Monday, 7 October 2013

On Chinese Landscape Painting and Japanese Gardens. Part 2/5


Composition and Organisation

This pertains to the structure and style of the garden composition before us. In Japan several styles of garden have emerged within the tradition, pond and island stroll gardens of larger estates; the karesansui garden which largely evolved in Zen Buddhist temples; the tea gardens or roji that lead the participants of the tea ceremony to the nigriguchi or ‘crawling in’ entrance of the tea house; and the tsubo niwa or courtyard garden which developed particularly in the homes of the merchant classes. Each of these categories identifies a particular style of garden that is identifiable by various factors such as size, function, location and character. Not that they are necessarily exclusive to one another, indeed they frequently borrow and interchange elements from each other.


The term ‘composition’ implies that a painting, as a garden, both have an underlying skeletal structure. Just as when we look at another human being (or any other form), what we register visually is the surface structure of the object. But the surface structure is entirely dependant on the underlying structure or framework of that object. This is equally true of the skin stretched over a skeleton of bone, as it is of the crystalline organisation of a rock placed in the garden. In Japan it is recognised that the arrangement of stones (ishigumi) forms the skeletal structure of the garden, the planting coming as the ‘flesh on the bones’. A measure of the skill of a garden creator is measured by his skill in arranging rocks, not particularly by the depth of his knowledge of plants. In both painting and the garden this internal and external structure is influenced by the idea or inspiration.

“Although painting is representation of form, it is dominated by idea. If the idea is insufficiently brought out, it may be said, that the picture has no form either. But as the idea is form, it cannot be expressed if the form is neglected. When the form is grasped, the idea will fill it completely; but when form is lost, how can there be either form or idea?”  Wang Li, poet and painter late 13th C [1].


The painter may be inspired by observing landscape scenery, and then records the impressions of what he sees and feels. He then has the task of rendering his work within the confines of the format on which he records his response to what he sees and feels. The garden creator has a different approach where the form or structure of the garden is dictated by an idea and then overlaid by function. Also in terms of structure the garden creator is deeply influenced by the nature and configuration of the space in which the garden will appear. In this way, a garden set within an area close bounded by architecture will differ from a space characterised by openness and distant views. Also the garden creator often has to respond to the demands made or implied by the client, whereas the painter has perhaps a greater freedom of expression in this respect. In this way both paintings and gardens are subject to limitations that originate from cultural, social and experiential conditions.

Matsuo Taisha, by Shigemori Mirei
We readily accept that a painting expresses a quality that reflects the individual style or identity of the artist, whereas a garden tends not to exhibit this so strongly. It seems that often the individuality of the garden creator is subsumed in the making of the garden. Perhaps this arises from the fact that a garden tends to be the result of a collective effort, whereas a painting owes more to the expression of an individual, Saying that, one cannot easily mistake seeing the individuality in the work of Shigemori Mirei 重森三玲 (1896-1975) with his profound emphasis of the vertical line in the rock arrangements, and bold use of less than traditional materials such as concrete. More often in the Japanese garden the individuality of the creator is hidden under a cloak of naturalism, as for example in the work of Ogawa Jihei 小川治兵衛 (1860-1933). Perhaps it is part of the response to creating gardens that it is more ‘natural’, more fitting somehow that the individuality of expression is shrouded in this way, the garden creator works entirely with materials brought in directly from nature, and they still retain very much their own patterns of energy, and it is through those very energies that the structure of the work is revealed. In the landscape paintings, it is the landscapes themselves that dominate the scene, human figures and activity where they do occur are entirely secondary in scale to the landscapes being depicted. Many gardens, particularly the karesansui  type are viewed from outside of the garden, detached from it, as to allow people into the gardens would over balance the sense of illusion of what is being depicted that the magic so conveyed would lose its force.

Shokuho-en, by Ogawa Jihei

The essential qualities of painting were established, most famously by Xie He 谢赫 (a 5th C writer, art historian and critic) who codified six principles in the preface to his book The Record of the Classification of Old Painters 古画品录:

  1. ‘Spirit resonance’; the most important principle of all, which refers to the expression of energy in the work.

  1. ‘The Bone (structure) Method’; the various ways of using the brush and the manner of brush strokes depicting elements of the composition. As in calligraphy individual expression and identity was revealed by the mastery in the way a brush was applied

  1. ‘Correspondence to the Object’; the expression of forms and shapes corresponding to the subject being depicted.

  1. ‘Suitability to Type’; the application of colour, layers and the values of ink to establish the sense of depth in the composition.

  1. ‘Division and Planning’; the placement and arrangement of the various elements of the composition thus expressing depth and space.

  1. ‘Transmission and Copying’; painting not only from life, but studying and copying the works of past masters.

Whilst it is difficult to extrapolate a direct casual connection between Xie He’s principles and garden making in Japan, the Japanese would have been aware of the importance in which these principles were held on the mainland. Both art forms (painting and gardens) have the relationship of man to landscape as their central concern. Chinese culture was held in a sense of awe and reverence in Japan, and it was the principal source upon which they modelled the development of their society, as well as their approach to the arts. Also we should bear in mind that relatively few Japanese travelled to China. When one considers these points there are several areas which can be identified where there does seem to be a correspondence with garden making as practiced in Japan.


Adach Museum, Matsue.





[1] Osvald Sirén 


To follow this blog: the 'Follow by E-mail' facility is now operating. Don't miss a beat and sign in.

Also do not forget to try: http://www.newpages.com/blogs/writers-blogs.htm