What Art is All About: An Evening Landscape of the Xiao-xiang Region

COOL POEMS: Introduction > THE POEMS

Topic: What Art is All About

Author: Su Shi (1037-1101)

An Evening Landscape of the Xiao-xiang Region by Song Fugu

written on a fan painting

Your heart is forever unfettered,
No wonder your mountains and streams always ramble.
Composition was right from the start,
Freely brushing, you suffered no constraint.

Near the river market, villagers are few;
In the misty village, you have gathered old trees like friends.
I know your thoughts are deep;
So I search your work with care.

Comments: This poem constitutes a little manifesto on how to appreciate a literati painting. Su Shi wrote some decades after Mei Yaochen, and so the main concern throughout is the artist’s freedom rather than detailed representation and so, unlike Mei’s poem, little is said about whether his painting accurately depicts the forms or colors of the natural scene. The first stanza focuses mainly on techincal features, such as composition and brushwork, and derives from these the conclusion that this artist’s character is free and unfettered. Even the second stanza reminds us that the painting is a construct—”you have gathered old trees” rather than “there is a stand of old trees.” The poem ends with the assumption that the painting is a medium for conveying the artist’s personal thoughts and that the viewer’s job is to figure out what those thoughts are.

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