Thursday, March 10, 2011

Paper, Water, and Ink - Response to the Shanghai Museum

Located on the third floor of the Shanghai Museum in People’s Square is the Chinese Painting Gallery. The gallery is dimly lit to protect the ink paintings; however, motion sensors detect people approaching the paintings and turn on brighter lights accordingly. As the class roams through the gallery, the paintings grow more modern in date but continue with the general style of the ancient Chinese ink paintings. Paintings in this gallery are painted with ink and water, sometimes with the addition of color, on paper attached to silk. They are presented as scrolls hanging either horizontally or vertically. Since the basic shape of these paintings is an elongated rectangle, entire panoramas, vertical and horizontal, are captured and the images seem to become more majestic. Appropriately, nature is a common subject in Chinese art, and through these broad perspectives, the artist can create an awe-inspiring projection of nature. Even in the older paintings where straight lines and dots are not used, each painting holds an impressive amount of detail from the stones on the mountains to the leaves on the trees, demonstrating the artist’s amazing brush control. Perhaps it is this detail that overwhelms the very viewer and adds to the grandeur of nature. Humans and man made objects are more diminutive. Modern paintings, many by the Shanghai school artists, seem in general to have a more narrow focus and upon careful observation, incorporate small elements of western design. But, what is perhaps most striking to me is that almost every painting is matched with some sort of poem or writing, whether it is a few lines or an entire essay. Though these words may not always be written by the artist themselves, they seem to guide or at the very least inform the viewers of what the artist originally wanted to portray. While Western art emphasizes individual interpretation, these paintings share their messages.

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