Landscape of the Soul
By Nathalie Trouveory
Image Reference: the-south-asian.com
About the Author
The Nathalie Trouveroy was born on February 2, 1975.
She is the wife of Belgian ambassador to India. She has travelled various cities of the world with her husband. Nathalie has been imbibing the cultures of the various cities she visits.
She holds a Master’s degree in history of art and archaeology with a specialization in Japanese art from the Catholic University of Louvain in Begium. She is pained at the eroding heritage of Delhi. “The problem is that Delhites don’t have a sense of belonging,” she says and adds, “A majority of people staying in Delhi are migrants from pre-partitioned Punjab or from states like Bihar or Southern India. A need to preserve the heritage is missing.”
Nathalie Trouveroy is an art historian who came in limelight because of her translated work ‘ City of Djinns’, a book by William Dalrymple. She now plans to write her next book on old Delhi architecture like Jama Masjid and Chandni Chowk.
Nathalie contrasts Chinese art with European art by using two stories and tells us how the Chinese view of art differ from the European view of art. A European painting reproduces an actual view whereas a classical Chinese painting is an unreal one. The European painter wants the viewer to look at a particular landscape exactly as he saw it. The Chinese painter does not choose a single viewpoint. You can travel in it from any point. The Chinese landscape is not real, but a spiritual and inner one.
The writer contrasts Chinese art with European art by using two stories. The Tang Emperor Xuanzong commissioned the painter Wu Daozi to decorate a palace wall. When it was done the Emperor admired the scene. The painter drew the Emperor’s attention to a cave and when he clapped his hands the entrance of the cave opened. The painter entered but before Emperor could move the entrance closed and the painting vanished, along with the artist.
In another story, a painter wouldn’t draw the eye of a dragon he had painted for fear it would fly out of the painting. The writer then cites a story representative of Western painting in which a master blacksmith Quinten Metsys fell in love with a painter’s daughter. To be accepted as a son-in-law Quinten painted a fly on the painter’s latest panel. When the painter tried to swat it away he realised the truth – Quinten was taken on as an apprentice and married his beloved.
These stories reveal what each form tries to achieve. The Europeans want a perfect illusionistic likeness while in Asia it is the essence of inner life and spirit. In the Chinese story only the artist knows the way within and he reaches his goal beyond material appearance. Unlike a Western figurative painting a classical Chinese landscape does not reproduce an actual view and one can enter it from any point and travel in it. It requires the active participation of the viewer both physically and mentally.
The European painter wants the viewer to borrow his eyes. The Chinese painter does not want him to do so. He wants the viewer to enter his mind. The landscape is an inner one, a spiritual and conceptual space.
This concept is expressed as ‘shanshui’ which literally means ‘mountain-water’. Used together they represent the word ‘Landscape’.
Short Answer type Questions
1. What did the Emperor admire for a long while?
Ans. The Emperor admired the painting of Wu Daozi, discovering forests, high mountains, waterfalls, clouds floating in an immense sky, men on hilly paths and birds in flight.
2. What did Wu Daozi tell the Emperor about the cave?
Ans. The painter told the Emperor that a spirit lived in the cave which was at the foot of the mountain. As he clapped his hands, the entrance to the cave opened. He told the Emperor that the inside of the cave was splendid and offered to show His Majesty the way.
3. ‘‘Let me show the way’’, said Wu Daozi. Explain how the author interprets the word ‘way’.
Ans. The word ‘way’ according to the author has two meanings, (a) path or the method, and (b) the mysterious works of the universe. The painter tells the king the path to the cave or the method to reach the cave. By entering the cave and disappearing from the world, he explains the mysterious works of the universe.
4. What happened to the painter as he entered the cave?
Ans. As the painter entered the cave, the entrance to the cave closed behind him. The Emperor was surprised. Before he could move or speak a word, the painting had disappeared from the wall. No trace of Wu Daozi’s brush was left on the wall. The artist was never seen again in the world.
5. How does the Chinese story present the powers and limitations of Emperor and the painter?
Ans. The Emperor may commission a painting and appreciate its outer appearance but only the artist reveals to him the true meaning of his work. Secondly, the Emperor may rule over the region he has conquered, but only the artist knows the way within.
6. Why did the painter not draw the eye of the dragon he had painted? How far do you agree with him?
Ans. The painter feared if he drew the eye of the dragon he had painted, it might come alive and fly out of the painting. Since the vision of the artist is spiritual, we agree with him.
7. Why does the writer say about Quinten’s painting?
Ans. The writer says about Quinten’s painting to highlight the aim of art in Europe. The European painters try to achieve a perfect, illusionistic likeness. Quinten had painted a fly with such delicate realism that even the master took it for a real one.
8. Give three points of contrast between a classical Chinese landscape and a Western One.
Ans. A Western landscape reproduces an actual view whereas a classical Chinese landscape is an unreal one. The European painter wants the viewer to look at a particular landscape exactly as he saw it from a specific angle. The Chinese painter does not choose a single viewpoint. The Chinese landscape is not real, but an inner one, a spiritual and conceptual space.
9. What do you learn about Daoist view of the universe?
Ans. Daoism recognizes two contrasting but complementary elements in the universe namely ‘Yang’ and ‘Yin’. ‘Yang’ is active, masculine, stable, warm and dry whereas ‘yin’ is receptive, feminine, fluid, moist and cool. The interaction of ‘Yang’ and ‘Yin’ is a fundamental notion of Daoism.
10. Which element is often overlooked? Why is it essential?
Ans. The Middle void is the third element which is often overlooked. This is essential because the interaction between ‘Yang’ and ‘Yin’ takes place there. Nothing can happen without the middle void. It is as important as the suspension of breath in ‘pranayama’. Meditation occurs only in the void when we retain breath.
11. How does the writer define the role of Man?
Ans. The writer assigns a fundamental role to Man. He becomes the medium of communication between two poles of the Universe. His presence is essential as he is ‘‘the eye of the landscape’’.
12. What do you mean by outsider art?
Ans. Outsider art is the art of those who have received no formal training, yet show talent and artistic insight. It is the art of the untrained visionary.
13. How has the work of Nek Chand been recognized abroad?
Ans. Nek Chand’s work is now recognized as India’s biggest contribution to ‘outsider art’. Raw Vision, a UK-based magazine which is pioneer in outsider art publication has Nek Chand and his Rock Garden sculpture ‘Women by the waterfall’ on the cover of its 50th issue. UNESCO is organizing a five month interactive show of his works.
14. How has Nek Chand followed the notions of ‘art brut’ or ‘raw art’ in his works?
Ans. The ‘art brut’ or ‘raw art’ are the works of art in their raw state as regards cultural and artistic influences. Anything and everything from a tin to sink to a broken down car could be material for a work of art. Nek Chand has sculpted a garden with stone and recycled material.
Long Answer Type Questions
1. How does the Chinese view of art differ from The European view? Illustrate your answer with examples.
Ans. A western figurative painting is meant to reproduce an actual view of the scene whereas a classical Chinese landscape is based on an imaginative, inner or spiritual approach. The Chinese art aims at achieving the essence of inner life and spirit while the European form of art is trying to achieve a perfect illusionistic likeness. The European painter wants the viewer to borrow his eyes and look at a particular landscape exactly as he saw it, from a specific angle. On the other hand, the Chinese painter does not choose a single viewpoint. His landscape is not a real one. He does not want the viewer to borrow his eyes. He wants the beholder to enter his mind. One can enter a Chinese landscape from any point and move across leisurely and come back. The Chinese view of art also requires an active participation of the viewer. This participation is both physical and mental. The stories about the paintings of Wu Daozi and an old story from Flanders amply illustrate the difference.
2. Explain the concept of Shanshui and the fundamental notions of Daoism.
Ans. ‘Shanshui’ is a Chinese word. It literally means ‘mountain-water’. The two element used together represent the word ‘landscape’. Mountain and water are two elements of an image. They also reflect the Daoist view of the universe. The mountain is ‘Yang’ whereas water is ‘Yin’. The mountain rises vertically towards Heaven. Mountain is stable, warm and dry in the sun. Water is horizontal and rests on the Earth. Water is fluid, moist and cool. ‘Yin’ is the receptive and feminine aspect of universal energy. ‘Yang’ is its complementary part. ‘Yang’ is active and masculine. The interaction of ‘Yin’ and ‘Yang’ is a fundamental notion of Daoism.
There is an essential third element also. It is the Middle Void where the interaction takes place. This Middle Void is essential. Nothing can happen without it. The concept of the Middle Void can be made clear by comparison to the yogic practice of pranayama. We breathe in, retain breath and breathe out. The suspension of breath is the Void where meditation occurs. Hence the white, unpainted space has a special importance in Chinese landscape.
3. Man is ‘‘the eye of the landscape’’ says Francois Cheng. Discuss.
Ans. The role of man in this universe can be explained with the help of the Daoist view of the universe. Daoism recognizes two contrasting but complementary elements in the universe. These are called ‘Yang’ and ‘Yin’. ‘Yang’ is active, masculine, stable, warm and dry whereas ‘yin’ is receptive, feminine, moist and cool. The interaction of ‘Yang’ and ‘Yin’ occurs in the Middle Void. Hence this Middle Void is essential as nothing can happen without it.
The importance of man and his fundamental role in the universe can be explained in the light of Daoism. Man exists in the space between Heaven and Earth. He is the medium of communication between both poles of the universe, even if it is only suggested. He occupies an important position in the universe. He is not lost or oppressed by the lofty peaks. Man’s presence is essential as he is the most important feature or the ‘eye’ of the landscape. We cannot see without eye. Similarly the universe is incomplete without man.
4. What do you understand by ‘outsider art’? Write a note on worldwide recognition of Nek Chand’s contribution to outsider art.
Ans. ‘Outsider art’ refers to the art of those who have no right to be artists as they have received no formal training, yet show talent and artistic insight. Nek Chand has won worldwide recognition for his unique contribution to outside art. Using stone and recycled material he has created many sculptures at Rock Garden, Chandigarh. Nek Chand’s work is now recognized as India’s biggest contribution to outside art. ‘Raw Vision’, a U.K. based magazine, a pioneer in outsider art publication has featured Nek Chand and his Rock Garden sculpture ‘Women by the Waterfall’ on the title cover of its 50th issue (Spring 2005). His art has been acclaimed as ‘‘an outstanding testimony of the difference a single man can make when he lives his dream’’. The Swiss Commissioner for UNESCO has honored him by organizing a five month interactive show called. ‘Realm of Nek Chand’. In short, Nek Chand has taken outsider art to dizzying heights and richly deserves the world wide acclaim.
1. Notice these expressions in the text. Infer their meaning from the context.
Anecdote: a short account of an incident or event
Delicate realism: the alluring quality of the art which makes it seem real.
Illusionistic likeness: an illusion created by the resemblance of something.
Figurative painting: the metaphoric representation of a piece of art.
Conceptual space: It refers to relation with the abstract than the factual representation.
2. Contrast the Chinese view of art with the European view with examples.
Ans. The Chinese paintings are based on imaginative, inner or spiritual approach whereas the European paintings reproduce an actual view of the object.
3. Explain the concept of shanshui.
Ans. Shanshui, meaning “mountain-water”. It refers to a Chinese painting that involves natural landscapes. The landscape is spiritual and inner one. It represents the two complementary poles (yin and yang) reflecting the Daoist view of the universe.
4. What do you understand by the terms ‘outsider art’ and ‘art brut’ or ‘raw art’?
Ans. ‘Outsider art’ is referred as the art of those who have no right to be artists as they have received no formal training yet show talent and artistic insight. ‘Art brut’ or ‘raw art’ are the works of art in their raw state as regards cultural and artistic influences.
5. Who was the “untutored genius who created a paradise” and what is the nature of his contribution to art?
Ans. The “untutored genius” who created “paradise” was Nek Chand, an 80- year-old creator-director who made the world famous rock garden at Chandigarh. He used anything and everything from a tin to a sink to a broken down car to form an artistic piece. One of his famous creations are ‘Women by the Waterfall’.
6. “The Emperor may rule over the territory he has conquered, but only the artist knows the way within.” Discuss.
Ans. This sentence explains the fact that even though an Emperor might rule an entire kingdom and have power over his conquered territory, only an artist would be able to go beyond any material appearance. He knows both the path and the method of the mysterious work of the universe. True meaning of his work can be seen only by means known to him, irrespective of how powerful an emperor is.
7. “The landscape is an inner one, a spiritual and conceptual space.” Discuss.
Ans. This phrase means that a Chinese painter wants you to enter his mind rather than borrow his eyes. This is a physical as well as a mental participation. It is a landscape created by the artist to travel up and down, and back again through the viewer’s eyes. The landscape is not real one and you can enter it from any point.
8. Find out the correlates of Yin and Yang in other cultures.
Ans. The Indian culture lays stress on Nature and God. Nature is the ‘yen’ or female part
Whereas God the creator, is the male part. This concept also known as ‘Maya’ or Brahma’
The combination of two creates the whole world, all it objects and also inhabitants.
9. What is the language spoken in Flanders?
Ans. French language is spoken in Flanders which is a region in Belgium.