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Art History Essay Example: Difference between Chinese and European Art: Landscape Painting

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Landscape painting refers to the portrayal of natural scenery in art. Chinese were probably the first people to capture natural sceneries in paint. The genre eventually spread throughout the world and the Europeans adopted it in the 16th century, during the Renaissance period. This essay will look at the differences between the two dominant cultures in the genre of landscape painting.

Aesthetic Formula

The first difference is the aesthetic basis of the art. Chinese art was deeply influenced by Taoism, Buddhism and Confucian ideas. Mentalism, which is a central belief of Taoism, is a prominent feature of Chinese fine arts. In this regard, the artists did not strive to reproduce what they saw, but rather they painted how they felt. It was a manifestation type of art, rather than mere reappearances. In Chinese landscape art, emotions and personal feelings are embedded into the image. They did not just reproduce an object based on specifics and precise appearance of the object.

The artists did not paint objects while observing them. They would take nature walks into the woods or mountains, observe and take in as much as they could. In the studio, they would put down on paper everything they remembered, based on how they felt. They would let their soul and emotions take the lead, rather than their eyes. It is due to this reason that there are many broad strokes and white spaces on Chinese landscape paintings. These voids and white spaces were an integral part of the drawings. Just like abstract art, they inspired imagination among viewers. They did not have definite meaning and as a result, the white spaces challenged the viewers’ minds.

On the contrary, western paintings were deeply influenced by Christianity. The belief that God is the creator of everything was at the center of the artists’ minds. They therefore sought to reproduce whatever God created in a perfect way. To them painting was like a divine calling that brought them closer to God. European painters would set up shop in front of landscapes and reproduce them on canvases.

They strived to reproduce whatever they saw with exact precision. They therefore did not pour out their emotions or soul into their paintings. The only emotion they aroused was nostalgia among the viewers, as they linked the paintings with their own personal experiences in the natural world. Overtime, painters deviated from the religious norm and set out on personal experimental projects. This was referred to as Romanticism in art.

Although they were predominantly landscape painters, they infused concepts of civilization into their works. They introduced humans, shelters and animals into the landscapes- a
concept that was very foreign to the Chinese painters. Chinese landscape artists rarely used humans or any form of civilization in their art. They would give a glimpse of a sage or a hut with sophisticated landscape backgrounds. This would ensure all attention is drawn to the beautiful landscapes, rather than the sole sage.

Technique and Composition

Another difference between the two is the technique used in compositions. Chinese landscape painters basically used line and stroke. This technique was conventionally adopted in ancient china to depict whatever was happening in the artists’ minds. Another brilliant technique used by these artists was a classification process, where the dominant object was referred to as the Host, while other objects were regarded as Guests. The guests were of equal importance to the host, although they played a complimentary role.

More times than not, the mountains were always the hosts. This is because all mountains were sacred to the Chinese. The mountains encompass every aspect of living. They believed cosmic forces and universal energies were made manifest in them. It is due to this reason that the first temples were built on hillsides for people to harness the power of the mountains. Other objects, such as clouds, trees, a hut, a sage and a cascade would play guests to the mountain forms.

In western landscape painting, the concept of hosts and guests did not exist. All objects were given equal measure of importance. Their main aim was to recreate the scene with utmost exactness, without missing a single detail. They therefore utilized the use of color, light and shadow, and patterns and textures to depict the real appearance of objects. The paintings had elements of nature, skies, horizons all incorporated into one.

Color Usage

Both forms of art utilized colors. It was the range of color use that differed. Chinese painters only used black and white colors. The paintings appear to be rich in hue due to two reasons: the use of high quality Xuan paper and the fact that colors were blended with different amounts of water, which cleverly created an illusion of richly hued portraits. The hosts/mountains were depicted in black, while rivers and cascades were drawn in white.

Western landscape paintings utilized all forms of colors. They were rich in hue and all elements were depicted as they were in real life. For example, plants were green and roses were either red, white or yellow. They therefore had more visual appeal than Chinese paintings. European painters used neutral colors in the background and visually appealing ones in the foreground. Also, unlike Chinese landscapes which were dull, European paints utilized both light and shade that perfectly blended with the rich bright colors.


Chinese landscape paintings lacked perspective. They had no direct formula and were mostly two dimensional planes with voids and white spaces. Their abstract nature and lack of proper direction gave viewers the opportunity to ponder about their meaning, without much to rely on but their own sense of individual perceptions. Western landscape painters were more direct in their approach. They recreated the physical surroundings that was already etched in the viewers’ memories and gave them an opportunity to reconnect with their surroundings again, albeit emotionally.

Although these two cultures shared the same genre of painting, there were obvious elements of their art forms that separated them apart. While the Chinese paintings were two dimensional, dual colored paintings that lacked perspective, western landscape paintings were real depiction of the natural environment that were rich in color and utilized both light and shade. Despite their differences, these landscape portraits are rich in artistry and still mesmerize viewers to this day.


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