A Tale of Five Painters – Part VII

Summary and Epilogue

dtpHelsinki-0007 1.jpgThis series starts to behave like Douglas Adam’s “increasingly inaccurately named” Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy trilogy in five installments: it just keeps adding new parts. But I will stop after this one, I promise…

But I thought it might be useful, for you and me, to summarize some of the insights and tools we’ve found so far. And there is still the question, why I thought that just these artists from a different culture should guide my way.

We have seen in the works of these painters many tools like leading lines, “biased” or skewed compositions, receding layers, musical rhythms, atmospheric perspective, abstraction and “dynamic” empty space as useful tools that are also available to the photographer.

But more importantly, we have seen empty space not only as a tool but as a subject matter of visual art, something that is not seen in Western art before the 20th century. This, I reported, corresponds to some of my own experiences in nature.

The most important reason, though, why I chose these masters as mentors over any Western artist was the lack of romanticism in their work. Now, this is something I have to explain.

When it comes to Western landscape art, romanticism is still a dominating force. From Rembrandt and Ruisdael to Turner, the Hudson School and Caspar David Friedrich goes a developing line of inheritance. That line was only broken during the 19th century, when in fact Western artists came in contact with Japanese woodblock prints (!). Romanticism has become part of our (well, I can say for sure: my) cultural backbone and heritage. And yes, I love Caspar David Friedrich‘s works as much as the next German.

The problem with romanticism, however, is that it adds layers and layers of psychology, dreams, hopes, longing, fear, looking into the past on top of our already faulty faculties (the brainy-filters) in perception of nature and landscape. Romanticism is in truth about us, not nature. And while we still find traces of romanticism in Ma Yuan and Xia Gui, the works of Muqi, Sesshū and Tōhaku are utterly free of it.

Romanticism is also at odds with what we have learned about nature in the last 150 years. Darwin, Einstein, Heisenberg, modern physics and biology have shown us that nature is quite different from what we thought. Personally, I think we cannot and should not disregard these insights in the field of art. There is a reason that I mention these science disciplines from time to time: I take them very seriously in my attempts to form a view of the world and of nature. And I think the intuition of the masters presented here is far more compatible with this modern view of the world than romanticism is. That is because, as I’ve tried to show, these masters try to re-train our intuituition to see nature as forces and energies, rather than objects to which we attach our feelings and desires. And that’s why I see them as more fitting starting point for my work.

And should I ever produce anything close to the quality of Tohakū’s Pine Forest, I can retire – and rest my case. As I will now for this series. Still, I hope you enjoyed the ride and if I should have gotten you interested in investigating more of the works of these (and the many not mentioned) masters of Asia I would be very glad.


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