Chinese landscapes are both real and
imaginary places. Artists depicted realistic-looking mountains, trees, rocks
or streams. Yet, the composition of a scene depended more on ideas than any
real place. What kind of ideas were explored through landscape? Common
themes included harmony, friendship, loyalty, peace, strength, and spiritual
In a Chinese landscape painting,
the human figure strolls under towering peaks or along a misty riverbank.
Nature, wild and uncontrolled, dominates the scene. This resonates with the
Taoist ideal of cultivating an awareness of the awesome power of the
universe and harmonizing with the rhythms of nature.
Beginning with Greek sculpture and followed by
religious painting, the human figure dominates Western art. Images that tell
stories from mythology or the Bible kept the human figure front and center
for centuries. The struggle of man against natural forces, his own weakness
or his reverence for God is presented. When a landscape tradition finally
appeared in the 18th and 19th centuries, it often represented human
domination of nature, such as the ownership of land.
The use of color is subtle and spare in Chinese
landscape paintings. Landscape artists painted mainly in black ink with the
addition of a few pale shades of blue, green, yellow or brown. For Chinese
painters, free expression of feelings and ideas mattered more than the
subjectˇ¦s realistic depiction within a spatial frame. By contrast, Western
painting celebrated a wide range of color. This was necessary to represent
the effects of light and shadow on a subject.
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