I've been learning about Chinese painting lately. In traditional Chinese painting landscape is very important. The Chinese philosophy sees man and nature as one, without the western tendency to keep the two separate. Within this idea, it is logical that natural subjects would be important. The stigma of triteness given to animal art, and even landscape in western cultures does not exist in China. In Chinese paintings these subjects, along with plants, are of the utmost importance. This concept is so obvious within the culture that it need not be defended. Chinese people have been thinking this way about nature for thousands of years.
Landscape is perhaps the most important subject in Chinese painting. The landscape is treated in a very intellectual and symbolic way. This can be best demonstrated by noting the teaching regimen for landscape. First, and artist must learn the basics of Chinese brushwork and begin to copy master landscapes. When a certain understanding of the basic structure and language is gathered, the artist heads out to paint from nature. The artist is not truly a landscape painter until he stops painting from nature, and gains the ability to make up his own ideal landscape out of his head.
This is not an impossible feat, because Chinese painting stylizes and simplifies the landscape in to an elegant language. Chinese aesthetic demands the essence of the subject, not a documentation of it. Thus, Chinese painting, but also landscape painting more specifically, becomes its own language for expression of many unutterable truths. Landscape becomes a forum, or medium of an ideal and an expression of feeling that can't be stated. So, Chinese landscape is more than landscape, but it is important that it takes the form of landscape.
My views on landscape are strikingly similar. I certainly believe that landscape is of central importance. I believe man's attempt to separate himself from nature is silly and foolish. I find landscape to be a great forum to express feelings and ideas. Landscape is symbolic and emotional as a subject, as well as formally stimulating. The stylistic diction of landscape in Chinese painting is beautiful and flexible. It is like an illustration of an abstract ideal. By making abstract ideas into recognizable images, the Chinese artist can make his most obtuse emotions and concepts available to the viewer in a comprehendible manner. That is a very exciting idea to me.
In my painting, I push these ideas one step further. Chinese painters use brushwork to create expressive power. I do the same. But Chinese artists tend to focus on the brushstroke as the main element of expression. Color, even when present is not of great importance. In my paintings I also use color as an expressive tool, just like brushstrokes. In Chinese painting extremes in value are rarely used, subtlety being preferred. I use intense value contrast and shifts expressively. Most importantly, Chinese stylization takes landscape a long way away from what the eye sees. This gap makes for easy symbolism and idealism. But I think the landscapes then miss something important. The viewer cannot vividly imagine himself at a particular location or within the landscape he is viewing. While I would hesitate to call myself a realist, my works are realistic enough to place the viewer at a time and place. That gives the viewer a thrilling churn in the stomach and sets the imagination on fire. It is a sublime, spiritual moment when you become lost in a painting. Despite all the other factors that are important to me, I want to transport my viewer, not just in an intellectual way, but viscerally.