Landscape Art

Text edited and elaborated from Wikipedia ‘Landscape Art’. For ongoing update.

Landscape painting, also known as landscape art, is the depiction in art of landscapes, natural scenery such as mountains, valleys, trees, rivers, and forests, and especially art where the main subject is a wide view, with its elements arranged into a coherent composition. In other works landscape backgrounds for figures can still form an important part of the work. Sky is almost always included in the view, and weather is often an element of the composition. Detailed landscapes as a distinct subject are not found in all artistic traditions, and develop when there is already a sophisticated tradition of representing other subjects. The two main traditions spring from Western painting and Chinese art, going back well over a thousand years in both cases. The recognition of a spiritual element in landscape art is present form its beginnings in East Asian art, drawing on Daoism and other philosophical traditions, but in the West only becomes explicit with Romanticism.

The word “landscape” entered the modern English language as landskip (variously spelt), an anglicization of the Dutch landschap, around the start of the 17th century, purely as a term for works of art, with its first use as a word for a painting in 1598. Within a few decades it was used to describe vistas in poetry, and eventually as a term for real views. However the cognate term landscaef or landskipe for a cleared patch of land had existed in Old English, though it is not recorded from Middle English. Landscape views in art may be entirely imaginary, or copied from reality with varying degrees of accuracy. If the primary purpose of a picture is to depict an actual, specific place, especially including buildings prominently, it is called a topographical view. Such views, extremely common as prints in the West, are often seen as inferior to fine art landscapes, although the distinction is not always meaningful; similar prejudices existed in Chinese art, where literati painting usually depicted imaginary views, while professional court artists painted real views, often including palaces and cities.

History

 

Zhan Ziqian, Strolling About in Spring, a very early Chinese landscape, c. 600

 

Hand G, Bas-de-page of the Baptism of Christ,Turin-Milan Hours, Flanders c. 1425

 

Titian, La Vierge au Lapin à la Loupe (The Virgin of the Rabbit), 1530, Louvre, Paris. Idealized Italianate landscape background.

 

Rembrandt, The Three Trees, 1643, etching

 

Pieter Brueghel the Elder, The Harvesters, 1565: Peace and agriculture in a pre-Romantic ideal landscape, without sublime terrors

 

Claude Lorrain, Ascanius Shooting the Stag of Sylvia, 1682. The landscape as history painting.

 

Jan van Goyen, Dune landscape, c. 1630-1635, an example of the “tonal” style in Dutch Golden Age painting

 

Caspar David Friedrich, Wanderer above the Sea of Fog, 1818. A classic image of German Romanticism.

 

Frederic Edwin Church, The Heart of the Andes,1859. Church was part of the American Hudson River School.

The earliest forms of art around the world depict little that could really be called landscape, although ground-lines and sometimes indications of mountains, trees or other natural features are included. The earliest “pure landscapes” with no human figures are frescos from Minoan Greece of around 1500 BCE. Hunting scenes, especially those set in the enclosed vista of the reed beds of the Nile Delta from Ancient Egypt, can give a strong sense of place, but the emphasis is on individual plant forms and human and animal figures rather than the overall landscape setting. For a coherent depiction of a whole landscape, some rough system of perspective, or scaling for distance, is needed, and this seems from literary evidence to have first been developed in Ancient Greece in the Hellenistic period, although no large-scale examples survive. More ancient Roman landscapes survive, from the 1st century BCE onwards, especially frescos of landscapes decorating rooms that have been preserved at archaeological sites of PompeiiHerculaneum and elsewhere, and mosaics.

The Chinese ink painting tradition of shan shui (“mountain-water”), or “pure” landscape, in which the only sign of human life is usually a sage, or a glimpse of his hut, uses sophisticated landscape backgrounds to figure subjects, and landscape art of this period retains a classic and much-imitated status within the Chinese tradition.

Both the Roman and Chinese traditions typically show grand panoramas of imaginary landscapes, generally backed with a range of spectacular mountains – in China often with waterfalls and in Rome often including sea, lakes or rivers. These were frequently used, as in the example illustrated, to bridge the gap between a foreground scene with figures and a distant panoramic vista, a persistent problem for landscape artists. The Chinese style generally showed only a distant view, or used dead ground or mist to avoid that difficulty.

A major contrast between landscape painting in the West and East Asia has been that while in the West until the 19th century it occupied a low position in the accepted hierarchy of genres, in East Asia the classic Chinese mountain-water ink painting was traditionally the most prestigious form of visual art. Aesthetic theories in both regions gave the highest status to the works seen to require the most imagination from the artist. In the West this was history painting, but in East Asia it was the imaginary landscape, where famous practitioners were, at least in theory, amateur literati, including several Emperors of both China and Japan. They were often also poets whose lines and images illustrated each other. However in the West, history painting came to require an extensive landscape background where appropriate, so the theory did not entirely work against the development of landscape painting – for several centuries landscapes were regularly promoted to the status of history painting by the addition of small figures to make a narrative scene, typically religious or mythological.

Western tradition

Medieval

In early Western medieval art interest in landscape disappears almost entirely, kept alive only in copies of Late Antique works such as the Utrecht Psalter; the last reworking of this source, in an early Gothic version, reduces the previously extensive landscapes to a few trees filling gaps in the composition, with no sense of overall space. A revival in interest in nature initially mainly manifested itself in depictions of small gardens such as the Hortus Conclusus or those in millefleur tapestries. The frescos of figures at work or play in front of a background of dense trees in the Palace of the Popes, Avignon are probably a unique survival of what was a common subject. Several frescos of gardens have survived from Roman houses like the Villa of Livia.

During the 14th century Giotto di Bondone and his followers began to acknowledge nature in their work, increasingly introducing elements of the landscape as the background setting for the action of the figures in their paintings. Early in the 15th century, landscape painting was established as a genre in Europe, as a setting for human activity, often expressed in a religious subject, such as the themes of the Rest on the Flight into Egypt, the Journey of the Magi, or Saint Jerome in the Desert. Luxury illuminated manuscripts were very important in the early development of landscape, especially series of the Labours of the Months such as those in the Très Riches Heures du Duc de Berry, which conventionally showed small genre figures in increasingly large landscape settings. A particular advance is shown in the less well-knownTurin-Milan Hours, now largely destroyed by fire, whose developments were reflected in Early Netherlandish painting for the rest of the century. The artist known as “Hand G”, probably one of the Van Eyck brothers, was especially successful in reproducing effects of light and in a natural-seeming progression from the foreground to the distant view. This was something other artists were to find difficult for a century or more, often solving the problem by showing a landscape background from over the top of a parapet or window-sill, as if from a considerable height.

Renaissance

Landscape backgrounds for various types of painting became increasingly prominent and skilful during the century. The period around the end of the 15th century saw pure landscape drawings and watercolours from Leonardo da Vinci, Albrecht Dürer, Fra Bartolomeo and others, but pure landscape subjects in painting and printmaking, still small, were first produced by Albrecht Altdorfer and others of the German Danube School in the early 16th century. At the same time Joachim Patinir in the Netherlands developed the “world landscape” a style of panoramic landscape with small figures and using a high aerial viewpoint, that remained influential for a century, being used and perfected by Pieter Brueghel the Elder. The Italian development of a thorough system of graphical perspective was now known all over Europe, which allowed large and complex views to be painted very effectively.

Landscapes were idealized, mostly reflecting a pastoral ideal drawn from classical poetry which was first fully expressed by Giorgione and the young Titian, and remained associated above all with hilly wooded Italian landscape, which was depicted by artists from Northern Europe who had never visited Italy, just as plain-dwelling literati in China and Japan painted vertiginous mountains. Though often young artists were encouraged to visit Italy to experience Italian light, many Northern European artists could make their living selling Italianate landscapes without ever bothering to make the trip. Indeed, certain styles were so popular that they became formulas that could be copied again and again.

The publication in Antwerp in 1559 and 1561 of two series of a total of 48 prints (the Small Landscapes) after drawings by an anonymous artist referred to as the Master of the Small Landscapes signalled a shift away from the imaginary, distant landscapes with religious content of the world landscape towards close-up renderings at eye-level of identifiable country estates and villages populated with figures engaged in daily activities. By abandoning the panoramic viewpoint of the world landscape and focusing on the humble, rural and even topographical, the Small Landscapes set the stage for Netherlandish landscape painting in the 17th century. After the publication of the Small Landscapes, landscape artists in the Low Countries either continued with the world landscape or followed the new mode presented by the Small Landscapes.

17th and 18th centuries

The popularity of exotic landscape scenes can be seen in the success of the painter Frans Post, who spent the rest of his life painting Brazilian landscapes after a trip there in 1636-1644. Other painters who never crossed the Alps could make money selling Rhineland landscapes, and still others for constructing fantasy scenes for a particular commission such as Cornelis de Man‘s view of Smeerenburg in 1639.

Compositional formulae using elements like the repoussoir were evolved which remain influential in modern photography and painting, notably by Poussin  and Claude Lorrain, both French artists living in 17th century Rome and painting largely classical subject-matter, or Biblical scenes set in the same landscapes. Unlike their Dutch contemporaries, Italian and French landscape artists still most often wanted to keep their classification within the hierarchy of genres as history painting by including small figures to represent a scene from classical mythology or the Bible. Salvator Rosa gave picturesque excitement to his landscapes by showing wilder Southern Italian country, often populated by banditi.

Dutch Golden Age painting of the 17th century saw the dramatic growth of landscape painting, in which many artists specialized, and the development of extremely subtle realist techniques for depicting light and weather. There are different styles and periods, and sub-genres of marine and animal painting, as well as a distinct style of Italianate landscape. Most Dutch landscapes were relatively small, but landscapes in Flemish Baroque painting, still usually peopled, were often very large, above all in the series of works that Peter Paul Rubens painted for his own houses. Landscape prints were also popular, with those of Rembrandt and the experimental works of Hercules Seghers usually considered the finest.

The Dutch tended to make smaller paintings for smaller houses. Some Dutch landscape specialties named in period inventories include the Batalje, or battle-scene; theManeschijntje, or moonlight scene; the Bosjes, or woodland scene; the Boederijtje, or farm scene,and the Dorpje or village scene.Though not named at the time as a specific genre, the popularity of Roman ruins inspired many Dutch landscape painters of the period to paint the ruins of their own region, such as monasteries and churches ruined after the Beeldenstorm.The popularity of landscapes in the Netherlands was in part a reflection of the virtual disappearance of religious painting in a Calvinist society, and the decline of religious painting in the 18th and 19th centuries all over Europe combined with Romanticism to give landscapes a much greater and more prestigious place in 19th-century art than they had assumed before.

In England, landscapes had initially been mostly backgrounds to portraits, typically suggesting the parks or estates of a landowner, though mostly painted in London by an artist who had never visited his sitter’s rolling acres; the English tradition was founded by Anthony van Dyck and other mostly Flemish artists working in England. In the 18th century,watercolour painting, mostly of landscapes, became an English speciality, with both a buoyant market for professional works, and a large number of amateur painters, many following the popular systems found in the books of Alexander Cozens and others. By the beginning of the 19th century the English artists with the highest modern reputations were mostly dedicated landscapists, showing the wide range of Romantic interpretations of the English landscape found in the works of John Constable, J.M.W. Turner and Samuel Palmer. However all these had difficulty establishing themselves in the contemporary art market, which still preferred history paintings and portraits.

In Europe, as John Ruskin said, and Sir Kenneth Clark confirmed, landscape painting was the “chief artistic creation of the nineteenth century”, and “the dominant art”, with the result that in the following period people were “apt to assume that the appreciation of natural beauty and the painting of landscape is a normal and enduring part of our spiritual activity” In Clark’s analysis, underlying European ways to convert the complexity of landscape to an idea were four fundamental approaches: the acceptance of descriptive symbols, a curiosity about the facts of nature, the creation of fantasy to allay deep-rooted fears of nature, and the belief in a Golden Age of harmony and order, which might be retrieved.

The 18th century was also a great age for the topographical print, depicting more or less accurately a real view in a way that landscape painting rarely did. Initially these were mostly centred on a building, but over the course of the century, with the growth of the Romantic movement pure landscapes became more common. The topographical print, often intended to be framed and hung on a wall, remained a very popular medium into the 20th century, but was often classed as a lower form of art than an imagined landscape. Landscapes in watercolour became a distinct specialism, above all in England, where a particular tradition of talented artists who only, or almost entirely, painted landscape watercolours developed, as it did not in other countries. The paintings sold relatively cheaply, but were far quicker to produce. These professionals could augment their income by training the “armies of amateurs” who also pained.

19th and 20th centuries

The Romantic movement intensified the existing interest in landscape art, and remote and wild landscapes, which had been one recurring element in earlier landscape art, now became more prominent. The German Caspar David Friedrich had a distinctive style, influenced by his Danish training, where a distinct national style, drawing on the Dutch 17th-century example, had developed. To this he added a quasi-mystical Romanticism. French painters were slower to develop landscape painting, but from about the 1830sJean-Baptiste-Camille Corot and other painters in the Barbizon School established a French landscape tradition that would become the most influential in Europe for a century, with the Impressionists and Post-Impressionists for the first time making landscape painting the main source of general stylistic innovation across all types of painting.

The nationalism of the new United Provinces had been a factor in the popularity of Dutch 17th-century landscape painting and in the 19th century, as other nations attempted to develop distinctive national schools of painting, the attempt to express the special nature of the landscape of the homeland became a general tendency. In Russia, as in America, the gigantic size of paintings was itself a nationalist statement.

In the United States, the Hudson River School, prominent in the middle to late 19th century, is probably the best-known native development in landscape art. These painters created works of mammoth scale that attempted to capture the epic scope of the landscapes that inspired them. The work of Thomas Cole, the school’s generally acknowledged founder, has much in common with the philosophical ideals of European landscape paintings — a kind of secular faith in the spiritual benefits to be gained from the contemplation of natural beauty. Some of the later Hudson River School artists, such as Albert Bierstadt, created less comforting works that placed a greater emphasis (with a great deal of Romantic exaggeration) on the raw, even terrifying power of nature. The best examples of Canadian landscape art can be found in the works of the Group of Seven, prominent in the 1920s.

Although certainly less dominant in the period after World War I, many significant artists still painted landscapes in the wide variety of styles exemplified by Neil Welliver, Alex Katz, Milton Avery, Peter Doig, Andrew Wyeth, David Hockney and Sidney Nolan.

To be updated and continued


See discussion on my Landscape Photography blog: http://photography.zemniimages.info/portfolio/1-3-establishing-conventions/

Using search engines and any other resources, find at least 12 examples of 18 and 19th century landscape paintings. List all of the commonalities. Try to find out why the examples were painted (eg private or public commission.) your research should provide some examples of the visual language and conventions known to the early photographers.

Notes here to be updated from visits to exhibitions at:

VandA: Constable

Tate Britain: Late Turner and Turner galleries

National Gallery : Pedar Balke

National gallery and elsewhere Maggie Hambling

Tate Britain: John Martin

 Corot

http://www.jean-baptiste-camille-corot.org  Creative Commons website

Horizon lines, framing devices, division between foreground, middle ground and background planes. Aerial perspective.

Storm at Sea, 1865 - Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot - www.jean-baptiste-camille-corot.orgStorm at Sea, 1865

Diagonal lines of rain point to solid horizontal horizon.

 

 

 

Souvenir du Pont de MSouvenir du Pont de Mantes - Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot - www.jean-baptiste-camille-corot.organtes

Framing device and aerial perspective.

 

 
Constable

http://www.john-constable.org Creative Commons website
Haywain - John Constable - www.john-constable.orgHaywain

 

 

 

Hampstead heath with a rainbowHampstead heath with a rainbow - John Constable - www.john-constable.org

 

 

 

Hampstead Heath - John Constable - www.john-constable.orgHampstead Heath

 

 

 

 

  • frequent use of the Golden ratio to position horizons at one or two thirds levels in paintings
  • uses a lanes, roads and other devices to lead the eye into the picture
  • interest in plays of light and naturalistic colour
  • linear as well as aerial perspective
  • use of triangles and implied triangles on foreground objects like carts, boats etc.
  • later starts to experiment with dynamic and impasto brushstrokes, as precursor to Impressionists
John Martin
Turner

http://www.william-turner.org creative commons website

Turner tends to have his horizons lower, or non-existent. And makes lots of use of dramatic swirls for storms, and brilliant sunsets. But still positions vertical elements and objects around the thirds line.

The Fighting 'Téméraire' tugged to her last Berth to be broken up - Joseph Mallord William Turner - www.william-turner.org
The Fighting ‘Téméraire’ tugged to her last Berth to be broken up, National Gallery

Snow Storm, Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps 1812 - Joseph Mallord William Turner - www.william-turner.org

 

 

 

Snow Storm, Hannibal and his Army Crossing the Alps 1812, Tate Gallery

Snow Storm- Steam-Boat off a Harbour's Mouth c. 1842 - Joseph Mallord William Turner - www.william-turner.org

Snow Storm- Steam-Boat off a Harbour’s Mouth c. 1842

Caspar David Friedrich

http://www.caspardavidfriedrich.org  creative commons website

distinctive style, influenced by his Danish training, where a distinct national style, drawing on the Dutch 17th-century example, had developed. To this he added a quasi-mystical Romanticism.

The Wanderer above the Mists 1817-18 - Caspar David Friedrich - www.caspardavidfriedrich.orgThe Wanderer above the Mists 1817-18

Strong contrast in colours and between foreground and background with dramatic silhouette.  Quasi symmetrical balance between right and left side of the image. Diagonals leading to the centre figure.

Trees in the moonlight - Caspar David Friedrich - www.caspardavidfriedrich.orgTrees in the Moonlight

Use of diagonals and muted colours.

Two Men by the Sea at Moonrise - Caspar David Friedrich - www.caspardavidfriedrich.orgTwo Men by the Sea at Moonrise

Use of strong horizontals with central horizon line. Silhouettes against an oval pool of light. ‘High Dynamic Range’.

Monet

from Tate.org search

Claude Monet, 'Poplars on the Epte' 1891

James Abbott McNeill Whistler

from http://www.tate.org.uk/search/Whistler 

mists, high horizons. Strong horizontals and verticals.

James Abbott McNeill Whistler, 'Nocturne: Blue and Silver - Cremorne Lights' 1872

Nocturne: Blue and Silver – Cremorne Lights 1872

Nocturne: Blue and Gold – Old Battersea Bridge c.1872-5

Then try to find examples of landscape photographs from any era that conform to these conventions.

See analysis in posts on:

Exercise 1.2 Photography in the museum or in the gallery

This image has horizon on top thirds line with leading line of rocks from, between and to vertical thirds lines. The original image though breaks with conventions on aerial perspective in that the rocks in that although there is a progression in sharpness from fore to middle to background, the equal haze of water and sky add the feeling of mystery. In a painting probably there would have been an attempt to use various devices to de-emphasise the sharpness on the rock at the front to more effectively lead the eye into the picture to the triangular rock at the middleground and back again. In the photograph this is achieved to some extent by the changes in tonal contrast from relatively equal tones between the foreground rock and sea to the sharper contrast between the dark triangular rock and the sea. Then back to the sharp dark/white contrast lines on the foreground rock.

See posts on:

Peter Henry Emerson

Fay Godwin (reading still to be written up )

Justyn Partyka

Most landscape photographs on sites like Flickr, photographs submitted to landscape photography magazines and camera club competitions also conform to:

– conventions of rule of thirds (reflected in grids in Lightroom and Photoshop),

– contrast between fore/middle/background to include near and far objects

– use of leading lines/implied lines to link the elements.

They also generally:

– blur motion on water through slow shutter speed

– increase tonal contrast in cloud and sky areas, and often enhance colours

– have a deep depth of field through small apertures – both these done through using a tripod.

– simplify the image, cloning or removing distractions in digital processing.
– simplify the image, cloning or removing distractions in digital processing.

Designing a print

Designing the image
  1. 3 quick 15 minute sketches of the same scene. Concentrate on capturing the sense of the place by recording the scale of the elements in the scene in relationship to each other. For each quick sketch change your viewpoint so that the relationship between the objects varies. Think carefully how the features appear on the page and the perspective.
  2. Line drawing: Spend up to an hour drawing the scene in detail using only lines. Pay particular attention to the shapes of leaves, trees, buildings and hills and try not to take any short cuts. You can draw some of the bricks in a wall, or grass in a field, for example, without drawing them all but make sure you have enough information in your drawing to remember everything.
  3. Tonal drawing: Make a couple more drawings of the scene in different lights. For example, make one during the morning and one in half light at the end of the day, or even at night. Concentrate on the tonal relationships between the features and the sky. Identify the lightest and darkest areas and work the middle tones into your sketches between these two extremes.
  4. Colour: Make descriptive colour notes from your scene. Use coloured media to record the colours – watercolour, pencils, crayons or similar.
  5. Photographs can be used as a reminder but always use them after your sketches. Sometimes it can be useful to sketch from your photograph to help understand the scene you are trying to represent.
  6. Final design: Try a few ideas out by making quick sketches in the middle of a piece of paper so that you can extend the image out in any direction. Develop the idea to cover the page using elements from your drawings. Then try masking off sections of your drawing with a pair of L-shaped cards, looking for a balanced design which has visual interest from tonal contrast, detail, texture, and so on.Then draw this composition again taking into account any changes you consider necessary.

Zen Aesthetics and Art

Importance of Zen Aesthetics and Art for my Printmaking practice

I have been interested in Zen meditation – its focus on awareness of the here and now and the possibilities of choice – since being a teenager. In relation to art this awareness of the moment develops an ability to observe, then capture in a few flowing strokes the essence of one’s perception of something. That ability is based on years of practice and development of a sense of composition – focusing on tensions and imbalance rather than symmetry. Zen painting explores the tension between the accidental and imperfect and that flash of control.

In relation to printmaking it has particular relevance in monoprinting – markmaking on the plate as in the large monochrome monoprints of Yamamoto. But also the possible uses of watercolour inks and capturing the way they mix both on the plate and the paper.

Japanese Aesthetics (1 of 1)

Principles of Zen Aesthetics

Zen means “meditation.” Zen teaches that enlightenment is achieved through the profound realization that one is already an enlightened being. This awakening can happen gradually or in a flash of insight (as emphasized by the Soto and Rinzai schools, respectively). But in either case, it is the result of one’s own efforts. Deities and scriptures can offer only limited assistance.

Zen Buddhism’s emphasis on simplicity and the importance of the natural world generated a distinctive aesthetic, which is expressed by the terms wabi and sabi. influenced by Mahayana Buddhist philosophy, particularly acceptance and contemplation of the imperfection, constant flux and impermanence of all things. These two amorphous concepts are used to express a sense of rusticity, melancholy, loneliness, naturalness, and age, so that a misshapen, worn peasant’s jar is considered more beautiful than a pristine, carefully crafted dish. While the latter pleases the senses, the former stimulates the mind and emotions to contemplate the essence of reality. In today’s Japan, the meaning of wabi-sabi is often condensed to “wisdom in natural simplicity.” In art books, it is typically defined as “flawed beauty.”

In Search of Wabi Sabi with Marcel Theroux

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 Zen traces its origins to India, but it was formalized in China. Chan, as it is known in China, was transmitted to Japan and took root there in the thirteenth century. Chan was enthusiastically received in Japan, especially by the samurai class that wielded political power at this time, and it became the most prominent form of Buddhism between the fourteenth and sixteenth centuries. The immigrant Chinese prelates were educated men, who introduced not only religious practices but also Chinese literature, calligraphy, philosophy, and ink painting to their Japanese disciples, who often in turn traveled to China for further study.

Many Japanese arts over the past thousand years have been  Such arts can exemplify a wabi-sabi aesthetic. Examples include:

A contemporary Japanese appraisal of this concept is found in the influential essay In Praise of Shadows by Jun’ichirō Tanizaki.

Sumi-e or Zen Ink Painting

You Tube videos on history of Chinese and Japanese ink painting

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Other Sources

Met Museum

Zen Buddhism and Art  Lieberman

Zen Painting Google images

Sumi-e or Japanese ink wash painting uses tonality and shading achieved by varying the ink density, both by differential grinding of the ink stick in water and by varying the ink load and pressure within a single brushstroke. Ink wash painting artists spend years practicing basic brush strokes to refine their brush movement and ink flow. In the hand of a master, a single stroke can produce astonishing variations in tonality, from deep black to silvery gray. Thus, in its original context, shading means more than just dark-light arrangement: It is the basis for the beautiful nuance in tonality found in East Asian ink wash painting and brush-and-ink calligraphy.In his classic book Composition, American artist and educator Arthur Wesley Dow (1857–1922) wrote this about ink wash painting: “The painter …put upon the paper the fewest possible lines and tones; just enough to cause form, texture and effect to be felt. Every brush-touch must be full-charged with meaning, and useless detail eliminated. Put together all the good points in such a method, and you have the qualities of the highest art”.

See Wikipedia article. See articles from British Museum collection.

A key practise is ensō ( , “circle”?) – a circle that is hand-drawn in one or two uninhibited brushstrokes to express a moment when the mind is free to let the body create. The ensō symbolizes absolute enlightenment, strength, elegance, the universe, and mu (the void). Drawing ensō is a disciplined practice of Japanese ink painting—sumi-e (墨絵 “ink painting”?). The tools and mechanics of drawing the ensō are the same as those used in traditional Japanese calligraphy: One uses a brush ( fudé?) to apply ink to washi (a thin Japanese paper). Usually a person draws the ensō in one fluid, expressive stroke. When drawn according to the sōsho (草書?) style of Japanese calligraphy, the brushstroke is especially swift. Once the ensō is drawn, one does not change it. It evidences the character of its creator and the context of its creation in a brief, contiguous period of time. Drawing ensō is a spiritual practice that one might perform as often as once per day.

This spiritual practice of drawing ensō or writing Japanese calligraphy for self-realization is called hitsuzendō (筆禅道 “way of the brush”?). Ensō exemplifies the various dimensions of the Japanese wabi-sabi perspective and aesthetic: Fukinsei (asymmetry, irregularity), kanso (simplicity), koko (basic; weathered), shizen (without pretense; natural), yugen (subtly profound grace), datsuzoku (freedom), and seijaku (tranquility).

Today, ink monochrome painting is the art form most closely associated with Zen Buddhism. In general, the first Japanese artists to work in this medium were Zen monks who painted in a quick and evocative manner to express their religious views and personal convictions. Their preferred subjects were Zen patriarchs, teachers, and enlightened individuals. In time, however, artists moved on to secular themes such as bamboo, flowering plums, orchids, and birds, which in China were endowed with scholarly symbolism. The range of subject matter eventually broadened to include literary figures and landscapes, and the painting styles often became more important than personal expression.

It has also inspired many modern Japanese Abstract artists like Toko Shinoda and Western abstract artists like John Cage.

Series of interesting videos on a contemporary Western Zen ink painter: Nikolai Jelneronov

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