chinese line art

Six Persimmons

Six Persimmons is a work of art by Mu Qi, a 13th century Chinese artist. Although it is a remarkably simple painting, it is known as one of the most important pieces of Chinese art of all time, known in particular for it’s skilled composition and brushwork. The lines forming the stems of the persimmons resemble Chinese characters.

Six Persimmons was painted in the spontaneous style of Chinese painting, which is marked by quick brushstrokes. Spontaneous painters made pieces in a matter of minutes, although they may have been considering the subject matter for days, weeks, or even months.

It should be noted that often Chinese art attempts to establish a hierarchy between subjects of the painting. For instance, a Buddhist painting might have the Shakyamuni Buddha enormous and central in the painting, with bodhisattvas and monks flanking him. In Confucian art, the Emperor or another important figure will be placed in the center of the painting and exaggerated in size, and members of the court will be to the sides of him, bowing.

Six Persimmons makes use of some of these same techniques, but simplified and abstracted. The piece makes use of various techniques in order to establish differences (even a hierarchy) between the fruits. Value (lightness and darkness) is the most obvious, as is size. This would indicate that the central, darkness persimmon is the key of the painting. However, the persimmon that is just below the others was placed there to make is seem like it was in front of the others, a technique that was common in Chinese painting. So it is also possible that this persimmon is the most important. 

Ultimately, what Mu Qi truly intended with the painting is lost to time, and art historians can only theorize what was going through his mind as he touched his brush to the page.

Tell yourself
as it gets cold and gray falls from the air
that you will go on
walking, hearing
the same tune no matter where
you find yourself—
inside the dome of dark
or under the cracking white
of the moon’s gaze in a valley of snow.
Tonight as it gets cold
tell yourself
what you know which is nothing
but the tune your bones play
as you keep going. And you will be able
for once to lie down under the small fire
of winter stars.
And if it happens that you cannot
go on or turn back
and you find yourself
where you will be at the end,
tell yourself
in that final flowing of cold through your limbs
that you love what you are.

Mark Strand - for Ros Krauss - Lines for Winter

Image:  Gao Xingjian