CBSE English -Hornbill – Landscape of the Soul -Explanation and Q &A
Landscape of the Soul by Nathalie Trouveory
A word about the author …Ms. Nathalie is a qualified Art historian. As the wife of a diplomat, she had the occasion to visit many places in the world that are sites of great archeological value. Her husband is the Belgian Ambassador to India.
Introduction .. There is a wide gulf between the way artists and art lovers in the West and the East perceive, and appreciate art. This is perhaps due to the way the two very divergent cultures have evolved over the ages. In the western system, the paintings bare themselves in great detail allowing the art loving public to feast their eyes in the intricate but very accurate forms of the flora and the fauna, and the landscape. In the eastern system, the painter exposes much less than they hide. It is let to the discerning watcher to unravel the hidden meaning of the painting. In some ways, the eastern school of painting has philosophical undertones.
The essay .. The renowned painter Wu Daozi lived in the eighteenth century in China. Many folklore, some true, some imaginary are associated with his memory. According to one such story, the last Tang Emperor, Xuanzong had asked Daozi to paint a landscape that would decorate the walls of his palace. The master artist didn’t allow anyone to see his work except the Emperor. For this, he had hid the painting behind a screen. The canvas had mountains, trees, rivers, forests, waterfalls etc. accurately depicted. The Emperor used to be delighted to see the work.
On one occasion, Daozi asked the emperor to peer into the cave at the foot of a mountain, where a spirit lived. He clapped his hands to open the door of the cave. Further, he said that the inside of the cave was a place of bewitching beauty. Having described the interior like this, he prepared to usher the Emperor inside. Daoji walked in first, but before the Emperor could step in, the door got closed cutting off the painter from the outside world for good. A bewildered Emperor stood there, clueless and confused.
Traditional education in China is replete with such stories. Confucius and Zhuangzi used such stories to drive home a moral message. The story my be totally fictional, but it throws some light on the way ancient China saw the value and relevance f visual art. This approach stands in sharp contrast to Western perception of art. A certain painter in Flanders, the Dutch-speaking part of Belgium painted a dragon, but didn’t complete it. The eye was not created. The painter feared that the dragon would break free of the painting and fly off.
In Antwerp, Belgium, there lived a master blacksmith named Quinten Metsys. He was besotted with a certain painter’s daughter. The painter felt Quinten’s profession to be too lowly for deserving his daughter’s hand. The cunning Quinten thought of a plan. He sneaked into the painter’s studio on some pretext, and drew a fly on the canvass. The fly was near perfect, and appeared t be true to life. Later, the painter was passing by the canvass, and swatted the fly thinking it to be a real one. The painter was impressed with Quinten’s work and admitted him as an intern. Now, he got unfettered access to the studio. Not long after, Quinten married the daughter with a great sense of accomplishment.
When we see the two examples — the dragon’s eye-less painting, and the fly on the canvass, we can conclude that the Western school pf painters strove to draw near perfect figures of objects. The closer their painting looked to the real life one, the higher wa the acclaim for his work.
In the Eastern School, as depicted in Daozi’s painting, apart from the creation of perfect figures, there is a hidden, but clear message. It underlines the truth that there is another domain beyond this material world. Only the wisest of the wise have access to it. The Emperor ordered the painting, and Daozi dutifully completed it. However, the key to the eternal truth remained with Daoji. He had to lead the Emperor to the other domain. In the process, he willfully departs from this world and enters the other.
In very accurately reproducing the natural details of an object or a landscape, the western painters excelled. Their endeavour was always to paint a hoto-perfect reproduction. This was Figurative painting. The Chinese also painted objects and landscapes, but their emphasis was different. The Chinese painter wants his visitors to see his work through his eyes, and sense and experience the same gush of emotion which he felt while creating the work. Just as the painter himself, his viewers can see the art from any perspective. The painter builds in this freedom in his work. So, Chinese paintings are multi-dimensional.
In the horizontal scroll, one scene slowly recedes to yield place to another. Such gradual unravelling of different frames gives a sense of time. To get the real sense of it, the viewer must be intimately involved in the viewing process. He can proceed to enjoy the painting in his own pace taking his mind and body together. In this way, the Chinese painter implores the viewer to enter his mind, so that they can see it from his perspective. The landscape thus becomes a spiritual and conceptual space for the viewer.
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