On Fan Kuan's Travelers Among Mountains and Streams

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Sam Bull
Mrs. Kaiser
AP Art History
December 23, 2012
Where sunlight is dusted of the countryside that, like chalked satin, is about to form wings, Fan Kuan drew that place. He drew a place that even the tallest souls, dwarfed by the mountains, were unable to reach, their temples still throbbing with the dismasked energy of a cloudy sky. In the foreground there are a total of four donkeys and one human traveler, possibly the artist himself, moving through mountainous terrain in China’s Shanxi Region. They resemble the shadows of a similar procession moving somewhere out of sight, the shadows of their souls traveling beside them unseen yet wholly more solid than the material world. The perspective of this painting puts the viewer in the eye of a deity, something bigger than the sum of its parts gazed down at its own beauty, the living earth looking into perfect enlightenment. The lack of pigment making up the mists at the base of the background and the streams in the middle ground imply that nothingness and oneness are at the heart of this sublime natural scene. The black ink used in this painting, the lack of ink used to create certain elements in this painting, and the perspective of this painting, which puts the viewer in a god-like position, reflect the beauty of nature and the values of the glorious marriage between Nature and Buddhism called the Tao.

In Chinese landscape paintings such as Travelers Among Mountains and Streams black calligraphy ink was employed, making the painting a poetic extension, and also giving it a shadowed quality. This can best be seen in the “travelers” that seem to be splotched into existence at the bottom right corner of the painting. If the physical world that the travelers inhabit is represented as a shadow, then what has the tangibility to cast the shadows of physical existence? What is the light that sets it all to being in the first place? When approaching this question from a Taoist interpretation the entity that casts...
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