(Above: Old Trees, Guo Xi, Source: China Online Museum)
Thoughts: The widely Artistic statement; or what was thought to be Guo Xi’s vision put into words, left behind during the flourishing era of the Northern Song Dynasty comprises of concepts that greatly dealt with the relation of nature and its harmony with mankind. It likened mankind’s behaviour to akin of the naturalistic mountains; the Chinese idiom of ‘There’s always a mountain higher than the other’, to how nobility ranking affected the imperial court.
Yet so, the artists then strive for a form of almost Utopia-like concept towards their depiction; if you were to observe more closely behind the intentions and symbols behind their understanding towards the landscapes. There were little to no chaos dated in the artworks themselves, and even when to which there are cases of Princes of other greater provinces paying respects to a Lord of higher rank, there was no form of humiliation; even when kowtowing to a man might be against the ‘face’ and pride of the high-ranking prince. It seems as though people were in harmony as much as nature is; where there’s a natural order of things (the mountains will always be bigger than the sizes of trees, and trees will always be larger than the average man); the respect and understanding of how mountains varied in appearance from the four seasons also further proved the need to depict the nature as it is, where by capturing the epitome of its heightened accuracy yet only opting to pick the most aesthetic elements from nature allowed them to remain true to their concept of wanting to remain as authentic as possible by making the picture have a stronger, slightly more minimalist approach rather than being too messy in the eye for the person to be able to effectively ‘go into the mood’ of the atmosphere.
It is also interesting to note that modern day knowledge of how nearer objects are characteristically recognised to be darker in colour due to the proximity of the eye, as compared to the higher shades of objects further away; were already used to depict the distance of the mountain in Guo Xi’s painting during the Northern Song period, showing great care on their part to ensure the level of accuracy in their works. Furthermore, mountains that are further away were also less detailed and more blurred in their depiction; similar to how it is viewed to the naked eye. Still, the understanding how larger mountains also served as the purpose to showing a more looming sense of presence, a larger figure and in a sense, creating a sense of intimidating and respect is also seen in the workings. The combination of such a technique alongside with the perspective continuing on behind seamlessly, prevalent to landscape works during the Northern Song period, eventually supports its way to the heavenly-like, elegant landscape akin to the deity realm. The floating, other-worldly notion is then, able to wind its way through to the viewer’s eyes.
The ethereal-like depiction, yet shows a remarkable understanding behind the purpose and concept of how lighting and shades work hand-in-hand together when it comes to the depiction of distances in relation to the mountains. With these tools, they strive to create and capture the intended mood of the moment, be it tranquillity or peace of any sorts. As quoted, painting should be done in a manner ‘ambitious yet not superfluous’. Attention is also paid to the smaller details, for smaller details can also sum up the bigger picture; in the case of how the mountain that is lacking in the presence of haze around them is akin to the the spring season without the coming and blooming of flowers amongst them. The respect and reverence towards the more highly regarded form of art, Chinese Poetry and Literature, has also left its mark over at the importance and weigh placed behind the brushstrokes used to depict the trees then. By notion of Chinese intellects then, the strength of the brush also lends weigh to the feelings of the artist then. A strong, wider brushstroke for stronger intentions, which was recognised widely by the Chinese to depict their emotions.