xi tang


Shan Shui

One of my favorite periods in Chinese brush painting that arose during the Song Dynasty (960-1279).  Artist of the discipline enveloped Taoist principles through painting in order to highlight the complexity of the cosmos, and how the repetition in patterns and structure lead to this complexity.

“Shan shui painting is a kind of painting which goes against the common definition of what a painting is. Shan shui painting refutes color, light and shadow and personal brush work. Shan shui painting is not an open window for the viewer’s eye, it is an object for the viewer’s mind. Shan shui painting is more like a vehicle of philosophy.”

Ch'eng His (via)

This overarching aim is based in three strict principles in order to achieve true balance and form:

  • Paths:  Pathways should never be straight. They should meander like a stream. This helps deepen the landscape by adding layers. The path can be the river, or a path along it, or the tracing of the sun through the sky over the shoulder of the mountain.  The concept is to never create inorganic patterns, but instead to mimic the patterns that nature creates(via)
  • The Threshold:  The path should lead to a threshold. The threshold is there to embrace you and provide a special welcome. The threshold can be the mountain, or its shadow upon the ground, or its cut into the sky.  The concept is always that a mountain or its boundary must be defined clearly. (via)
  • The Heart: The heart is the focal point of the painting and all elements should lead to it. The heart defines the meaning of the painting. The concept should imply that each painting has a single focal point, and that all the natural lines of the painting direct inwards to this point. (via)

One reason why this form of expression is so appealing to me is that rather than the artists trying to create something out of nothing, or rather create something that is aesthetically ideally superior, the artist relinquishes the vision to the patterns in nature in order to highlight the overwhelming complexity of our reality and the underwhelming place humans are in it’s vastness.  What is thought, in light of the abyssal complexity of the cosmos, is exemplified through the mirror of nature and the outcome is beautifully intricate yet monolithic in it’s stature.


1)  Li Tang - Wind in Pines Among a Myriad Valleys (1124) An Example of “Axe-Cut” Style brush strokes.  One of my personal favorites of the era. (via)

2)  Fan Kuan - Travelers Among Mountains and Streams (1000-1120)  One of the greatest mountainous monument landscapes.  Considered one of the greatest works of the Discipline. (via)

3)  Li Cheng - A Solitary Temple amid Clearing Peaks (919-967) An example of using diluted ink to create a foggy dreamlike landscape. (via)

4)  Guo Xi - Early Spring (1072)   Highlights the inhuman perspective or a an example of a piece with multiple perspectives called “The Angle of Totality” (via)


An overview of Chinese history from 907-1200, the Fall of the T'ang until the Eve of the Mongol invasion. Setting up Information for Future Videos.