people, which they show respect and allows them to express their feelings respectfully.

Chinese landscape painting had changed over the time, especially in 1920s; painters came with new ideas of landscape painting to nature that have changed significantly in society. People’s positions towards landscape have changed profoundly because mountains and steams are no longer an object to observe or study thoughtfully; therefore, the viewer “must lose himself and forget the dusty world” (Sullivan, “Symbols” 182) because revolution had changed the way nature looks, so painters had found new land and mediums to paint onto their landscape work. The new technologies such as Chinese architecture had interred and painters have found new perspectives of landscape to paint. However, the life of mountains, rivers, and other elements in nature has become the legacy and China’s powerful strength, which it is remembered and remained as a strong puissant source of inspiration for artists from before and still to the present day. Chinese landscape has the spiritual characteristics in paintings and the artists’ ability to place open to view the inner harmony of nature. Chinese landscape painting is the legacy of “mind landscape” (Moffat) which it is known to learn through expressions and feelings, and through calligraphic brush work, the spirit that artists has. Nevertheless, Chinese export Chinese landscape painting to the western world and was passed to the modern Chinese artists which is the legacy to continue to practice Chinese landscape paintings and express through metaphysics poetry.


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