Exploring visual art from the Far East (by which I mean China and Japan), is a voyage into strange waters for the Western viewer. It can be uncomfortable for the timid, and unnerving for the narrow-minded, but it is eye-opening to everyone. There’s a graphic vocabulary completely different from our own, a different way of using color, a different approach to composition.
Below is a contemporary landscape using a traditional approach, by Chinese artist Song Wenzhi.
Song Wenzhi, New Aspects of Lake Tai, 1973
Western composition is a monarchy: this element here is the King, and it’s the first thing you should look at because it’s the biggest and catches the most light. Important things in the foreground, less vital things in the midground, and so on. There’s a clear order.
Eastern composition is a garden: we put a rock here, but not such a huge rock that it dominates the landscape. Here’s a tree. Here’s a slightly smaller rock, and we add elements until it feels balanced.
Song Wenzhi, Jiangsu, 1975
Western art could learn a thing or two… or maybe it’s just another way of doing things. It seems to me that whereas the West became bogged down in perspective and chiaroscuro, the East developed a keen sensitivity to the weight and quality of line. “Copying Reality” isn’t an issue in Eastern Art.
The Far East also has better monsters.
Take a look at Yoshitoshi Taiso’s illustrations for 36 Ghosts right now, and tell me what you think! Does the West have anything that can compare to the raw energy and terror in Taiso’s work?