"With an emphasis on a conceptual rather than visual manifestation of nature, ancient shanshui aims to convey an experience of ‘being in nature’ rather than ‘seeing nature’. This being in nature is not about any singular experience of when and where man encounters nature, but a perpetual truth experienced by man in/with nature, namely, the wholeness and universality of the cosmic, laws and cycles in nature, and the integrative harmony between man and things. This can be best explained by comparing the sense of vastness in nature found in both Western landscape and ancient shanshui . In Western art, the cosmic sense in nature often evokes a sense of might, and even the destructive power, of nature. A moment prior to a thunderstorm, as described earlier in Ruisdael’s work, Turner’s images of snowstorm and shipwrecks, as well as Friedrich’s depiction of graveyards and the Sea of Ice, are all about the omnipotent power of nature, so much so that it can be lethal. In contrast to landscape painters of the West, ancient shanshui painters were not attracted to the unrelenting power of nature. This explains why images of natural disasters cannot be found in ancient shanshui . To ancient shanshui painters, their images visualize not the unusual but the common and perpetual sense of nature. They convey a message of a transcendental experience of being in/with nature."
- Being in Traditional Chinese Landscape Painting, Sophia Suk-mun Law
Note. Like the image in yesterday's post (and perhaps like a few more to come) this one is a "quick grab" with my iPhone during a trip my wife and I recently took to Monterey, CA. "Objectively speaking," the image shows the central panel of an old dilapidated door that guards the entrance to a property on Ocean Avenue, Carmel, about a half mile or so from the beach. But, in my mind's eye, it is "really" an even more withered palimpsest of an ancient Chinese landscape. I have always been drawn to how Chinese landscapes lead you to gently experience the painting as a whole, rather than (as is more typical of Western art) to make you "see a subject." Apart from the academic paper I quoted from above, a wonderful book that explores the artistic and philosophical implications of this point of view is called The Great Image has no Form (by Francois Jullien, University of Chicago Press).