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Ancient Japanese Art

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    When I finally got to the museum, I drug my feet a bit at the thought of having to take another art history class and about having to write another art history paper. I flashed my yellow pass and got my clearance to enter. I clamped the DAM purple badge to my oversized jacket and was on my way to the elevator. I dont even like Chinese art work. I staggered around like a zombie whining the whole time.

    There were a few pieces that I admired, nothing that I loved though. The large and intricately painted vases really stood out from everything else. I dont like things that are too complicated to even remember when you cant see them. I thought about writing about the little porcelain cups, but thought that tea drinking really couldnt be all that important to teach me about art.

    I circled the exhibit at least twelve times before an hour had passed and I had to get going soon. I sat down by this rather sloppy scroll of a landscape and found it much more real than anything else there. I selected Along the Wu River. It was done by a man named Shen Zhou who was born in China in 1947 and died in 1509.I liked some of the pieces that were showcased on the floor, but this is the one that I found to be a little mysterious.

    When I first saw this piece of work I questioned its value and just why it was in the museum because two feet away on either side of it were beautiful inkings and paintings. I looked back in the middle and found this piece of art to be more of a piece of crap. So I looked harder. The work is painted on part of a horizontally unraveled scroll. The exposed part of the scroll is one foot high and four feet from left to right. To the far right the re-scroll had a few feet rolled up into a tube. To the left an unknown amount of the scroll is still hidden from view. It looks like at least another fifteen feet.

    Black ink is applied delicately on the buff and textured paper. The paper reminds me of brown paper bags for lunch, but lighter. It also appeared to have the same smooth yet fuzzy texture to it. The brush strokes consist of mostly horizontal motions. The strokes are rather equal with each other. All the lines are haphazard looking but also contained and precise. I has almost a coloring book style to it, but the lines arent quite cookie cutter all the way around.

    Theres no real shading, mostly bolder lines on one side to suggest shadows and a light source. There are a few lighter bamboo thickets in the background on the opposite side of the river. Above that there are some light gray washed mountains giving a nice skyline. The line weights also suggest the roughness of the rocks and the mountains, as well as the texture of the bark on the trees.

    and there are four red stamps on the right side of the scroll. The stamps fall in place vertically, each right above or under another. Each of the red stamps contains characters, but ninety percent of these characters look like people and animals.

    The shape and the form of the landscape consists of rolling rocks, gangly trees, a path, and of course the Wu River. The whole flow of the painting moves from left to right with a few spins and swirls along the way. This panoramic has a strange sense of space that immerses and holds you. A feeling of tranquillity and serenity warmly radiate from the scroll. Starting to the left there is a part of a hill that slopes down just a bit until it reaches the path. This is all far to the left, still touching the scroll. After the path, another hill slopes up and up to form a peak of a small mountain/ rocky hill at about one foot into the painting. There is moss-like plants growing in a random pattern all the way to the top. This mountain slants slightly to the right as if something is pulling it.

    After the mountain slopes back down, you can see the river. This is about one and a half feet into the painting. The river is plain and empty except for a few land formations protruding from the middle and far right. These land formations are darker gray. The river continues all the way to the far right of the painting where it meets another hill going up and is pinched off from sight. It happens right where the second red stamp falls. The first is right above it and is bigger in the sky.

    The ground between the bottom of the hill on the left and the bottom of the hill on the right consists of three peaks. Each with a group of three leafless, but strong looking trees. They seem to reach for the heavens and stretch from a nap of a thousand years. There are two evergreenish looking trees on the hill to the right. The area between the hills and under the river also contains large stones that leave cracks for thicket to grow.

    The rivers horizon line is right in the middle of the painting. Across the river light bamboo grows straight up. Above the bamboo are the gray washed mountains. I don’t know if I would call this aerial perspective or linear. It is sort of in between. Depth was attempted and accomplished, but just to a limited degree. It looks like a real place.

    Seeing the feelings I noticed, I thought about this piece and this place. I wonder where it is or what its significance is. I wonder why the artist took the time that he did to paint this. Who is this artist that took the time?I just am surprised at the amount of emotion that came through at the time.

    I thought to myself that this would be a nice place to be on a sunny summer day with the smell of warm air blowing over your face; bobbing in and out of sleep with a nod of the head. It put me in the mood to sleep. What a nice place. There was no evidence that man had settle this area other than the path, which could have been made by animals, and the artist. Aside from that, I find it to be a very natural and peaceful place.

    The thoughts here are more cognitive than mental. But after saying that and after thinking more; maybe there is more to this than is obvious. Maybe this is where a gigantic battle to a war that ended an old feud between two nations that hated each other for a mysterious reason. Maybe this place isnt real at all, but inspired by the original Wu River. maybe this is the artists hiding place and he decided that he would share it with whoever would look so far into it.

    I know that seeing this myself, it reminds me of walks with my dad when I was a kid. After waking up just the two of us, we would eat some soggy cereal and putting on our shoes, (me velcroing my grade-school-grandpa-shoes), and heading out to look for a good place to catch some catfish and a cold. Maybe this is the place that he first went fishing with his dad too. Who knows?I have always found the Chinese culture to be very diverse from our own.

    Look at all the great things that come from there. Beef and broccoli, Bruce Lee, and who could live without furniture rearranging. To my surprise there is much more to them and their culture. Especially the arts. Since China has been around for two thousand years, they have some pretty good concepts of what art should be. I do not feel like boring myself or anyone else with frivolous information so here is a little background on art in the Ming Dynasty.

    In the Ming dynasty (1368-1644) the entire process of image making became more calligraphic. Since painters had always used a brush and ink similar to the calligrapher’s, they had always tended to build their forms out of the basic brushstrokes used in forming Chinese characters. Now these tendencies were systematized, and the more representational values in pictorial art were often rejected in favor of a greater abstraction of form. Some Ming painters, such as the influential master and art theorist Dong Qichang (Tung Ch’i-ch’ang, 1555-1636), declared that ultimately calligraphy and painting were the same “dao” (“tao,” or “way”).

    Ming artists believed that exemplars from the past could provide aesthetic standards for the present; thus the styles of many past masters were kept alive as options within the painter’s contemporary vocabulary. Innumerable works are signed as “in the manner of” some earlier artist. The Wu school, an important school of Ming landscape painting founded by Shen Zhou (Shen Chou), was based on these values.(Groliers, Ming Dynasty: Chinese art and architecture)Did you see that? The Wu school founded by Shen Zhou, thats the guy that did my painting. He did a lot more than I thought he did, so I looked him up.

    Shen Chou (1427-1509) was born into a distinguished and well-to-do family of Soechow scholars and artists. He did not seek an official career in government, but chose a quiet life devoted to his interests in poetry, painting and calligraphy, and to his mother who lived to be almost 100 years old. Shen enjoyed the friendship of the most outstanding scholar-officials of his time. In his art as well as in his life the contrast with the academic painters of the Che school such as Tai Chin and Lu Chi (Nos. 92,93) could not be greater. He studied and followed the tradition of the great Yuan dynasty Iandscapists and through the latter, of Tung Yuan and Chu-jan. Not until he was 87 did he feel satisfaction for his work.

    Also seeing Tao or Dao, I got curious and decided to look up on Shen Zhous religion. It is a religion that I heard quite a bit about, but never took the time to see exactly what they were trying to accomplish. I believe this quote sums it up perfectly:”We believe in the formless and eternal Tao, and we recognize all personified deities as being mere human constructs. We reject hatred, intolerance, and unnecessary violence, and embrace harmony, love and learning, as we are taught by Nature. We place our trust and our lives in the Tao, that we may live in peace and balance with the Universe, both in this mortal life and beyond.”

    I really think that you can tell by the way that Shen tried to understand the land better than the land new itself. After seeing that I had this much to say and so much more information, I questioned my original statement about it being a piece of crap. I looked again and again and found this to be more of an ugly duckling that grows on you. Sure there wasnt a whole heck of a lot to it, nor a bunch of fancy lettering or color schemes, but it was nice. It was really nice.

    Personally, I wouldnt care what the real meaning of this picture was. I dont like it because it looks expensive or because its done perfectly. I like it because it is what it is and that is all. Sure it could be more or less by whatever you think of it, but I find it full of talent. It has got a language all its own. Maybe I dont understand it, but golly I do like it.


    1. Grolier Multimedia Encyclopedia Deluxe Edition: Ming Dynasty; Chinese Art and Architecture. Mindscape, 1999.
    2. Tse, Lao:, last date updated unknown.
    3. Robinson, B.A., Copyright 1995 to 1999 include., Original publishing date: 1995-JUN-3, Latest update on: 1999 DEC-22.
    4. Tzu, Lao; Tao Te Ching, From a translation by S. Mitchell: -, Last updated 20 July 1995

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