Six Gentlemen, by Ni Zan (1301-1374)
China is much in the news. It seems that many in the West cannot decide whether China is a worthy ally or a wily competitor. The lack of clarity arises not so much from linguistic barriers as it does from a cultural disconnect. We in the West, particularly in the United States, don’t know much about China. We buy Chinese goods and many of us enjoy Chinese food. Student exchange programs with China have increased in recent years, but familiarity with our distant Asian neighbors is limited in scope. Any attempt to increase understanding of China is a step forward. One path that may take us in that direction is through China’s art, particularly a style of art known as literati painting.
On this page are four landscape paintings, all of them either in literati style, or influenced by the literati. Comparing the four paintings reveals something fascinating: this style of painting has remained essentially consistent for hundreds of years. That is not a coincidence. That is a reflection of a profoundly significant aspect of China’s culture. Tradition and history are revered, preserved and emulated.
As Westerners attempt to achieve an understanding of the modern powerhouse that is China, they would do well to regard its past. China’s traditional art offers a readily available, aesthetically beguiling opportunity to do that.
Joint Landscape by Shen Zhou (1427-1509) and Wen Zhengming (1470-1559)
Hermitage in the Mountains, by Tang Yifen (1778-1853)
The Painting by Gao Jianfu 2, by Gao Jianfu (1879-1951)
An essay in which I go into greater length about the importance of tradition in China may be found at another website I maintain, noplaceforrumors.com: