How to appreciate Chinese painting

3:00pm - 5:00pm / Monday 18th November 2019 / Venue: Centre for Lifelong Learning, 126-128 Mount Pleasant
Type: Lecture / Category: Department / Series: Confucius Institute
  • Admission: Admission is free, please register here.
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Qiyun shengdong (through spirit consonance engendering a sense of life), originally proposed by the South Dynasty critic Xie He (active 500–535?) as the first in his six laws of Chinese painting, has been echoed by numerous later Chinese artists, theorists, and connoisseurs up to this day.

Some scholars such as Ronald Egan think that Xie He intended his notion of qiyun (spirit consonance) to apply only to figure painting in his time, and it was the 10th century master and theorist Jing Hao’s later application of qiyun to landscape painting that brings a new sense of landscape painting as a living and dynamic entity.

In this lecture, we will learn to appreciate Chinese painting from understanding the notion of qiyun initially applied in the context of figure painting as dominant genre and later developed in the context of landscape painting.

We will see why landscape becomes a popular subject-matter in the Song and Yuan Dynasties, how landscape paintings were typically produced, who they were for, and why the allegedly revolutionary replacement of Song paintings’ realism by Yuan paintings’ expressionism endorsed by some influential Anglophone art historians such as Max Loehr, James Cahill and Wen Fong is questionable.

This lecture will show that the application of qiyun in landscape painting from the 10th century to the 14th century reflects landscapists’, theorists’ and connoisseurs’ conception of natural existence as processual formulated through a synthesis of Confucianism and Daoism. Moreover, we will see that the moral dimension involved in the notion of qiyun in the context of landscape painting reflects how artists conceive of the relationship between ethics and aesthetics with respect to the natural world.