Landscape of the Soul
About the Author
Nathalie Trouveroy is an art historian who came in limelight because of her translated work ' City of Djinns', a book by William Dalrymple.
She is the wife of Belgian ambassador to India. She has travelled various cities of the world with her husband. She holds a master’s degree in history of art and archaeology from university of Belgium.
She plans to write her next book on old Delhi architecture like Jama Masjid and Chandni Chowk.
This story is a beautiful illustration of art by the author. In this chapter, you will see different art forms being compared and the interpretation of these paintings from the artist’s perspective. The author tries to show a comparison of the different art forms based on regions. This chapter deals with stories and myths circulating famous paintings in ancient times. The focus is laid on how realistic the paintings were and how beautifully created.
Wu Daozi – A painter who lived in the eighth century. His painting was a landscape and was commissioned by Tang Emperor Xuanzong.
Quinten Metsis – Master Blacksmith, who fell in love with a painter’s daughter. As he knew, the girl’s father wouldn’t accept a guy with such a profession, he painted a fly with such profession that he was accepted as an apprentice at the studio.
In this story Landscape of the Soul, the author presents two instances of paintings to show the beauty and difference in the perception of painters. The first instance is about a Chinese painter who paints a landscape with at most precision for the Emperor.
The Emperor appreciates the outer beauty of the painting, but the artist reveals to him the true meaning of his work. As the story proceeds, it conveys that the Emperor may rule within the kingdom, but the artist is the only one who knows his painting within. He is able to travel in his painting, whereas the Emperor is unable. It shows that the painter is able to imagine his painting with his perception, but the Emperor can only see what lies before the eyes and not within.
The second instance is about a blacksmith called Quinten Metsys. He falls in love with a painter’s daughter and realises that the painter will never accept a blacksmith to be his son-in-law. Quinten sneaks into the painter’s studio and paints a fly with such a realistic view, the painter accepts him as an apprentice in his studio. He eventually marries his beloved and becomes a famous painter.
This chapter makes you understand the importance of imagination and how painters have different perceptions. The art form need not be viewed according to a single perception, there can be many ways to imagine one single painting.
Comparison between European and Chinese Art
This chapter is a comparative study of European and Chinese painting. It touches upon various subtleties of reality and art. Art is one of the forms of expression like poetry, music, and dance. All these forms of expression have an abstract nature as they can’t be defined and have to be felt or experienced. The chapter has three important areas of discussion: anecdotes related to Chinese and European painting, Daoism and how one of the philosophical doctrines of Daoism called ‘Shanshui’ is reflected in Chinese paintings.
Anecdote about Chinese Painter Wu Daozi
The eighth century Chinese Emperor Xuanzong commissioned a painter named Wu Daozi to paint a landscape. When the painting was ready, the Emperor was invited to appreciate it. He enjoyed looking at the forests, high mountains, waterfalls, clouds, men on hilly paths, birds in flight etc depicted in the painting. But the painter was not satisfied, and he invited the attention of the Emperor towards a cave in the painting, inside which, the painter said, resided a spirit. The painter clapped his hands, causing the entrance to the cave. Then the painter said, “The inside is splendid, beyond anything words can convey. Please let me show your Majesty the way”. The painter entered the cave and disappeared. The cave door closed, and the painting disappeared from the wall before the Emperor could move.
Anecdote about European Painter Quinten Metsys
A fifteenth century Belgian blacksmith named Quinten Metsys fell in love with a painter’s daughter. Knowing that her father would not accept him because of his profession, he secretly entered the painter’s studio and painted such a realistic fly on the artist’s panel that the master tried to swat it before he realised that it was not real! Quinten was accepted by the master as an apprentice, married his beloved and soon became famous for his ‘realism’ in painting.
Meaning of the Tales
Such stories as that about Wu Daozi are very common in China’s classical education. It was through such stories that great masters made abstract concepts concrete. Such tales reveal that art has an inner life, meaning or soul. Only when one is able to see that inner life can one understand its true meaning. The Emperor had appreciated the painting only from what he saw. He could only see the body of the painting, whereas the painter tried to show him the soul, the inner life and meaning of the painting. Similarly, Quinten Metsys signified illusionistic likeness in European painting.
The same holds good for the story about the frightening likeness of a dragon to a real one which prevented a Chinese painter from drawing its eye, as he felt that then the dragon would see him and attack him.
Basis of Chinese Paintings
Chinese paintings are based on the philosophy of Daoism. Dao means “path or way”- the way into the mystery of the universe. The Emperor may rule over territories, but the artist alone knows the way within. Life has no meaning unless we undertake the inner, spiritual journey. When Wu Daozi said, “let me show you the way”, he meant the way to the inner meaning of art or mystery of the universe. This is the spirit of Chinese paintings. They do not reproduce an actual view but use a real landscape to say something more. A Chinese painter, therefore, wants the viewer to take plural viewpoints to enter into his painting and travel in it. He wants our active participation, not only physical but also mental. His landscape is not a copy of a- real landscape; it is a representation of an inner reality, a spiritual and conceptual space.
What Daoism Is?
According to Daoism, this universe is composed of two complementary poles, viz. Yin (feminine) and Yang (masculine). The interaction of these two energies makes the universe. Their meeting point, called the “Middle Void” also holds great significance, though it is often overlooked. This can be compared with the yogic practice of pranayama; breathe in, retain, breathe out – the ‘retain’ part is the “Middle Void” where meditation occurs. This void is essential – nothing can happen without it.
In Daoism, a landscape is called “Shanshui” (Shan = mountain, Shui = water); however, it doesn’t represent a real landscape; it is the Daoist view of the universe. To understand Chinese paintings, one must understand Daoism. So, the mountains and water in the Chinese paintings are representative of Shanshui and the unpainted space is representative of the Middle Void where the interaction between Yin and Yang takes place. Man is the medium of communication between the two complementary poles of the universe and you can see his presence too in the Chinese paintings.
Chinese paintings are abstract in nature as they can’t be defined and have to be felt or experienced.
In contrast, there is illusionistic likeness in European painting.
Their contrasting nature is explained through the anecdotes about
Chinese Painter Wu Daozi, who disappeared inside his painting.
Another Chinese painter who did not want to paint the eyes of the dragon for fear that the dragon may attack him on seeing him.
Belgian painter Quinten Metsys, who painted a realistic fly to marry the woman he loved.
Chinese paintings are based on the philosophy of Daoism, which says that life has no meaning unless we undertake the inner, spiritual journey.
Chinese painters want the viewers’ active participation, not only physical but also mental, while viewing their paintings.
According to Daoism, the interaction of two complementary poles, viz. Yin (feminine) and Yang (masculine) makes the universe.
Man is the medium of communication between the two complementary poles, i.e., their meeting point, and you can see his presence too in Chinese paintings.
tale – story
landscape – painting of a countryside or rural scenery
commissioned – ordered specially
Sire – respectful form of address to a king or emperor
dwells – resides or stays
spirit – supernatural being
Your Majesty – respectful way for saying ‘you’ to a king
not a trace – nothing noticeable
classical education – education in ancient times
disciple – follower of a teacher or guide
anecdote – short entertaining story about a real person
dragon – mythical monster which breathed out fire
Flanders – region of modern day Belgium in Europe
master blacksmith – skilled person in blacksmith trade
sneaked – moved secretly
panel – flat board on which a painting can be made
delicate realism – quality of the art which makes it seem real
apprentice – person taken to learn a skilled practical trade
beloved – one who is loved
form of art – structure, pattern, or scheme followed in shaping an artistic work
illusionistic likeness – technique of using pictorial methods to deceive the eye
essence of inner life and spirit – inner meaning of art or mystery of the universe
material – actual or physical; not related to the mind or spirit
figurative painting – representation of a piece of art, through the eyes of the creator’s imagination
leisurely – relaxed and not in a hurry
horizontal scroll – painting on a paper which has been rolled up horizontally
conceptual space – relation with the abstract instead of the factual representation, required for the understanding of concepts
Shanshui – Chinese word for ‘landscape’
complementary – combining to form a complete whole
Yang – Chinese word for ‘active and masculine’
Yin – Chinese word for ‘receptive and feminine’
receptive – willing to receive or willing to accept
Middle Void – space between two elements of an image where they interact
pranayama – Hindi word for ‘conscious awareness of breath’
conduit – channel or means
eye of the landscape – link which leads to the true meaning of the landscape
Understanding the Text
Question 1. (i) Contrast the Chinese view of art with the European view with examples.
Answer: The Chinese view of art is trying to achieve the essence of inner life and spirit. Wu Daozi’s painting was an example of this.
The European view of art is to create illusionistic likeness. Quinten Metsys’ painting of the fly was an example of this.
(ii) Explain the concept of Shanshui.
Answer: Shanshui literally means ‘mountain-water’, which when used together represent the word ‘landscape’. It reflects the Daoist view of the universe, which includes more than two elements of an image – Yang, the mountain, Yin, the water and the third element -.the Middle Void, where the two interact.
Question 2. (i) What do you understand by the terms ‘outsider art’ and ‘art brut’ or ‘raw art’?
Answer: ‘Outsider art’ is the art created by artists who have received no formal training, yet they show talent and artistic insight. ‘Art brut’ or ‘raw art’ is about works of art that were in their raw state with regard to their cultural and artistic influence. Anything like a broken teacup or bangle could be material for a work of art.
(ii) Who was the “untutored genius who created a paradise” and what is the nature of his contribution to art?
Answer: Nek Chand, belonging to Chandigarh, was the untutored genius who created a paradise many years ago by building the ‘Rock Garden’ there using stones, broken crockery and recycled material. Nek Chand’s contribution is a highly creative example of ‘raw art’.
Talking About the Text
Discuss the following statements in groups of four.
Question 1. “The Emperor may rule over the territory he has conquered, but only the artist knows the way within.”
Answer: 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.
Question 2. “The landscape is an inner one, a spiritual and conceptual space.”
Answer: This phrase explains The Chinese art from where 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’ and can be reached from any point.
Thinking About Language
Question 1. Find out the correlates of Yin and Yangin other cultures.
Answer: 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 creates the whole world, all it objects and also inhabitants.
Question 2. What is the language spoken in Flanders?
Answer: Three languages are spoken in different areas of Flanders (modern Belgium): Dutch, French and German.
Working with Words
The following common words are used in more than one sense.
Examine the following sets of sentences to find out what the words, ‘panel’ and ‘essence’ mean in different contexts.
A. (i) The masks from Bawa village in Mali look like long panels of decorated wood,
(ii) Judge H Hobart Grooms told the jury panel he had heard the reports.
(iii) The panel is laying the groundwork for an international treaty.
(iv) The glass panels of the window were broken.
(v) Through the many round tables, workshops and panel discussions, a consensus was reached.
(vi) The sink in the hinged panel above the bunk drains into the head.
Answer: The meanings are (i) flat boards, (ii) group of men selected to give unanimous verdict on a legal case, (iii) small group of people made to decide some matter, (iv) sections, (v) group and (vi) section.
B. (i) Their repetitive structure must have taught the people around the great composer the essence of music.
(ii) Part of the answer is in the proposition; but the essence is in the meaning.
(iii) The implications of these schools of thought are of practical essence for the teacher.
(iv) They had added vanilla essence to the pudding.
Answer: The meanings are (i) basic character and qualities, (ii) essential part, (iii) importance and (iv) extract from a plant or other substance used for flavouring.
II. Now find five sentences each for the rest of the words to show the different senses in which each of them is used.
(i) The artist is working in his studio at home.
(ii) The photographer’s studio was full of his own photographs only.
(iii) Kavita is learning classical dancing at the dance studio in Dwarka.
(iv) All the actors in the scene must report in the film studio for shooting at 9 AM tomorrow.
(v) James lives in a studio apartment in Mumbai.
(i) We should brush our teeth twice a day.
(ii) Malvika is brushing a pink shade on her painting to complete it.
(iii) A brush with death on the road is common for pedestrians in Delhi.
(iv) Squirrel’s brushes are used by expert painters for painting specific areas of a painting.
(v) In an electric motor, graphite brushes are used to connect its coil with the electric supply.
(i) Most persons today want only materialistic pleasure.
(ii) Raw material for constructing earthquake proof buildings is very expensive.
(iii) Our winter trip to experience the snow in Shimla never materialised.
(iv) The selection committee members felt that Sunil was Test Match material; so they selected him.
(v) Comedy was an important material used by Shakespeare in many of his plays.
A classical Chinese landscape is not meant to reproduce an actual view, as would a Western figurative painting.
Whereas the European painter wants you to borrow his eyes and look at a particular landscape exactly as he saw it, from a specific angle, the Chinese painter does not choose a single viewpoint.
The above two examples are ways in which contrast may be expressed. Combine the following sets of ideas to show the contrast between them.
Question 1. (i) European art tries to achieve a perfect, illusionistic likeness.
(ii) Asian art tries to capture the essence of inner life and spirit.
Answer: While European art tries to achieve a perfect illusionistic likeness, Asian art tries to capture the essence of inner life and spirit.
Question 2. (i) The Emperor commissions a painting and appreciates its outer appearance.
(ii) The artist reveals to him the true meaning of his work.
Answer: Even though the Emperor commissions a painting and appreciates its outer appearance, it is the artist who reveals to him the true meaning of his work.
Question 3. (i) The Emperor may rule over the territory he has conquered.
(ii) The artist knows the way within.
Answer: Even though the Emperor rules over the territory he has conquered, it is the artist who knows the way within.
Short Questions and Answers
Question 1. What was depicted in the last painting made by Wu Daozi, the Chinese painter?
Answer: The last painting made by Wu Daozi depicted forests, high mountains, waterfalls, clouds floating in an immense sky, men on hilly paths, birds in flight and a cave at the foot of a mountain in which a supernatural being resided.
Question 2. When Wu Daozi showed ‘the way’ to the Chinese Emperor, what happened?
Answer: When Wu Daozi said to the Emperor, “Please let me show Your Majesty the way”, the painter entered the cave and its entrance closed behind him. Before the surprised Emperor could move or say anything, the painting had vanished from the wall. Even the painter’s brush had disappeared.
Question 3. What do the books about Confucius and Zhuangzi contain and what do they help in doing?
Answer: The books about Confucius and Zhuangzi contain many anecdotes that deeply reveal the spirit in which art was considered in their days. These anecdotes helped the masters to guide their disciples in the right direction.
Question 4. What is the anecdote about a dragon’s eye mentioned in Chinese literature?
Answer: The anecdote about a dragon’s eye mentioned in Chinese literature says that a painter who had painted the image of a dragon did not want to complete it by drawing the dragon’s eye. The reason was that the dragon would be able to fly out of the painting and may be able to attack the poet.
Question 5. Why did the Flemish painter accept Quinten Metsys as a son-in-law?
Answer: Earlier Quinten Metsys was a blacksmith, which was not considered as a respectable profession. However, when Quinten showed his talent in painting by drawing a very realistic looking fly on the panel on which the artist was painting, Quinten was enrolled as the artist’s apprentice and later accepted as a son-in-law.
Question 6. What do the stories, one about China and the other about Flanders, illustrate?
Answer: These two stories, one about China and the other about Flanders, illustrate what each of these forms of art is trying to achieve. The Flanders form illustrates a perfect, illusionistic likeness, while the Chinese form illustrates the essence of inner life and spirit.
Question 7. What was the difference between the Chinese Emperor and the artist in the anecdote?
Answer: The difference between the Chinese emperor and the artist was that while the Emperor commissioned a painting and appreciated its outer appearance, the artist revealed to him the true meaning of his work. The Emperor may rule over the territory he has conquered, but only the artist knows the way within.
Question 8. What does a European painter want from the viewer?
Answer: A European painter wants the viewer to borrow his eyes and look at a particular landscape exactly as he saw it, from a specific angle. His painting is very much realistic, and he expects the viewer to understand it by just looking at it.
Question 9. What does a Chinese painter want from the viewer?
Answer: A Chinese painter does not want the viewer to choose a single viewpoint. His landscape is not a ‘real’ one, and you can enter it from any point and then travel in it. The artist creates a path for the viewer’s eyes to travel up and down, then back again, in a leisurely movement.
Question 10. How does a horizontal scroll add a dimension of time to a painting?
Answer: In the case of a horizontal scroll, the action of slowly opening one section of the painting, then rolling it up to move on to the other sections one by one adds a dimension of time to a painting.
Question 11. How is the Chinese painter’s painting a depiction of conceptual space?
Answer: The Chinese painter does not want you to borrow his eyes just to view the painting; he wants you to enter his mind because the landscape is an inner one, a depiction of spiritual and conceptual space.
Question 12. What are the two complementary poles in Shanshui?
Answer: The two complementary poles in Shanshui are reflecting the Daoist view of the universe. One pole is the mountain, known as Yang (meaning reaching vertically towards Heaven) which signifies stability, warmth and dryness, while the other pole is the water, known as Yin (meaning horizontal and resting on the earth) which signifies fluidity, moistness and coolness.
Question 13. What is the fundamental notion of Daoism?
Answer: The fundamental notion of Daoism is that this universe is composed of two complementary poles, viz. Yin (feminine) and Yang (masculine). The interaction of these two energies, Yin, the receptive, and its counterpart Yang, the active, makes the universe.
Question 14. What is the ‘Middle Void’?
Answer: The Middle Void is the blank space where the two complementary elements, Yang and Yin, meet. This is usually overlooked, but a viewer must actively participate in the painting. Without this Middle Void, the viewer can’t take an active part in the painting and it will be just like a European painting.
Question 15. What is pranayama! During which stage of pranayama does meditation take place?
Answer: Pranayama is ‘conscious awareness of breath’, which is a part of yogic exercises. It consists of three parts: breathe in, suspend the breath, and breathe out. Meditation occurs during the suspension of breath during the middle part.
Question 16. How does man act as a conduit of communication?
Answer: Man acts as a conduit of communication between both poles of the universe, heaven, and earth, because his presence is essential, even if it’s only suggested, to bridge the gap between them.
Long Questions and Answers
Question 1. Briefly recount what happened to the painter Wu Daozi in the chapter ‘Landscape of the Soul’.
Answer: The eighth century Chinese painter Wu Daozi was commissioned by the Tang Emperor Xuanzong to paint a landscape painting to decorate a palace wall. The master painter had hidden the painting behind a screen so that only the Emperor could see it when desired. For quite some time, the Emperor admired the landscape containing forests, high mountains, waterfalls, clouds floating in an immense sky, men on hilly paths and flying birds. Then the painter pointed out a cave painted by him at the foot of the mountain and told the Emperor that a spirit lived in that cave. When the painter clapped his hands, the entrance to the cave opened. Then the painter explained that the inside of the cave was really worth seeing and offered to show the way to enter the cave. But, as soon as Wu Daozi entered the cave, the entrance closed behind him. Before the surprised Emperor could move or say anything, the landscape painting vanished from the wall. Not even the painter’s brush remained. In fact, Wu Daozi was never seen again. The landscape had been his last painting.
Question 2. How was Quinten Metsys able to marry the painter’s daughter?
Answer: Quinten Metsys, a master blacksmith in fifteenth century Antwerp, fell in love with a painter’s daughter. Quinten realised that his profession
was not considered respectable and thus, the painter would never allow Quinten to marry his daughter. Thus, he had to impress the painter with his creative talent first.
As Quinten possessed determination to achieve his desired goal, he entered the painter’s studio secretly when the painter was not there and painted a very realistic-looking fly on the painter’s latest panel. Later on, when the painter entered his studio and saw the fly, he tried to swat it before he realised that it was not a real fly. On finding out who had painted the fly with such delicate realism, he asked Quinten to become his apprentice, as the painter realised that Quinten possessed artistic talent. Thus, Quinten was able to marry the painter’s daughter and go on to become one of the most famous painters of his age.
Question 3. Explain the concept of Shanshui painting.
Answer: Shanshui painting is not a normal kind of painting. First of all, when Chinese painters work on a Shanshui painting, they do not try to present an image of what they have seen in nature, but what they have thought about nature. Shanshui painting does not use colour, light and shadow, or personal brush work with conventional paints. Instead, Shanshui painting uses a brush and ink. Mountains, rivers and also waterfalls are prominent in this art form.
In Shanshui painting, the two elements of an image represent two complementary poles, just like the Daoist view of the universe. The mountain is Yang, meaning it is active and masculine. It is stable, warm, and dry in the sun. The other pole is water or Yin, meaning it is horizontal, resting on the earth, fluid, moist and cool. The interaction of Yin, the receptive, feminine aspect of universal energy and its counterpart Yang is a fundamental notion of Daoism. The essential element in the Middle Void where Yin and Yang interact is man, as he becomes the conduit of communication between both the complementary poles.