Ekphrastic Haiku: Heaven Earth & Man

Guo Xi c 1020

misty valleys above
homes huddling below
crossing twixt here and there

Tuesday aug 6 2022


Shàngmiàn míwù lóngzhào de shāngǔ
fángzi jǐ zài xiàmiàn
zài zhèlǐ hé nàlǐ chuānyuè

Inspired by the article at: http://thesaker.is/guo-xi-and-the-great-emptiness-in-times-of-the-collapse-of-the-west/

“Asked why he decided to paint landscapes, Guo Xi answered: “A virtuous man takes delight in landscapes so that in a rustic retreat he may nourish his nature, amid the carefree play of streams and rocks, he may take delight, that he might constantly meet in the country fishermen, woodcutters, and hermits, and see the soaring of cranes and hear the crying of monkeys. The din of the dusty world and the confinement of human habitations are what human nature habitually abhors; on the contrary, haze, mist, and the haunting spirits of the mountains are what the human nature seeks, and yet can rarely find.”

“The angle of totality”

With his innovative techniques for producing multiple perspectives, Guo was aiming for something he called “the angle of totality.” Because a painting is not a window, there is no need to imitate the mechanics of human vision and view a scene from only one spot! Guo is particularly concerned with the effect that distance has on viewing a landscape, and how detachment and nearness can change the appearance of a single object multiple times. This type of visual representation is also called “Floating Perspective”, a technique that displaces the static eye of the viewer and highlights the differences between Chinese and Western modes of spatial representation.

Unlike the aspiration central to Western landscape painting – to paint a particular location from a fixed standpoint, Chinese landscape painting aimed to incorporate the essence of thousands of mountains, the accumulated sights of a lifetime into one composite landscape. Thus, to look upon a landscape painting in the Chinese tradition was to feel connected to the full scope of places and living things.

The relationship between humankind and the mountain being sought in Guo Xi’s painting is one of compatibility, participation, and interconnectedness. According to Guo Xi’s own words, cited by his son in his treatise “The Lofty Message of Forests and Streams”, “The mountain lives only in the act of wandering. The mountain’s form changes with every step. A mountain seen up close has one aspect, and it has another a few miles away, and yet another one from further away. Its shape changes with each step. The front view of a mountain has one view, another view from the side and another from behind. Its appearance changes from every angle, as many times as it does the point of view. So, it is necessary to realize that a mountain combines in itself several thousand shapes.” These comments suggest that the mountain is only conceivable from multiple standpoints, as if one were wandering through it. If we look carefully at the bottom, middle, and top sections of Guo Xi’s painting in this way, we will see an illustration of shifting perspectives, a typical feature in Chinese landscape painting. The bottom three boulders with accompanying trees seem to be viewed as if we are standing above them; the middle register looks as if we are viewing it straight on; and the top portion, the regal summit, seems to be viewed from below. We are constantly adjusting our eyes to take in a fresh point of view. Guo Xi called this exercise “viewing the form of a mountain from each of its faces”. The viewer thus becomes a traveller in the painting, which offers him the experience of moving through space and time.

Published by The Baron

Retired non-profit administrator.

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