Written Assignments

Chinese Landscape Painting


Web Resources for This Assignment

Confucius
Confucius, Selections from The Analects
Taoism
Lao Tzu
The Han Synthesis
Yin / Yang
Wu-hsing: The Five Material Agents

Representation   By this point in the class, you've come far enough in knowledge and reading primary texts to taking a stab at actually looking at the world through the eyes of someone from another culture. The question we'll be focussing on in this assignment is "representation." This is a complex term that refers to just about every communicative act that humans engage in; it can be understood as the combination of two things:
  • Seeing the physical world—representation is always, to some extent, about some perception of the real world, whether it's outside or inside the self;
  • World view—representation is always about imposing one's world view on what one is perceiving.
   While representation is always about perception, as a communicative act it is primarily about world view, that is, it is about communicating one's understanding of what one is perceiving. That world view is always inherited from the culture; while we have romantic notions about the creative powers of artists, essentially all artists get their ideas from the culture around them.

   This has some very interesting consequences. If all representation, and this includes painting, sculpture, photography, literature, etc., is about imposing a world view on what one perceives, then all representation can be used, to some extent, to figure out the world view of the culture that gave rise to it.


Chinese Landscape Painting   The predominant mode of Chinese painting after the Han Synthesis was landscape painting. Landscapes may seem to have nothing to do with world view —the artist, after all, is only painting what she sees, right? Wrong. The artist is also imposing a world view on what she's seeing; landscape painting is always about the way the artist, living in a particular culture, imposes world view on the world of perception.
   The Chinese have very detailed theories about painting and about the interpretation of painting. Every aspect of a painting, from color to brush strokes, has theoretical relationships to ideas in Confucius, Taoism, the Five Material Agents, yin and yang, and even to Buddhist principles. What these elaborate theories mean is that when a Chinese looked at one of these paintings, what she saw was the visual representation of Confucian, Taoist, wu-hsing, and Buddhist ideas.
   What you're going to do on this assignment is to look at a Chinese landscape painting through the eyes of a Chinese schooled in looking at and interpreting these paintings. The painting is below:


Chinese Landscape Painting Goes Here


   You already know Confucianism, Taoism and wu-hsing philosophy; now I want you to see the world through Confucianism, Taoism, or wu-hsing. On this written assignment, you are to choose one of these three philosophical schools (Confucianism, Taoism, or Five Agents) and apply the principles of that philosophy to explaining why the painting was painted the way it was. In the first paragraph, you are to explain the philosophy and how you're going to apply it. In the second paragraph, I want you to focus on the painting above and its visual elements, color, contrast, definition, size, perspective, and so on, and explain how these visual elements relate to the philosophy described in your first paragraph. I want you to focus less on what is being represented (that is, what the artist is seeing) and focus more on how it's being painted (that is, on how the artist visually communicates world view).


Materials   In order to make this argument, you are to use the following things:
a.) The text of Confucius's Analects or Lao Tzu on the Internet or in your course packet, or the discussion of the Han Synthesis, Five Agents, and yin/yang in your textbook. I want you to quote passages that you are using to make your argument.
b.) Chinese terms and concepts that you've learned in class or from the glossary.
c.) I also want you to specifically develop your answer from a previous answer submitted by another student (the exception to this is the first person to submit an answer)
   You are allowed to work in groups of two or three; in fact, I really encourage it on this quiz.

Richard Hooker



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Updated 9-29-97