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Friday, February 19, 2010

Painting the Inner Space…..Landscape of the Soul

“I paint objects as I think them, not as I see them” -Picasso

The lesson “Landscape of the Soul” deals with a comparative study of European and Chinese paintings. It touches upon various subtleties of reality and art. Art is one of the forms of expression like poetry, music and dance. All these forms of expression have an abstract nature as they can’t be defined and have to be felt or experienced. The lesson has three important areas of discussion: anecdotes related to Chinese and European painting, Daoism and how one of the philosophical doctrines of Daoism called “Shanshui” is reflected in Chinese paintings.


The lesson starts with an anecdote related to Chinese painting where an emperor commissions a painter named Wu Daozi to paint a landscape. Once the painting is ready, the emperor is invited and he appreciates the painting looking at the forests, high mountains, waterfall, clouds and men on hilly paths, birds in flight etc. in the painting. The painter is not satisfied and he invites the attention of the emperor towards a cave in the painting inside which he says dwells a spirit. The painter claps his hands and the entrance to the cave opens. The painter says, “The inside is splendid, beyond anything words can convey. Please let me show your Majesty the way”. The painter enters the cave and disappears. The painting too disappears from the palace wall.

What does this tale mean? Such tales were very common in China’s classical education. It was through such stories great masters made abstract concepts concrete. Such tales reveal that art has an inner life, meaning or soul. Only when one is able to see that inner life, one can understand its true meaning. The emperor had appreciated the painting only from the outer, the external. He could see the body of the painting whereas the painter showed him the soul, the inner life and meaning of the painting. Art and artist are one. Creator and creation are one and there can be no separation. Once a master was asked by a disciple, “Where has the creator gone after creating all these?” The master replied, “The creator is inside the creation”.

Chinese paintings are based on the philosophy of Daoism. Dao means “path or way”-the way into the mystery of the universe. The emperor may rule over territories, but the artist alone knows the way within. Life makes no meaning unless we undertake the inner, spiritual journey. It is said “Those who look out dream, those who look in wake up”. When Wu Daozi said, “let me show you the way”, he meant the way to the inner meaning of art or mystery of the universe. This is the spirit of Chinese paintings. They do not reproduce an actual view, but uses a real landscape to say something more. A Chinese painter, therefore, wants the viewer to take plural view points to enter into his painting and travel in it. He wants our active participation, not only physical but mental. His landscape is not a copy of a real landscape; it is a representation of an inner reality, a spiritual and conceptual space. According to Daoism, this universe is composed of two complementary poles, viz. Yin (feminine) and Yang (masculine). The interaction of these two energies makes the universe. Their meeting point too holds great significance though often overlooked. In Daoism, Landscape is called “Shanshui” (Shan-mountain, Shui-water) but it doesn’t represent a real landscape but the Daoist view of the universe. To understand Chinese paintings, one must understand Daoism. A Chinese landscape is based on the philosophical doctrines of Daoism. So, the mountains and water in the Chinese painting is representative of Shanshui and the unpainted space is representative of the middle void where the interaction between Yin and Yang takes place. Man is the medium of communication between the two complementary poles of the universe and you can see his presence too in the Chinese paintings.


European paintings follow delicate realism by reproducing an actual view of realtiy. The more close it is to the real, the better. The landscape in a European painting is a copy of the real landscape. It doesn’t represent an inner reality or meaning. It tries for an illusionistic likeness with the real. A European painter wants the viewer to choose a single view point and it requires no active mental participation of the viewer.


The tales related to European paintings reveal it clearly. In the story of Quinten Metsys, the painting was appreciated as the fly on the panel looked exactly like a real one. The same holds good for the story about the frightening likeness of a dragon to the real which repelled the painter himself from drawing its eye.

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23 comments:

sonalika said...

thank u sir!
this chapter 'landscape of the soul' was the 'soul of my confusion' in hornbill!
i was also hving some doubts in this chap. but now i hv understood the soul of "landscape of the soul" n ur article has driven out the 'soul of my confusion!!!

sonalika this side.

lucky said...

Shubhangi here sir!

i dint know that ther's even an article on these many lessons from our text,so couldn't see it earlier..but its rly gonna help us in our preparation.
thanks again sir!

damma said...

Till now i don't know about a Chinese and European painting and also I don't know the soul of the art.From this lesson I have learned the spirit of art.please print some other history lessons.Thank u a lot
sir.Bey.....!

Jeevan said...

Thank u so much sir. I couldn't understand the latter part of the story i.e. the last para of the story . Thanks to u , it's easier to understand now.

Jeevan

bj said...

sir what is the meaning of "middle void" in the story . please define it to me

rakesh said...

thnks i really needed such an article

Aditya Kumar said...

Thank u sir . Ur article was like a hero in the Indian films for me who comes and saves the heroine when she is in ultimate trouble. Ur article is quite informative and rather the best .

Thank u sir .....

pratikpaul70 said...

sir,i m studing in class 12th and have already studied this chapter.But whwn i read this blog of yours,m feeling that its a complete different story... Thank u sir

neha said...

sir thankyou very much
i also had a problem in understanding the story but it it is correct but can u explain me the meaning of last para of story

Tanuj Goyal said...

thank u sir to understand this lesson

June said...

Thank You Sir....
i had not understood some part of the lesson..
n thanks 2 this...now i hav understood it completely....:)

Asim said...

thank u so much sir
this article helped me a lot in understanding this lesson right from the bottom of it's 'soul' ...
now i can look at the chapter from a completely different angle...
:)

Ankit Verma said...

Thank u sir,This article helped to recapture the moments of our class and also helped to understand the chapter on more detail.

A K Prasad said...

Very much thanks for clarification.

N.Yasodha said...

Thank u so much sir.I was confused when i read the lesson for the first time but now i got a clear idea of wht the lesson really aims to.

James Harry said...

I have always loved your blog and seeing how you do it was a special treat. I really enjoyed your tutorial. Thanks so much for sharing chinese paintings.

Saumya Sinha said...

Thank you so much sir for your support and now i have cleared all my doubts.

mrigendra kumar sarmah said...

Middle void is the blank space where the two opposite elements. Often though this is said to be overlooked but a viewer must frame something of him as an active participationer in the painting. Without this middle void the viewer can't take an active part in the painting and it will be just like a European painting.

Unknown said...

Thank you sir...
Very nice explanation...very interesting one..

Ranjot Singh said...

Thanks for ur wonderful summary..... Wasn't able to understand chapter by reading book but as of now have surely got some knowledge.

HARSH ft. Skrillex said...

ThankYOu So MucH SiR......

I can"T UndersTOOd This ChaP. WHEn OuR ProF. Teached IT..
BuT readinG Yours Artical oN This ChaP. I coMpleTeLy UnderStO_od aLL ThinGs CleaRLY....!!!

ThaNK YoU So MuCh Sir...!!!

Disha Mimi Gogoi said...

Thank you very much for the explanation. I was absent from school for 5 days and our teacher completed the lesson and today I got to know that tomorrow your teacher will take a test on this lesson. This explaining is helping me a lot. 🙇🙏

Disha Mimi Gogoi said...

Thank you very much for the explanation. I was absent from school for 5 days and our teacher completed the lesson and today I got to know that tomorrow your teacher will take a test on this lesson. This explaining is helping me a lot. 🙇🙏