Landscape of the Soul – Summary

‘Landscape of the soul’ by Nathalie Trouveroy compares the Chinese view of art to the European view with examples. Viewing any piece of creative art is actually a landscape of one’s soul. The classical Chinese painters do not intend to produce an exact copy of the landscape. They want their viewers to see the spirit behind their work. It is conceptual that is painted. But the European artists try to create a perfect imitation.


There is a wonderful story about the painter Wu Daozi who lived in the eighth century. His last painting was a landscape and the Tang Emperor Xuanzong commissioned it to decorate a palace wall. The Emperor admired the scene of forests, water falls, clouds etc. The painter requested the Emperor to look in the cave in the painting in which there lived a spirit. The painter clapped. The cave opened. He entered it to show its inside to the Emperor. But the door closed behind him. Before the Emperor realised what had happened, the painting vanished from the wall. Nothing was seen later of the painter.

Such stories played an important part in China’s classical education. The books of Confucius and Zhuangzi are full of them. They reveal the spirit of the art. There is another story also about a painter. He did not draw the eye of a dragon that he had painted. Why?

The story about Quinten Metsys explains European appreciations of perfect imitation in art. Quinten Metsys was a blacksmith who loved a painter’s daughter. The painter was reluctant to accept a blacksmith as his son-in-law. One day Metsys stole in to the artists studio and painted a fly on his latest panel. It was such a perfect imitation that the artist took it for real. He agreed to give away his daughter to Metsys who later became a great artist.

In the Chinese story the Emperor commissions a painting and appreciates its outer appearance. But the artist shows the true meaning of his work. A classical Chinese landscape does not reproduce an actual view as a western figurative painting would do. The European painter wants you to borrow his eyes and look at the painting through him. The Chinese painting is not so. You can enter it from any point.

This is even more true in the case of the horizontal scroll. It adds a dimension of time which is unknown in any form of painting. It also requires the active participation of the viewer which is both physical and mental. The Chinese painter wants you to enter to his mind. The landscape is spiritual and conceptual.

The concept is expressed as Shanshui meaning ‘mountain water’ which represents “landscape”. These two images represent two complementary poles reflecting the Daoist view of the universe. The mountain is Yang—reaching vertically towards Heaven and is stable, warm and dry in the sun, while the water is Yin. It is horizontal and is resting on the Earth. It is fluid, moist and cool. The interaction of Yin feminine aspects of universal energy and Yang, masculine aspect, is fundamental notion of Daoism. The third essential element, the middle void is overlooked where their interaction takes place.

This can be compared with the Yogic practice of Pranayama. It is: breathe in, and breathe out. The suspension of breath is the void where meditation occurs. The middle voids essential. “Nothing can happen without it.” Hence the importance of the white unpainted space in Chinese landscape.

These lies Man’s fundamental role. In between Heaven and Earth, he becomes the conduit of communication between both poles of the universe. His presence is essential. He is the eye of the landscape”.

French painter Jean Dubuffet originated the concept of out-sider art. It is described as outsider art because it is produced by people who had no formal training, yet show their talent and artistic insight.

Contribution Around the 1940s in India, an untutored genius was creating ‘paradise’. He made himself a garden culpted with stone and recycled waste material. Now it is called the ‘Rock Garden at Chandigarh of Nek Chand. Eighty year old creator-director is India’s biggest contribution to ‘outsider art’. The 50th issue (Spring 2005) of ‘Raw Vision Magazine’ of England features Nek Chand and his Rock Garden sculptor ‘women try the waterfall’ on its anniversary issue’s cover.

The notion of ‘art brut’ or ‘raw art’ is the works which are or were in their raw state without any cultural or artistic influences. Anything from a tin to a broken cup could be material for a work of art. The Swiss Commission for UNESCO will honour Nek Chand through an exposition of his works. The five-month interactive show titled “Realm of Nek Chand” beginning October will be held at leading museums in Switzerland, Belgium, France and Italy.

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