Friday, February 1, 2013

Shan Shui and Reality

Brook Bank by Dong Yuan AD 900s
Shan Shui, a style of Chinese painting that usually depict the beautiful natrual scenery including mountains, rivers, waterfalls, trees and also buildings and people (but in small scale).

The article of "walking in the city" by Michel de Certeau talked about that it is an illusion to see the whole city from the top of a high rise. That intrigues me because we are asked to re-think what we see. In some ways, what we see probably is not the reality while the illusions could be more real in terms of feeling and perception. All of that reminds me this kind of Chinese painting, Shan Shui, which could be translated as Mountains and water.

The power of this painting is not from the likeness of shape. What they drew is not the scenery itself but the scenery in their mind. There is a different form of reality, reality of subjectivity and reality of perception. As viewers, we could have a richer experience from the drawings.

Different from western drawings that are usually perspective, Shan Shui used diferrent line types and line weights to show three-dimension on two-dimensional media, paper. The perspective point keeps changing in the drawings at three dimensions.

What is reality? It is what we see or what we think or something else? I think there are more than one form of reality and they should be explored more in this course.

Anyways, Shan Shui is a presentation of Chinese philosophy. I don't think it's easy to understand and explain the beauty of Shan Shui, even for me, who lived in China for more than 20 years. But I think it is always interesting and helpful to think problems in a different context in terms of another culture and another form of design.

A Thousand Li of Rivers and Mountains by Wang Mengxi
A close-up view

(Wang drew this painting when he was 18 and he died at 23. He is a genius and this is simply a master piece. It is kept in Museum of the Forbidden City. The first one by Dong Yuan is kept in Metropolitan Museum of Art. Click for original size.)

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