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Dialogue and Universalism

Volume 31, Issue 3, 2021

Do We Need a New Enlightenment for the Twenty-First Century? Part II

David Chai
Pages 93-112

Shitao and the Enlightening Experience of Painting

Having reached its zenith in the Song dynasty, Chinese landscape painting in the dynasties that followed became highly formulaic as artists simply copied the old masters to perfect their skills. This orthodox approach was not accepted by everyone however; some painters criticized it, arguing it was better to learn the ideas behind the techniques of the old masters than to blindly copy them. Shitao was one such critic and his Manual on Painting exemplifies his desire to disassociate himself from the classical approach to painting. This paper will investigate the three major themes of Shitao’s text—the holistic brushstroke, brush and ink, and the method of no-method—in order to show how they shaped his view of landscape painting and how said paintings subsequently embodied them. Unlike the near-scientific approach taken by his contemporaries and predecessors, Shitao paints to capture the unifying simplicity of nature, an onto-aesthetic experience that is profoundly enlightening.