Snow : the Silver World (pt.5) The Great Image Has No Form

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Photographs from the 
Silver World Part V  The Great Image Has No Form                            

from the Meadow Series 2008 - continuing    Click on the images to enlarge

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The Great Image Has No Form
Text excerpts
Snow : Photographs from the Silver World 

The Great Image Has No Form (2003/2009) is a profoundly fascinating book by the French scholar Francois Jullien.  It explores the relationship between painting in the West--its aim toward representation and objectivity--and early Chinese painting, especially its critical literature which deals with the "nonobject," breath-energy, the world as a trans-formative process of polarities: fullness-emptiness, presence-absence; and the "unfathomable, unnamable experience."  The excerpts I have chosen to present below focuses primarily on Chinese painting and its philosophy, and relatively little on Jullien's comparisons to Western theory.  I don't particularly care to engage his book in these terms, here, and in many ways I don't agree with his arguments.  However, his exploration of Chinese painting is I believe quite brilliant and adds new dimensions of understanding to this project as a whole that I feel are very important.   

Jullien explores Chinese painting especially from the perspective of the Tao Te Ching (the Laozi) by Lao Tzu, and Chuang Tzu's Zhuangzi.  Though the book is not particularly an easy read, it is filled with valuable and revelatory historical writings from the ancient elite Chinese theorists (literati) and its artists on the practice, theory and philosophy of early Chinese painting.  Jullien's poetic-intelligent explication on the material is, it seems to me, always asking the right questions: What is painting, where does it come from, what does it mean?  And he provides answers.  

In my project's Introduction I wrote about my love of early Taoist influenced Chinese landscape paintings, particularly those images of mountains and water (which is what the word landscape in Chinese means) which are filled with clouds-fog-mists, emptiness and presence.  The photograph above, which is from my ongoing project entitled The Meadow Series, is an example of photographs I have made over my career as an artist which undoubtedly have been influenced by--or at least share a common sympathy with--the Chinese visual and philosophical traditions Jullien explores in his book.  At the end of the text excerpts on this page I have included several other images I have made for the Meadow Series.  ~  Immediately below is a painting by Dong Yuan, to which Jullien refers in the first chapter of his book. 

Taoist Temple in the Mountains  attributed to Dong Yuan (907-960)

Text Excerpts from
The Great Image Has No Form
or On the Nonobject through Painting

Francois Jullien

In this book I set off in pursuit of . . . the nonobject: that which is too hazy-indistinct-diffuse-evanescent-con-fused to keep still and isolated.  This nonobject sinks into the undifferentiated and, as a result, cannot be fixed or represented, cannot have the consistency of an in-itself, cannot be composed of "being." . . . It is something we constantly experience, leading us back to the indefiniteness of the foundational, but which science and philosophy left behind early on in their haste to treat things logically . . .

My starting point is the rich critical literature that the Chinese literati devoted to painting for over two millennia.  Their painting was dedicated to figuring the unfathomable with the line, or the Fount through form.  The Chinese literati were able to produce such paintings and to reflect on them because they relied on the notion of a continuum of existence and its immanent "way" of coming into actuality and receding.  They relied, that is, on the tao of the Taoists.   Hence . . . when we patiently make our way through these ancient treatises on the art of painting, we are invited to explore the gap opened in the ontological status of form as it couples with matter and in-forms it . . .  This way is no longer based in Being or in God. . .   catching and letting go occur in tandem, like the great process of existence.  

I use the opportunity to explore the gap as a means to return to the unthought . . . that which is upstream from us or under our feet, and which as a result we do not think.  

It's about what I can never say, can never separate out and advocate.  Its "about," and therefore can never be properly referred to:  I can neither describe it nor conceive it but can only circumscribe it.  Hence I move in circles.  From the beginning to the end of the book, I will deal with the same thing--the foundational--returning to it constantly; but it is never the same.

The great image has no form, says the Laozi, setting us on the path toward that enigma and in, compelling us to interpret, guiding us toward its self-evidence.  The "nonobject" calls into question the status of representation and invites us to conceive of the undifferentiated within the differentiated.  

Presence - Absence
". . .  refuge taken one evening amidst the fog  . . . when the whole landscape vanishes in confusion--emerging-submerging, between there is and there is not--that is what is difficult to figure [paint]."  (Qian Wenshi, painter)  

The Chinese painter grasps the world beyond its distinctive features and in its essential transitions. . .  The revelatory landscape is an afternoon gradually growing dim, when in the transition from day to night, forms acquire haloes and turn dark, gradually become indistinct.  As the rising haze obliterate the ridges and the whole landscape begins to sink into penumbra, these forms, in becoming indistinguishable, call on us to go beyond their temporary individuation and return to the undifferentiated fount of things.

This kind of painting was called "difficult" because, to paint the indistinctness of the transition, it must give up the power of description and injunction possessed by signs.  Instead of being taken over by things, it paints their effacement; instead of presenting them to the gaze, it turns them back to be resorbed.

Presence is diluted and permeated by absence.  . . . the painter paints the world emerging-submerging. . . not quiescent.  He paints the world coming out of the original confusion or sinking back into it, following the great respiratory alternation, breathing in and breathing out, that bring the world into existence.  He does not aspire to immobilize it as Being and to determine it as object.  He paints it between "there is" and "there is not" . . .   Between the "there is" that takes over presence and its complete dissolution in absence, the painter grasps forms and things surging up and fading away at the same time.  He paints them on their way, not in relation to the category of being (or nothingness) but as a continuous process.

More generally, Tang Zhiqi syas that Dong Yuan's paintings are defined by their "as-if-there-were-as-if-there-were-not" quality. . .  In misting over the treetops and mountain peaks, in capturing things emerging from their primordial indifferentiation or sinking back into it, Dong Yuan offers up for view a sparse--and as a result, distilled--presence, one liberated from the opacity of things and their objective determinations.  In painting between "there is" and "there is not" he grants access not to what "things" might be in themselves--the "in-itself," the essence--but to the process in constant transition that ceaselessly brings about and at the same time covers over.  

In the Chinese tradition . . . in this world without a structuring cosmogony, a world that leaves little room for revelation, it is the season, with their systematic oppositions and correspondences, that serve as a framework for the specification of things.  But, as noted in the Shitao, one of the finest Chinese treatises on painting, there is also *the winter that does not correspond to its season . . . That is why it is up to painting and poetry to deploy preferentially these indistinct atmospheres, "half-light, half dark,"  showing each time, even in the most minor sequences, the passage and transformation from one to the other . . .   Presence-absence: the two terms are not destined to remain separate.  In the end the question dissolves.

Zhu Jingxuan writes: "Painting is the sage.  For it goes to the far reaches of what Earth and Heaven cannot attain and makes appear what the sun and moon do not illuminate."
From these traditional formulations, it is at least clear that this art is acknowledged as a power of exploration or manifestation surpassing the limits of the sensible world and integrating the invisible into itself.  As the painter "transfers spirit by determining concrete materialities, and as his  delicate ink falls on virgin silk," "what has figuration is, as a function of that, established" and "what is Without form is, as a functioning of that, engendered."  In other words, the visible and the invisible form a binomial.

It is the Without-form that seres as the foundations-font of painting.  "What has form must rest on the Without-form" . . .  what has form proceeds continuously from it.

What is the nature of the Without-form on which pictorial form depends . . . ?  That invisibility of the foundational cannot enjoy an ontological status since it is "Without form" and as a result does not rise to to the determination of essence.  

From its opening words, the Laozi calls that undifferentiated Fount of the invisible, from which forms and beings continually proceed and to which they return to be resorbed, "the unnamable." . . . The Taoist thinker is content to elucidate, without articulating further . . . The Taoist absolute is not God because there is not need to credit it with existence as a Person, or even as an agency . . .  The Taoist absolute is also not Being since it escapes any determination as essence  and vanishes--the Laozi  constantly warns  us of this--as soon as specifications . . . make an appearance.

          "The Without-name is the beginning of Heaven and Earth,
            what has a name is the mother of all existents.

          "In the world, all existents are born from the there-is

            and the there-is is born from the there-is-not."

"Painting is the sage" because, in its figurative process, painting has the same aim as the sage: *to deploy the tao.  As Chinese painting evolves, the more it breaks free from the function of representation, the closer it moves to that aim and the clearer that aim becomes.  If the painter accomplishes an act of "wisdom" by painting mountaintops  emerging-submerging in the mist, or *treetops protruding and receding, or a path coming in and going out . . . it is because, rather than paint things as objects,  determined by perception and specifiable by the understanding, he captures them in keeping with the logic of immanence that makes them appearing-disappearing.   . . .  the painter does no more than make visible that reciprocity which is constantly at work.  He deploys existents until they are penetrated by the invisible and makes forms, in their very foundation, gain access to the dimension of indifferentiation from which all differentiation proceeds. 

The  painting theorists under the Tang Dynasty traditionally expressed the moral importance of painting and stated that the purpose of painting was to serve as an example.  But along side that they added a parallel purpose, which also became canonical.  Painting "explores" (or "fathoms") the "latent-subtle."  The term latent expresses the withdrawal into absence, the sinking down into the stage of confusion and hiddenness, whereas the term subtle expresses invisibility-intangibility at the stage before the actualization of forms and their differentiation. 

Miao, one of the key words in the Laozi, expresses the ineffable success of that which, from the foundational "there-is-not," is constantly produced by pure immanence.  The following quote from the Shitao states:  "Painting distilled from the reifying opacity of presence, and acceding to subtlety-invisibility [that of the great process of transformation] penetrates the unfathomable."

There is no better way to say that painting opens on the world's secret and allows it to appear.  It consists, not of depicting and representing what is before one's eyes, perceiving it as a spectacle, but of reproducing, on the basis of the impulse of the spirit embracing the emotionality of the world, the process that, from the undifferentiated fount--like virgin silk or the whiteness of the paper--prevails on beings and things to deploy through a gradual differentiation, until they are born in their natural forms.  Painting is to be conceived in terms of a taoic, and no longer mimetic, logic . . .  To paint is to return to the "source" of "phenomena-figurations" from which the real, the line drawing, constantly flows in coming into actuality. . .  "[to] shed light on the source of the figuration of things."

It is only by going back to the starting point of that emergence process, outside the "confusion-indifferentiation" of the invisible, that there is effectively a possibility for "creation."

Shitao's theory of painting  is based on a single experience: that of a first stroke that, as it emerges and lengthens under the brush, "opens" the original indifferentiation and gradually makes it come about. . .  In this stroke, you see something of the visible pierce through from its invisible fount.  Above all, because the tracing  of the line remains fundamentally one, it forms a transition between the original "there is," the Without-form of the undifferentiated Fount (which Shitao, in the spirit of Taoism, calls the "Great  Simplicity"), and the proliferating "there is" which constitutes the diversity of forms and the continual renewal of the concrete. 

Vague-Drab-Indistinct The Foundational
The tao is not apart from things--it is not Being--but is rather their disappearing-appearing course.  To render its evasiveness, we will have to evoke things, not in the objectifying plenitude of their presence, which fills the gaze with their distinctive traits, but on the edge of their invisibility, on the threshold of their emergence or resorption. 

The tone of the foundational:  Nothing is as yet protruding-grasping, nothing stands apart, and consequently nothing attracts attention.  The foundational is before subject and object have separated from each other, establishing by that face-off the plane of cognition, before presence and absence have become opposites, creating the great drama of the  life and death of existence.  

Let us not forget that the foundational is plenitude.  While the invisibility of the Without-form may not offer forms to be contemplated, it nevertheless provides a coherence to be examined.

*To paint that "indistinctness" of the "appearing-disappearing," the ancients devoted  all their attention to developing the art of "inkless ink" and "brushless brush." . . . the painter pictures while de-picting: in using that "inkless ink" and "brushless brush," that ink grown pale and that barely-painting brush, he paints between form and Without-form and renders the evanescence of the foundational.  

Though I cannot conceive and explain the undifferentiated any further without facing the obvious risk of losing it, I can paint it as a landscape--by letting forms recede, by painting with pale ink, by shrouding the horizon.  I need only a spot of ink nebulously soaking into the silk to figure it.

In literally  designating the air or mist "around the sphere," the notion of atmosphere also connotes presence, but a diluted and vaporized, nondelimited presence, an ambience, surroundings (of things or of the subject?).  . . . Atmosphere is an influence that emerges from beings and things and is valid only by virtue of the impression it produces in us: it e-manates or im-parts and hence circulates inseparably between what is neither "that" nor "us" anymore . . .  Indeed, an atmosphere is diffuse, disseminated, dispersed, elusive.  

*But is not the wind like that?  As it happens, "atmosphere," associated with the "wind" as an endless force of dissemination and animation, is one of the richest notions of Chinese thought, and one of the most ancient. . . . No one can see the wind, but we can perceive its effects; "when the wind passes over, the grass bows down" . . .  The wind is truly the invisibility at the limit of the sensible that makes us experience the sensible.

The Chinese also conceived of atmosphere through another pairing associated with the wind explicitly linking the visible with the invisible: "breath-image."  Breath atmosphere. The painter Wang Wei points to it as a principle: "When you contemplate painting, you must look first at the breath-image"; then at the tonality, etc . . . 

"The Great Image Has No Form"  
The great square has no corners
. . . the great tone makes only a tiny sound,
the great image has no form.

The importance of the Laozi is that it takes us back to a place before thought branched off into ontology.  It constantly points toward a modality of the real that, remaining upstream from an actualization and opening onto the undifferentiated, is not yet in the grip of disjunction.  It guides the spirit toward a freer capacity for existence.  It is in "turning back" to this stage of the foundational that you will be able to evolve most freely, that life will become "livable" and full again.  *To return to the tao is to return to the foundational where nothing is obstructed by specification, where the determining character of form has not yet come into play, and where haziness, between there is-there is not, is the very tonality of existence.

Wang Bi tells us, "if there is form," there is separation; and if there is separation, then things are either one way or another.  That is why, if the image takes an individuated and concrete form, "it is no longer the great image."  

This formula teaches us to perceive the tao, paradoxically, as the opposite of what it appears ("the luminous tao is seemingly dark," "the advancing tao is seemingly retreating."  What is "great" is "without."

Understanding comes from what is not made explicit.  "The great tone makes only a tiny sound" means that "greatness" lives in avoiding the loss via disjunction that accompanies any coming about.  As soon as "sound" is produced, it is divided up or separated into the notes of the musical scale.  . . .  The Chinese musical tradition inspired by the Laozi will celebrate the great tone of "silent music."  Inasmuch as this silent music is not yet broken up into distinct sounds--one in opposition to another--it allows them to coexist and maintain the full harmony among them.

The Laozi incessantly takes us back to the "indistinctness" and "haziness" of the foundational.  And the "great image" will liberate us from [our attachments to particular existents] by serving as an image for the foundational. 

Straining, I call it great
great is called [signifies] departing* 
departing is called [signifies] far away
far away is called [signifies] coming back

The tao will be called great because, located upstream from the actualization of things, it spreads in every direction and cannot be limited or confined:  "The great tao inundates everything / it can go right and left."  And also because all existents, in becoming disindividuated, in receding, turn back to the foundational, which limitlessly receives them--just as the waters of streams and rivers pour into the ocean. . . . "Great" means that which is open to both one and the other, that which does not exclude. . . . "Great" is valid as the least reductive name, the one that specifies the least, restricts the least, closes off the least. . .  it is logical then that "great" on its own dissolves any relation of resemblance (to anything at all in particular).   At least it "seems" to dissolve:

Everyone says my tao is great,
it seems not to resemble;
it is only because it is great
that it seems not to resemble; 
if it were to resemble,
it would have long ago become smaller.

Resemblance presupposes both individuation and specification, and that is why, as soon as there is resemblance, there is a loss of greatness, reduction to the differentiated.

The "great image" is the "mother" of natural images . . . like the wind it is composed of steadiness, influence, unassignability, and consequently, inexhaustibility.   That is why the Chinese painter prefers to paint mountains.

Spring Morning by Guo Xi (1020-90)

. . . it is from the infinite variations of mountainous forms piercing through the clouds that the landscape constantly rises up as it emerges from the invisible--the relief of the landscape is that emergence--and as it conceals the invisible.  It is from mountains, says the painter Guo Xi, that "the buried treasures of Heaven and Earth" are drawn.  These treasures are hidden in the mountains, "in caves haunted by immortals and saints."  The "blurry massiveness" of the mountain is the Fount of immanence, and the lifelines of its ridges, irrigating it with their "veins," transmit the cosmic "pulse." 

 . . . the mountain is this inexhaustibility.   The mountain contains in itself--holds together--the profusion of the world.  Without mists and clouds, Guo Xi continues, it would be "like a springtime devoid of vegetation."  . . .  When Guo Xi says "the mountain is a great thing"  it is clear that it does not have one form but, as the Shitao says, "ten thousand"--like the "ten thousand things within the tao."  A mountain is without form in the sense that it contains countless forms, with no single one predominating.  Its greatness thus lies in the compossibility of the foundational, its relief constantly outlining forms and variations on them.  

Theory of the Sketch
The Laotzi says "great fullness is seemingly empty," but "its use is never exhausted," and "great straightness is seemingly crooked."  . . .  If there is "great completion" of what looks to be unfinished, it is because that completion is always at work, responding to various requests, open to various possibilities, having still more work to do without being hindered by "one" particular completion that would flaunt itself.  In "seeming to be lacking," the sketch is truly that "great" completion.

The great square has no corners,
the great work avoids coming about,
the great tone has only a limited sound,
the great image has no form.

The completion of the sketch, which appears to be lacking, is a "great completion" inasmuch as it "avoids coming about."  In remaining upstream from a definitive actualization, the sketch actively keeps present in the image the fount from which it is painted.  The sketch keeps the effect from flaunting itself or getting bogged down, and in so doing grants precedence to the "great image."

"When you paint, there is no need to paint all the way; if with each brushstroke you paint all the way, it becomes common." (Tang Zhiqi)  What is left unpainted in the drawing, what, by its absence, makes possible the great completion of the painting, must not be misconstrued, however.  "When you you wish to paint all the way" but do not "dare," that is nothing more than childishness.  But when someone who has achieved mastery of his art and has reached his spiritual peak "lets the spirit pass of itself through the single variation of pale and dark," and when "the spirit reaches all the way," if  "he does not paint all the way," it is perfect."

The nonaction recommended to the painter is the same as the nonaction exercised by the sage.  The sage of the Laozi "does not act," but there is nothing that "is not done." . . .   Shitao directly transfers the capacity of the sage to the painter.  *The painter "does not do" but, or in such a way that, "there is [something] done," done even more, as a painting.

The Shitao concludes "within the harsh and the rough," one has only to seek an image that is "fragmentary and seemingly in pieces" in order  for art--in the most secret part of itself--to be most naturally at work, through that effect of emptiness and nonsaturation.

Empty and Full
The Zen gardens speak to us [because] what is (apparently) lacking in them calls out and brings about an effect.  What they leave vacant is effective and makes manifest.  The emptiness they maintain makes it possible to move about freely and succeed in letting pass.  "There must be emptiness and hollowness above and below, and, on all four sides, there must be spacing, letting pass, so that it remains free-clear-at ease."  (Rao Ziran)  . . .  

"If you clog things up and everything is full" it becomes difficult, in the absence of  "spacing-communiction" (circulation) to "deploy a landscape."  . . .  Any presence that is no longer haunted by its absence gets bogged.   . . . There is no activity and, as a result, no possibility of an effect, unless it comes about through exchange and interaction.

The emptiness of clouds and mists is not only the indistinct beyond into which forms vanish at the horizon; it also permeates the interiority of forms, opens them, aerates them, liberates them, and make them evasive. . .  The act of emptying out purifies as well the innermost parts of things, releasing their capacity for aspiration.  If the mountains, waters, trees, and rocks result from a "full brush" and the clouds and mists from an "empty brush," "emptiness serves to push fullness about and fullness is also empty."  "Communicating therefore through and through" across the painting, everywhere "there is spiritual-animating breath."

"Where there is nothing" the Laozi repeats, "there is use (functioning) of the room." . . .  The emptiness left vacant on the silk or paper makes the undifferentiated foundation-fount of things appear (returning to the primordial stage of the "there is not").  Conversely, the fullness of the drawing, in coming into actuality as "there is" from the fundamental emptiness, nevertheless continues to spread and deploy, opening wide--rather than becoming fixed and reified--in that emptiness.  The formulations on this subject form an interconnected series.  One needs both "to seek fullness within emptiness" and "to put emptiness within fullness."  . . . permeated by emptiness [the brush traces] remain lively, and they are alive.  The critic concludes that, overall, one no longer sees anything but "a spiritual-animated atmosphere."  *Emptiness put to work by Chinese painting breaks form wide open, desaturates and distills plenitude, and thereby releases something of the spiritual.  It opens the natural to the spiritual, and the visible to the Invisible.  "Let the sparse and the dense alternate, let emptiness and fullness engender each other . . . "

To summarize: "Where there is no ink or brush mark" it is "full."  Hence, "where it is empty it is full" and, as a result, throughout the entire body of the painting, "everything is permeated with a spiritual atmosphere."  Painting exploits the resources of figuration or of drawing in order to transcend the limits of the visible and allow the invisible in. . . .  In a manner much more effective than any discourse, painting makes us "touch" the invisible. 

Not Quitting, Not Sticking   Between = Breath Resonance
If particular images do not take form, the "great image" is unable to deploy.  If distinct notes are not produced, the harmonic "great tone" cannot come about.  As a result, particular images need to take form, but without anything concrete in them "exerting its  dominion," and then the great image can deploy. . . . In becoming fully realized, the great image remains permeated throughout by the "unfathomable" virtue of emptiness, opening it part way to the undifferentiated.  Hence it retains something inexhaustibly evasive within its very determination, and its power to diffuse. . .  Wang Bi concludes, since the "formless" and "unactualized" fount remains at work through the great image and deploys within it, this whole world that comes to the great image and comes under its influence is unable to "analyze" precisely--which is to say, in this case, concretely--what constitutes its ascendancy.

"Between" is the modality of the nonontological; between is the "name" of the virtue which opens the thing wide from the inside and, allowing passage through it, keeps it deployed.  But is it really a name?  *Between is accessible only through an "intuitive" and silent, intimate understanding in your possession.  (Guo Ruoxu)  It is not really a name but a binomial, implying play between the two terms and letting pass: "breath-resonance" (or energy-consonance").

"If you understand what life and movement in painting are," then "breath-resonance can be found there on its own." (Fang Xun)  The essence of breath-resonance is no different from that of life and movement, it is their capacity.  Similarly, within that binomial, it is  from breath (energy) that one gains access to that impalpable "more" at the far limit of the phenomenal but nonetheless phenomenal, still sensible . . . 

What is called "breath energy" is, in the case of painting, the energy of the brush, ink, and colors all at once . . .  The painter will have to take care not to get bogged down in "materiality" or in "form," but to keep everything "in flight," "in movement," permeated from within and in communication (Jung Hao).  [However] the painter cannot "transmit the spirit dimension" without "resorting to form," individuated, singular, and tangible as it is.  *The painter works between the two poles of concrete form and spirit dimension, as between the poles of yin and yang.  

"Trace" is commonly used to connote the pictorial work of Chinese art.  Zong Bing (5th century) says that, even as the spirit "takes its lodgings in forms," coherence "penetrates shadows and traces."  . . .  "Painters from the past no longer rise from their beds, but the traces of their hands endure."

The trace is precisely between the "there is" and the "there is not."  Its status is that of the actualized, but from which we disadhere; of the permeated, but to which it is not "stuck"; of the "released" (deployed) but immediately "taken up again"; or of the prominent, visible, even bringing out the visible, but which nevertheless remains evanescent, and as a result is not constraining.  It is present but inhabited by absence, and, if it is sign of, it is of taking leave.  Both empty and full, concretely formed and evasive, tangible, and yet escaping at the same time.

Far from being the signifying locus of a quest leading to revelation, the trace in which the painting in China ought to consist is the phenomenal site of a *transformation: "The world and I meet in spirit," says the Shitao, "and the traces undergo transformation."  As soon as there is fertile interaction between me and the world, the traces change from sediment to marks of passage and animation.  There is truly trans-formation because we cannot adhere and stick to form, and this form is permeated by the fount of invisibility that, in deploying there, stretches it, promotes it, and carries it farther.  But we cannot leave the realm of form, and that is the realism inherent in painting.  Without form, nothing could come about, and to paint is always truly "to manage forms."  If we "quit" form, therefore, it will only be to better achieve the power of "resemblance" of form--but that resemblance is therefore of the spirit.

I'Ching, Book of Changes
On the basis of an opposition between solid and broken lines (  __  and   _ _  ), diagrammatic figures in various combinations served to account for the transformative processes at work in the world.  By virtue of being traced, they originally belonged to painting as much as to writing ("Great Treatise," Book of Changes; cf. Guo Ruoxu)  The aim of figuration is not to fix essences but *to record a play of energies in continuous interaction, whose coherence figuration unveils and indicates how to use.

The Chinese painter will [not] be inclined to represent.  His aim will be, not to become disconnected from nature in order to set it up in opposition to him, but, on the contrary, to reactivate through painting his primordial dependency on nature. . .  *the immanence from which painting draws its origin in China is that at work in the great Process of the world, which exceeds human beings to the point of being "unfathomable" and encompasses all human activity. 

In China . . .  images, as emblems, possess a power of realization that, like the images themselves, is phenomenal in nature.  Partaking in the play of forces at work in the world and embodying them in their figurations, images naturally influence the course of things and events.

Quitting Form to Achieve Resemblance
 [Regarding] the idea of painting in China to resemble, it is true that this concern was already outstripped by the idea of a "spiritual transcendence" which alone makes it possible to achieve the foundational principle of things and to "deploy" the breath-energy prevalent throughout the world (Zong Bing).  If the painter is able to "imitate" with the "mere tube" of his brush, what he imitates with that conduit is the "being constitutive of the Great Emptiness, the nonobject par excellence (Wang Wei).   Even though it was the painter of pheasants who made his career at court, the literati criticism of China unfailingly preferred his rival, Xu Xi, who painted  almost without colors and in an apparently careless manner, and by that very means prevailed in his "spiritual resonance" which was judged infinitely superior. 

In the six fundamental principles of Chinese painting, the principle of resemblance comes third, after spiritual resonance (which dominates all the others), then the structuration internal to the image due to the vigorous use of the brush. . .  a power of figuration that anticipates the entreaty emanating from beings and things and joins with them in the internal aspiration that makes them exist, leading them to deploy.  That power of figuration acts in the exact same way as the sage of the Zhuangzi who, it is said, knows how to "respond" to existents because he is without bias and accompanies them in their ascent, coinciding each time with their individual perspective, which emanates from their nature, "without any intervention of rules therefore."  . . .  In short, this "cor-responding" is not external, even less normative, but is the most intimate--because nurtured by a silent assimilation--and at the same time reactive.

In the endless commentaries that the six principles of painting elicit, the transcendence of resemblance is increasingly invoked by name. . . .  Formal resemblance must not be sought out as such and set forth as a goal, but must flow as a consequence from the pictorial process.  If you base the quest for what constitutes painting on "spiritual resonance," "formal resemblance" is then found "between," in the strong sense of that "between"--it deploys through.  As a result, the distinction to be made is between simple objects that are inanimate, and as such carry no weight . . . and that which, endowed with spirit, animated, "requires spiritual resonance to achieve its completeness."

What might be necessary conditions for an effective resemblance, not one that is external and superficial and clings merely to the "flower" (as Jing Hao says) . . .?   That resemblance, of course, will have to integrate everything we now know about the "great image."  The capacity for resemblance within figuration cannot advance except through resemblance of the whole to the "great tao," that is, to its harmonic compossibility.  That figuration then becomes disindividuated enough to let the undifferentiating-harmonizing Fount from which it proceeds appear at  its  foundation. . .   As the line is emptied out and figuration becomes evasive, true resemblance lies in that allusivity to the invisible dimension that permeates the concrete particularity of all the strokes.

According to the  poem "On Tangible Characterization." explicitly inspired by the formulations from the Laozi, whether the movement of wind and clouds, the spirit emanating from flowers, the continuous reforming of waves, the endless chain of mountains, they will not be depicted in a lifelike manner, that is, in their continuous emanation-transformation, unless they let breath and the spirit dimension pass through them, making them vary continuously and assume new forms indefinitely.  Hence. the poem logically concludes, it is precisely only "by quitting form" and liberating yourself from its constraint that you "will achieve resemblance." 

"Whether in writing or in painting, perfect success consists in an encounter in spirit, and it is difficult to seek to obtain it on the basis of tangible forms" (Shen Gua).   . . . "encountering" and "uniting" extends beyond the perceptual relationship, implies a reciprocal relationship established between partners and no longer a transitive relation, and portends access to an intimate space.  

Resemblance-Nonresemblance & Resonance
Resonance is a prolonged reverberation of an internal timbre.  Resonance opens onto infinite vibration.   Resemblance is "easy" and (spiritual) resonance "difficult."  Nevertheless, the Chinese pictorial tradition will never break away from the resemblance of form.  Even while advocating a transcendence of resemblance in favor of resonance, it never envisions that this transcendence can lead to dissemblance.  It calls for a disindividuation of form in order to return, through it, to the undifferentiated, the Fount of trans-formation, but it imperatively refrains from any deformation that would lead to a blurring of the categories of things and make one doubt their pertinence.  Painting, like the art of writing, valorizes the extraordinary where the liveliness of "breath-energy" is  concerned, but not at the level of "sensible traces."  The form is to be transcended, but it cannot be "modified" . . . that would call into question, however little,  the "natural" . . . the other name for the operation of the world by self-regulation, and for its "viability."  

Do not invent a world other than this one.  Do not alter or even disturb its coherence.  But join with that coherence through painting. . . . that coherence is not in the form, but "passes through."  And to achieve it, you must strive to "promote a resemblance of [in] spirit."  (Fang Xun) 

It is proper to let the spirit "move about freely beyond the phenomena" so that sense-intentionanlity can in turn reach "the center of the circle," which like the pivot of a door (Zhuangzi) lends itself to every position and, through that equidistant opening, frees us from reductive angles of vision and disjunctions.  The "beyond," once more, is not disconnected from "phenomena," but detaches us internally from their cramped space.  And the availability of the image, which  constitutes the "great image," renders phenomena evasive in order to respect the full play of possibilities animating them and making them vibrate.  

*"Perfect success in painting is between resemblance and nonresemblance." . . .  Having so perfectly joined resemblance and nonresemblance, not giving up any ground, the philosophy closes off any possibility of lack, any vulnerability to breaking and entering, and takes its ease in that back-and forth movement.  These crayfish I paint, Qu Baishi adds confidentially, are unlike those you usually see: what I seek is not "formal resemblance" but "spiritual resemblance," and that is why the crayfish that come from my brush are "alive."

The Spirit in Landscape
In Chinese the world for "landscape" is "mountain(s)-water(s).  . . .  The Chinese chose to think of the landscape--like any reality--as an interaction between poles, high and low, vertical and horizontal, compact (massive) and fluid, opaque and transparent, motionless and moving, and so forth.  *"Mountains-waters" symbolizes these dualities that hold the world in tension, and the infinite exchanges that result from them. And it is that dynamism as a whole, whatever the scale, that the brush will be called on to capture.  The Chinese painter, in his most insignificant painting, figures the process of things as a whole, the entire, infinitely diverse play of its polarities. 

What characterizes the mountain is "greatness," and what characterizes water, by virtue of its movement, is "life."   The water is the mountain's "arteries" and the mountain is beholden to water for its "animation"; the mountain is the water's "face," what makes it perceptible, and water is beholden to the mountain for its power of "seduction."  The mountain embraces and structures, and water circulates and flows.  The water, which meanders away only to reappear farther off, gains in "depth."  . . . The waves rise and fall like mountain summits, and the rows upon rows of mountaintops fade away into the distance, without interruption, like waves.  (Shitao)

As the Chinese conceived it, everything converged to designate the landscape as the unobjectifiable par excellence, and that is why landscape painting so profoundly transformed Chinese painting, turning it away from the concern for resemblance. . . . Su Dongp, one of the great literati, explains:  "Men, animals, palaces, and utensils are all  constant in form," whereas "mountains, rocks, bamboo, trees, waves, and fog, though they have no constant form, nevertheless have an internal coherence that is constant."

The [Chinese] landscape no longer required formal resemblance because it was never a particiular landscape perceived from a single angle.  It was supposed to contain within itself--between "mountains" and waters"--everything that constituted the endless animation of the world . . .  Only a brushstroke gushing forth sponte sua, from an internal impulse, like the strokes of a lively, cursive handwriting, can fully capture all the dynamism, obliging you to become disengaged from the shattering "pressure of labor" "riveting you to the literalness of the concrete."

[Chinese painters such as . . .] Zong Bing (375 - 443) viewed the landscape as a manifestation of the absolute, and landscape painting as the form of spiritual expressin that provided the best access to that absolute.  The landscape is the effective and redemptive mediation that connects man  to the tao.  "The sage, who contains the tao within himself, responds to existents" (or "illuminates existents"), Zong Bing writes by way of introduction to his "Preface  to Landscape Painting,"  and followers who purify themselves internally are equipped to "savor phenomena."  The landscape ("mountains-waters") "possesses a concrete materiality," but "tends toward the spiritual-animated"--it rises from one to the other.  Hence Zong Bing can state, in strict parallel:

The sage, by his spirit, teaches the norm of the tao 
          and the follower is able to understand;
the landscape, by its form, makes us love the tao, 
          and the good man is able to enjoy it. 

*Zong Bing says that it is the landscape that makes us feel in a sensible manner the internal--invisible--coherence that constitutes the "way" of the world.  The landscape makes us feel this coherence by connecting and binding mountains and water, for example, making them react phenomenally within the landscape through the endless variation of its forms . . .

Zong Bing's perspective was already largely influenced by Buddhism, particularly because, in his view, every being has the capacity to realize within himself his "Buddha nature."  for him, it is through the landscape that the absolute guides us and reveals itself, that it can be "savored" and experienced. . .  The landscape holds within itself a power to elevate and "transcend" in the literal sense, which leads to the apprehension of the "inexhaustibility," the Without-foundation, the "great" Fount of immanence. . .  The landscape, eternally there, nevertheless varies at every moment of the day and with every change of season.

Painting a landscape, then, embodies better than any other spiritual activity the transcendence proper to wisdom.  More than meditation or reading, Zong Bing tells us, landscape painting gives access to the tao, cutting through all these mediations because it directly integrates us into that immanence.  Through the recurring motions of the brush, landscape painting also immediately puts us in contact with itself. . .  Both the meditative forces of the yin and the eminent ascent of the yang . . .  the "spirituality . . ." and "resplendent brilliance . . ." can be captured by painting.

From the Song Dynasty on, this became an adage: "Ordinarily, we know only that man possesses as spirit," "but we do not realize that everything that exists" outside him as earthly reality "also possesses a spirit [dimension]."  The purpose of the landscape, says Shitao, is to serve-offer -present something of the "animated spiritual."  The "spirit" so conceived is not an agency but an operation (of inhalation-distillation) by virtue of which any reality is able to exist.  And it is by virtue of the spirit that such a reality, in coming about, is itself a source of effect.  The spirit is thus at work in any process of actualization, whether of forms or of thought. 

The landscape now is treated as a partner.  There is no longer a perceived object and a perceiving subject but a correlation and exchange between poles: "welcoming"/"welcomed."  What constitutes the effectiveness of a landscape, in other words, is that the world is no longer approached as the negative of self-consciousness, that is, as that from which self-consciousness radically separates itself so that it can relate to it as pure ob-ject, as what is "in front of" it.   

Shitao, at the end of his chapter on landscape painting says this in the strongest way possible, as if he were at the end of his journey: *"Before I turned fifty, I had not yet given birth to myself in the landscape.  Not that I treated the landscape as a mediocre thing, but I let the landscape exist independently and on its own."  But now "the landscape calls upon me to speak in its place."  Let us understand: he does not say "I express myself through the landscape," as one might expect from an expressive (rather than mimetic) conception of painting.  Rather, it is the landscape that expresses itself through him.  The painter's calling is to be the landscape's go-between in the literal sense. . . . Hence the landscape "gave birth to itself-metamorphosed in me" just as I gave birth to myself-metamorphesed in it, so that "the landscape and I meet in spirit."  

The Spirit & Breath-energy
The Chinese conceived of the primordial reality not in terms of the category of being and the relation of form to matter . . . but as "breath-energy," qi. . .  One of the first thinkers of the Song Dynasty who witnessed the sudden growth of landscape painting in China, found the most general terms to express [that both man and landscape are the creations of breath-energy]:

Breath-energy deploying in the great primordial void
rises and falls, and moves unceasingly:
such is the mainspring of empty and full, motion and rest,
the starting point of yin and yang, of hard and malleable.
Floating and rising: such is the limpidity of yang;
lowering and descending: such  is the disorder of yin. 
Through incitement and communication, gathering and dispersal,
wind and rain, hail and snow are formed:
both the flow of the multitude of existents
and the union and fusion of mountains and streams.
Down to the dregs of wine and the ash of the hearth,
there is nothing of that which is not a lesson.

Everything in the universe originates in the same breath-energy. . .  It leads to the infinite diversity of beings, man included, and to their relations with one another and their cohesion within a landscape. . .  rising and falling, soaring upward or sitting down, the mountain brings about the great respiration of the world.   And the painter, communicating with it through his vital breath, grasps it through the alternating motion of his brush.  Thanks to the variation of empty and full, the painting breaths as well.

"Clouds emanate from the valley buried deep in the mountains, and that is why rocks are called the roots of clouds."  "A light mist is exhaled from the moisture of the rock, a mist that, in condensing, forms steam; and that steam, in accumulating, forms clouds." (Tang Dai)   The expression "roots of clouds" is thus not a rhetorical figure or even a poetic image; rather, it translates the osmosis that, through the circulation of vital breath, makes all existents communicate with one another and associates them from within.  What I previously rendered as "spiritual resonance" is precisely the resonance internal to that breath-energy.  Emanating from the diversity of forms and deploying them from within, it releases  their limpid-invisible dimension and opens them to the undifferentiated foundation of the qi. 

The painter on the one hand, the mountain and water on the other, share the same condition . . . The mountain and the water are, like man, "vested" with capacities, since they all proceed from the common Fount of immanence, that is, from "heaven," and cooperate equally in the deployment of the world. . .  That is why the painter and the landscape are in a partnership and "meet in spirit."  The painter, on the basis of his own capacity-fount, evokes the capacity-fount vested in the world, which is condensed in the landscape.  He also discovers he is implicated in that landscape from the start and he aspires to return to his source through the painting and through wisdom. . .  Priority is given to his connection to the world through breath-energy, and the phenomenon of the image is stripped of its ontological context.   

On the Truth in Painting
The Chinese term we are in the habit of translating as "immortals" means simply "men of the mountain" who have disappeared, become lost to our eyes in the mountain's cloud-filled recesses, which constitute its "greatness" and plenitude. . . . Painting does not invent a purely imaginary world of its own, nor does it duplicate the "real" world, by referring to it and representing it; rather, it constitutes itself nearby as a landscape to be lived . . .

In Guo Xi we find that the inner aspirations which the painted landscape engenders in us is particularly profound in that we integrate ourselves into that world, and the point of view that ordinarily constitutes the landscape, and thereby maintains a relative exteriority with respect to it, vanishes.  Guo Xi reports that there are some landscapes--"mountains-waters" you pass through, others you contemplate, others in which you go for walks, and still others you live in. . .  Living in a landscape calls for a completely different level of immersion than contemplation . . . "but they are the ones you must choose."  The distinction between the real landscape and the painted landscape vanishes in the existential dimension proper to any landscape.  It is . . . where we walk, where we live, that the world's embrace of us is most complete, hence its presence in us most intense, and that the vital aspiration at the source of the landscape, through our connection to it, is satisfied.

Anyone learning to paint bamboo will take a stalk of bamboo and, on a moonlit night, contemplate the shadow of the plant reflected agains the wall, so that "the true form of the bamboo will appear."   The Chinese painter considers the shadow of bamboo as it appears projected agains the wall, its tangles distilled, casting its configuration like a working drawing.  He considers the landscape both from afar and from close up, to grasp both the "depth" and the "surface," the "tension" and the "substance."  He does so because, in each case, he is in quest of what, in the anecdotal form of the landscape, contains both aspects and, in binding them together, organically puts forward and articulates what he is painting.  He is in quest of what makes the landscape a world in its totality.  Through the particular figuration, he seeks to reconnect with the development of breath-energy, deploying the figuration through and through and leading in general to that "so."  He does not paint the thing as it appears in its singular form before his eyes, from a given point of view as it constitutes itself as an object of perception.  Rather, he explores it in depth and experiences it, in order to extract from it, on the basis of its polarities and in all its dimensions, the con-tenance (both "capacity" and "countenance") that makes for its vitality.  In addition, he is interested in rendering the atmospheric conditions of the landscape, the mists on the mountaintops in all their seasonal variations, because he is attentive to the variable dimension and, as a result, to the resource possibilities that all these diverse cases offer.   . . . the Chinese painter . . . in seeking to grasp the overall articulation that serves as a vector to the circulation of energy . . . is, in the process of painting, in quest merely of the internal principle of con-sistencey.  . . .  it is by a system of difference that he delves deeper into his apprehension. 

The Seasons in the Mountains
Guo Xi states:  "In the mountains of springtime the haze and clouds stretch out in uninterrupted sheets and men are filled with joy; the mountains in summer are rich with shady foliage and men are at peace; the autumnal mountains remain clear and limpid while the leaves fall, and men are serious; *in winter, finally, the mountains are veiled with opaque fog and men hold their tongues."   

Guo Xi repeats at the end of the passage: "It is as if we were truly present in that place."  The aim of painting is not to make the object present through perfect resemblance; rather, it acts in such a way that we make ourselves present (to something that can no longer be an object, consequently, "mountains-waters," the landscape), that we penetrate it and become imbued with it at the same time . . . 

Truth & Breath-energy
In a treatise predating Guo Xi by a century (the tenth century): "Resemblance means to achieve the form and to let breath-energy escape"; "truth" is "when breath-energy and materiality both flourish."  When breath-energy is "lost at the level of the image-phenomenon," "it is the death of the image" (and of its "phenomenon"). 

Guo Xi, defining the inventory of various modes of variance, established things roughly and only calibrating them relative to one another.  The essential thing, decreasing the size of the figures as a way to create depth in a landscape, is through a gradual confusion, to make these forms take on the haziness of evanescence, between presence-absence, and to thus open the landscape to its undifferentiated foundation-fount.  The far away is rendered dimmer and paler . . . 

Coming-Going Away
There are always two opposing and complementary dimensions.  By virtue of their polarity and of their correlation, they confer consistency on the landscape, deploying it not as a plane, but as tension, playing simultaneously in both directions.  These dimensions attract the gaze to the concrete materialization that constitutes the reality of the visible, while at the same time drawing the gaze toward the indefinite distances, where the visible recedes.  The landscape is painted as both offering itself and withdrawing; it is experienced, says Guo Xi, through that concomitance of "coming"-"going away."  

"We do not tire of that remoteness 
and our eyes are open to the far reaches of the vastness."  

The landscape is caught in that twin movement of its respiration: advancing and retreating, between the close and the far away, breathing in accordance with the poles of appearing-disappearing, without any presence coming into focus. . . .  "Breath-energy" is at the origin of any actualization, and it alone can raise the forms of the landscape to the "spirit" dimension by making vectors of intentionality from them. 

The Scroll - continuous process
The Chinese prefer the scroll, which unfurls the landscape as a continuous process of transition.  On a vertical scroll, for example, the lower half, with its rocks, then its woods, its houses, its paths, and streams, is the gradual "opening," like spring blossoming into the fullness of summer; and the upper half, where peaks complete the drawing and clouds and distant riverbanks empty it, is the "closing," like autumn declining toward the depths of winter, tucking natural vitality away. . .  The scroll, through its respiratory alternation, invites a different approach: not that of the gaze but that of "contemplation."

Gaze or Contemplation?
The terms "contemplation," as opposed to "gaze," should be understood as a conjunction of two meanings: as contemplation of self, free from importunities and uncleanness, and as a gathering up of the landscape within oneself.  Guo Xi calls for contemplation. . .  The Chinese literati maintain that since painting is born sponte sua from a "spiritual encounter" and a "silent harmony" with the world [that] lies in the innate quality of the person. . .  In that sense a painting bears the "imprint" of the nobility or baseness of the artist; that quality is truly his "signature."

"When you no longer occupy" your self, says the Zhuangzi, "in your self, forms and things appear by themselves."  The Zhuangzi teaches us to de-occupy ourselves . . . in such a way that we no longer have to posit the world as an object opposite us, to be known and manipulated.  Or, by undoing the possibility of a nature (as object), it thrusts back into (reconnects us to) the natural (as process).  Once we no longer assail the world with our investigations . . . carving up and codifying it  . . . contracting it with our desires . . .  invading it with our fears and aspirations, something comes "to light" on its own.  We no longer know "it," but the world "illuminates itself."  . . .  When you renounce any position as an "occupier" there is no longer "self" and "other" facing off . . . you are able to embrace the world in every direction and solely in accord with the initiative of the transformation under way.  "Your movement is like water," continues the Zhuangzi, "your motionlessness like a mirror"; your response like an echo, evanescent as if not being there and calm as if being pure."

Such an availability lies at the root of painting in China.  Disponsibility means that the internal disposition remains open to each new "so" as it hatches "on its own," and that this disposition is fluid. . .  The nonobjectness of the landscape, as a result, has to do with the fact that the landscape process forms a silent osmosis between outside and inside ("spiritual encounter") upstream from any attentive and deliberate perception.  In other words, the painter does not approach landscape as a perceiving subject.  It is rather by virtue of the relaxed state of his person, to which he knows how to gain access, no longer urging and no longer governing, that a spirit dimension is released on its own from the materiality of forms. . . . Landscapes are attained (and painted), the Chinese tell us, only through an overall relaxation or "untensing" of the person and not though a focused gaze. Anyone who relaxes lets the tension of the world pass through him.  *Hence he gathers it up in himself, contemplates it. . .  Should a spirit be born in the painter from which "freedom and uprightness," "tenderness and trust," "well up abundantly," the dispositions of men "who laugh and cry," along with all the positions and configuration of things, "will naturally be at his disposal deep within him."  Without his even realizing it, they will appear from his brush.  His spirit, no longer troubled by care, extends its sphere on its own and can "open itself." (Guo Xi)  

The spiritual resonance that confers "life" and "movement" on figurations and, as such, is the foremost quality of painting, "has its root in the carefree wandering of the spirit." (Guo Ruoxu)  In its element like a fish in water or like a man along the tao, the spirit does not fix its eyes . . . 

As Shitao says nobly, "in letting things follow their obscurity as things," in letting "dust commit itself with dust," my spirit is not put through an ordeal, and, when my spirit is not struggling, "then there is painting."  . . . The painter's spirit, emancipated and unblocked, is returned to its innate liveliness and reconnects with the spontaneity of processes.  With nothing further hindering him, thanks to his "limpidity," he constitutes himself as a fount of immanence: "I make the ink move as if it were done and I manipulate the brush as if without acting."  Just as the spirit "in its detachment" "is like the original Void," "on the narrow surface [of the painting], a foot square, heaven and earth, mountains-water, and all that exists rule themselves." 

The Chinese painter does not envision painting as a problem and is therefore not in quest of solutions.  Even less doe he conceive of painting as an endless struggle, or each new canvas as a battle to be waged. . . . *there is no true painting in his eyes except one that comes on its own.  

If painting is in fact "difficult" as Guo Xi acknowledges, it is because of all the internal maturation and elevation, relaxation and letting go that is required to gain access to the ease of that letting come. 

The relation of availability-determination . . . truly appears to be the crux of what constitutes painting.  The vacuity to which a spirit liberated from all preoccupation gains access allow for such a concentration of intentionality that it will guide the drawing.  As Chinese thought teaches in general . . . if conditions are arranged adequately, the effect counted on (but not "aimed for," which is too direct) comes about on its own, as a consequence.  The result cannot fail: *since the effect is already engaged upstream (of the process), there is no longer any seeking to obtain it . . .  When I have gained access to such an availability, says Guo Xi, "on every side, wherever I turn, I encounter the source."

The Chinese adhere closely to process.  The Chinese term is jing-shen, "purification-spirit."  Guo Xi states: "You must apply yourself to refining-distilling (jing) in order to unify," because "if you do not refine (or distill), the spirit capacity (Shen) is not concentrated."  Just as we must refine-distill "that" so that the spirit capacity becomes concentrated, the spirit capacity must "dedicate itself entirely" (to do its work) so that the refined-distilled character (of the work) "is manifested."

But what is the "that" whose resource I discover in myself and that I refine and distill?  This referent left indefinite, can point only to what, in me and outside, indefinitely forms reality: breath-energy, qi.  . . .  At the starting point of painting is "regulation" of breath-energy (li qi) that the painter gathers up in himself.   He cannot pay too much attention to that condition from which the entire work stems, as Guo Xi confirms.  

From such a concentration is born the painter's capacity to "become one" with what he paints, by mingling his "life" with it. . . . In its respiratory effusiveness the sage's breath-energy mingles completely with the world's breath-energy in constant renewal.  It is "tuned to" it: the Zhuangzi can continue only by evoking music.    

In fact, is it not listening rather than seeing that is now at issue?  Sight aggressively projects attention outward, whereas listening gathers it up within. . .  The Taoist master explains that, as you rise toward internal concentration, *you need to listen, not with your ears, but with your spirit; and not with your spirit but with breath-energy, qi.  The ears "confine themselves to hearing" and the spirit "confines itself to conforming."  . . . In its  continual ascent, the actualizing breath-energy . . . abolishes the demarcations between them and us, and makes them communicate from within.  All in all, the tao is only that "gathering together of emptiness," concludes the Zhuangzi, both in and through emptiness, by virtue of which things freely--that is, no longer submitting to the injunction of the spirit--gather themselves up in us (which is no longer "us"). 

Since the mountain is primarily "calm-motionless,"  It is proper when painting the mountain to "also sink into calm-motionless."  (Su Dongpo)  There are reports that Zhang Zao would suddenly start painting like a madman, with such concentration that forms sprang out like bolts of lightning.  He had forsaken all art and his intentionality mingled with the original transformation from which the world is constantly born.  All beings then lay "in the treasure trove of the conscience" and no longer "before his ears and eyes."

"If you wish to steal away their creation-transformation," says Guo Xi of mountains, nothing is more "spiritual" than to "love" them, nothing more "quintessential" than to "apply" yourself to them, nothing "greater" than to get your fill walking among them" and "looking at them amply."  "Though my eye does  not see the silk and my hand is unaware of ink and brush" in complete abandon and freedom, in internal detachment and obscurity, "there is nothing that is not my painting."  

What does the painter "steal away"?  Not the characteristics of an individual mountain, set out and analyzed by the gaze, but, Guo Xi says at the beginning, the "creation-transformation" of the mountain.

Peindre n'est pas depeindre  (paint does not portray)
The Chinese painter's landscape is born from the reduction of an immensity.  The landscape he paints is cosmic.  In Shitao's own terms, it is "the form-tension of Heaven and Earth" themselves in their greatest extension. . . .  Wang Wei (eighth century) has no regard for what the visible thing might be outside the painting.  He does not represent or reproduce or transport something of the world into the painting because, for him, it is enough to produce polarity to make the painting come about as world from the start.  That is because it is always from a relation of polarity, yin/yang, that "the world" is born--that it comes about that "there is" world.

The "thing" in Chinese is called "east-west," and a landscape "high-low," moving-motionless, "mountains-waters."  As a result, the Chinese painter, or at least the literati painter, who is aware of the requirements of his thought, is not inclined to depict.  Depicting implies reconstituting the aspect of a thing bit by bit . . .  [The literati painter] aims to open the way to respiration in each line through the alternation [of polarities] ceaselessly animating the world . . . effectively creating a tension between "fullness" interacting with emptiness . . .  The perspective developed by Chinese painting is much more energetic than perceptual-descriptive and appeals to a principle of dynamic mobilization rather than representation . . . 

The driving impulse, which proceeds from the vital breath, is what allows the painter to manipulate the brush effortlessly; it is what makes the brush move without struggling, so that "where it obtains force" is precisely where it does not expend force." (Fang Xun)  The painter must therefore be careful not to hinder the energetico-spiritual resource of forms, which engender life and movement, so that these forms can be released thanks to that impulse, instead of "sticking" and getting bogged down in their material and tangible "traces."

Between the painter's breath invested in the line and the energy configuration in which the painting culminates, the brush is not only the tool serving to trace the form, but in the first place the conduit and go-between through which energy is conveyed.  Hence Chinese painting will be conceived more in terms of the process of manipulating the brush than in terms of the perceptibility of form.

Ink and Brush, Form and Color
In Chinese treaties on the art of painting, it is the brush, not the form, that is paired with ink.  The brush "silently harmonizes" with "creation-transformtion" and has the same "driving principle" as the tao. . . . The brush is truly the conduit transmitting the vital rhythm from its center--the painter's "heart"--out beyond his arm, to meet the reactive materialities of ink and paper.  Because the brush is a conduit of breath-energy, the painting deploys in a linked chain of receptivity.  The line "receives" the ink, which "receives" the brush, which "receives" the wrist, which receives" the heart-spirit--"just as Heaven initiates and Earth carries through." (Shiato)  

In Chinese, form (xing) is both a verb and a noun, and it is less a question of forms as of phenomena of trans-formation, in trans-formation, since form is not cut off from the process of its coming about.  "Upstream" from form is the undifferentiated-invisible fount, "downstream" the concrete, which becomes visible by undergoing individuation (see "Great Treatise," Book of Changes).  The Chinese painter paints that passing, or rather, it is the recurring motion of his brush that, in bringing forms to the surface, continue that incessant transition. . .  Since the term functions as a verb . . .  painting "forms" heaven-earth and all existents . . . such that it both gives them form by tracing their outlines and in-forms them by breathing cosmic energy into their lines.

The most insignificant line emanating from concentration confers the "energy of life" and "is truly painting," while the entire drawing produced by application is as "dead" as a stroke "drawn from a ruler." (Zhang Yanyan)  "You must be able to "forget the ink and brush" says Jing Hao, for a true composition to be realized.  You must unite the two; or rather, one is the consequence of the other.  The more "reverent attention" you devote to making your spirit present, since the spirit operates more through concentration-purification (refinement) than through abstraction-intellection (notions), the more relaxed--at ease--you feel when finally, suddenly, you let the brush fall onto the paper (Tang Dai). 

Hence the painter will master his art when the gestures involved, no longer forced or even guided, recur completely on their own, solely through the play of opposition-complementarity, from one end of the drawing to the other.  Hence . . . pictorial activity in China is situated between heart (spirit) and hand, moving from inside to outside and linked by wrist, rather than between eye and hand, two physical extremities linked to each other.

*Chinese pictorial practice has reflected upon itself continuously and from early on.  The [literati] painter is a scholar whose first calling is to write (hence there is an impressive and very rich critical literature).  The Chinese discourse on painting has ceaselessly sought to make explicit the relation maintained between pictorial practice and that all-encompassing "vision" of reality in order to better understand how to succeed at art. . . .  In the eyes of the Chinese literati . . . it is the (revealing of the "natural") that assumes importance.  The mere manipulation of the brush is an exploratory experiment into the unknown origin of things.  That is because, when I manage to set in motion the opposition-complementarity of ink and brush, I see forms being born on their own and thus test--and find proof of--the polarity from which the world generally (and continuously) comes.  In feeling how easy drawing becomes once I know how to let the correlation of ink and brush do its  work, I verify the logic of that path of immanence.  In observing how I produce something spiritual if the line I draw simply manages to empty out and extend through alternation, I demonstrate that the spirit is not of a different nature from things but is rather the tension running through things that unlock them, makes them alert, and introduces variations in them.  That is why the correlation between ink and brush is sufficient to paint the landscape--not as object but as expansion--and reveals its intimate reality to me.  In its gesture, painting makes us discover . . .  

My encounter with things and the landscape through the brush makes me communicate with them, "giving birth to myself" in them as they give "birth to themselves in me," as Shitao says, and establishes solidarity between us. . . .   That encounter . . . places the landscape in the position not of object but of partner. 

What Does Painting Write?
It was only gradually, and especially from the Song Dynasty on, when literati painting became aware of its originality, that the verb "to paint" (hua, to trace outlines) was increasingly accompanied or even replaced by the term "to write" (xie).  "Writing and painting are the two extremes of a single art, and they are accomplished in the same way" (Shitao).  Thus, with their first histories of painting (Zhang Yanyuan) the Chinese established that painting and writing had the same origin.  

In the two strokes yang and yin, continuous and discontinuous, solid and broken (__ and _ _), with which the Book of Changes composes its figures, its intention is to explore the coherence of the world's ever-renewing process.  The split between writing and painting does not appear. . .  by virtue of their nature as drawn lines. 

Whether it was the technique of drawing with "a single stroke of the brush" linking together figurations without interrupting the rhythmic momentum, or that of the "flying black" which reveals with the body of the stroke an internal emptiness, aerates the figure and makes it resonate, literati paining readily borrowed procedures from the art of writing, particularly since these procedures contributed to the transcendence of formal resemblance to which painting aspired.  Beyond the shared training required, what definitely grounds the union between painting and writing and ensures they have the same "constitutive being" is that they possess in their "body," that is, in their stroke, the same content of energetic breath that ceaselessly animates the world.  As a result, both writing and painting are to be found only beyond the tangible traces left on the silk or paper.  They are traces permeated by absence, jettisoning both the opacity and the materiality of phenomena.  In their figuration and through their tension and wind-openness, they let polarities emanate, invisible, "in spirit."  

Su Dongpo, in the wake of Wang Wei, said:  painting is a "mute," or silent, poem and poetry is a "speaking," or sound, painting.  . . . In China, the category of poetry essentially corresponds to short pieces in which personal feelings are evoked and disseminated in a discreet but invasive manner, both atmospheric and inaccessible, according to the "wind" code. . .  The Chinese painter "read the poets" . . . to lead him to inner contemplation and detachment, hence to availability, the reception of the world's incitement, which is the disposition required for taking up the brush. 

Invoked in China as the source of both painting and poetry, intentionality turns away from "imitation" from the start, since imitation implies an affective break with the world, a withdrawal from the field of its impulse . . .  As a result, Chinese painting does not describe (an object) but simply "writes" (meaning-emotionality).  Painting, like poetry, gives form to invisible feeling by externalizing it, whether in words or figures, both of which serve as its tangible "traces."  The process of each art is on the same order, their vibration shared . . .  Hence I can "grasp the meaning-emotionality of the poem and make it the meaning-emotionality of my painting," says Shitao.  Not "I borrow ideas from poetry to make them the subjects of painting."  Painting and poetry each deploys in a dimension internal to the other and reveals the other more intrinsically. . . . Witness all the painted landscapes on which poems are inscribed in a lively interaction.  Su Dongpo unites in a single formula all the arts of the brush, conceiving them as a single chain whereby each link unlocks and de-termines the previous one . . .  As he says in his summation, what the poem "cannot express completely," "overflows" into the art of writing and "undergoes modification" in painting.    As the Chinese literati so often repeated subsequently (and this time it was the theory of paining that belatedly regenerated the theory of poetry), the painting "gives form" but it lets that form sink back into the undifferentiated; similarly, the poem "articulates," but it refrains from pronouncing too much.  

The best paintings, through their availability of their configuration, know how to reopen a space beyond the cramped confines, the limitations, and above all the exclusions of the sensible, a space where the world not only becomes desaturated but begins to lose its reality, yet without becoming oneiric. . .   Such paintings liberate themselves from the imperative and restrictive character of form . . .   as a result, the spirit is emancipated from the affectations of things and can move "as it will."

"Before Heaven and Earth is the yi."  Yi refers, as if to the source, to that impulse of energy mobilizing from within for the purpose of bringing about, hence able to deploy in the conscious evolution of man as point of view, intention, vision, state of mind, disposition, meaning, desire, and volition all at once.  Yi corresponds to vital breath, or to the aspiration of the inner self, or to affective disposition, or to meaning, or to self-interest, or to aim, or to tendency, or to anticipation, or to imagination, or to thought, or to flavor . . . to move closer to the "flow of lived experience." 

To designate yi in its most general definition as the object of painting, the definition that seals the fate of literati painting, to posit yi, that is, as the only object painting writes, is obviously to make its object the nonobjectifiable, too foundational to be inscribed in any face-to-face encounter, too fluid to be isolated, opposed, closed off.  But that nonobjectifiable thereby relentlessly returns to the original agitation that ceaselessly deploys as realities--gestures, forms, or words, so many figurations--from the invisible impulse.

A single rule has dominated all the treatises on the art of painting since the late Tang Dynasty "that there is yi before you take up the brush and that, once the painting has been completed, yi remains."   ". . . should yi precede the brush and should yi subsist, once the painting is finished: then spirit and energy are complete."  (Zhang Yanyan)

This yi of intentionality is properly described as the authenticity of the inner, artless, movement "that comes to light in the painter's contemplative spirit and stands opposed to a conscious application in manipulating the brush.  . . . One also speaks of the yi of mountain or landscape: "When you are personally present yourself to the mountains and waters to capture them," the "intentional disposition" of the landscape appears (Guo Xi).  
What tends toward, in-tentio, in me and in the world is the incitement of the same breath-energy, more or less quintessentialized, of which every visible actualization, every body, every form, is an aggregate.  Whatever you paint, says Shitao at the start of his treatise, whether landscapes, human figures, animals, vegetation, or dwellings, "you grasp forms and set tension in motion," "you write life and fathom its intentionality," its yi.  

The yi and the expression of the living become indistinguishable. . . . What the painter renders through his form, writing yi all along the image traced by the brush, is the phenomenon of trans-forming life.  In the end, painting can have no other object.  

Painting Transformation and Life
The world, emerging-submerging, between there-is-there-is-not cannot be separated into states . .  by the impulse that continually extends and renews it.  In that world without God, even the world of invisible powers is in constant mutation.  As the first Chinese history on the subject announces in its introduction, in "fathoming" the zones "of the subtle and latent," the art of painting "explores the modifications of spirits"--which means . . . that the Fount of invisible efficiency, rather than being a stable order, is itself in a state of constant renewal (Zhang Yanyan).  Hence, when you paint landscapes, "changing dispositions-configurations" "come about on their own" under the brush.  That is why landscape painting, freer to move and metamorphose things, whether mountains or waters, becomes the privileged genre.

Like the great continuum of existence indefinitely renewing itself from one pole to the other, day and night, winter-summer . . . painters dreamed that their painting would unfold dynamically from a single brushstroke.  In Chinese, "painting" could be glossed by its homonym, hua, "transform."  "Modification-transformation" is the binomial that expresses the continuous process of the world and of painting.  In the case of painting, this is not true only of its execution: the painting, once completed, is still perceived as a universal mechanism of/in transformation. (Fang Xum)

Seng ~ To Be Alive
What does painting aim to paint? . . . The painter will surely refrain from invoking the "visible," because he is well aware that his labor, once it achieves any degree of profundity, is to make the invisible appear: invisible feelings, or the "soul," or the "spiritual," or "breath-energy," or the continuous transition of existence and its slow incrustation in things.  The Chinese painter will be unable to designate what painting paints, except with an ultimate term. . . He will say it simply in Chinese, seng: "to be born"-"to be formed"-"to be alive."

"Life" is what cannot be deduced or even conceived.  Literature cannot grasp it . . . Nor can music . . . The meaning of life is what passes/comes to pass through that individuated diversity, which spreads and, by continuously making that diversity react and find harmony from within--by trans-forming it--keeps it alive. . .  The Chinese painter is in quest of . . .  [thatsomething of life [which] express itself between the bamboo leaves or the rock structure, distilling the moment that promotes it and starting to become once more, through that refound fluidity, available and unspecified.  

With the force of tireless variation proper to the Chinese literati, and because there is nothing outside heaven-nature for them, and hence no greater mystery than the immanence of life--or rather that mystery is the only one--they ceaselessly returned to it as to the source.  The first principle of painting, touching on the resonance of breath-energy . . . is the principle of the "living and moving," . . . of a vitality that deploys and renews itself without ever being exhausted.  The manipulation of the brush, Shitao often says, is charged with bringing to life.  In short, the effect of spiritual resemblance (resonance), which transcends formal resemblance, is itself "life."

This concludes the text excerpts from the book
The Great Image Has No Form,
 On the Nonobject through Painting    
 by Francois Jullien
2003 / 2009

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Selected Photographs from
The Meadow Series
2008 . . .  continuing

The photographs below are from an ongoing project begun in 2008 entitled The Meadow Series.  My wife Gloria and I live on a meadow which extends beyond our back yard in Canandaigua, N.Y.  There are two retention ponds in the meadow (the North one is my favorite, and there is a smaller one to the South-West of us) and then a woods with a stream, and beyond the woods are rolling hills.  I began this series of studies immediately after we moved to Canandaigua and have continued to make photographs for the project.  Everyday I witness and experience the infinite changes in light, atmosphere, seasonal colors and moods that unfold over the meadow.  I chose to present here only a few images--those that include mist and snow.  I invite you to view the full online collection of Meadow photographs by here The Meadow Series. 


Note the image immediately above 
was made in late March, 2015
while I was working on this project page.  It is the most 
recent  addition to The Meadow Series.

Click on the link below to view additional images from  
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Welcome Page  to The Departing Landscape website which includes the complete hyperlinked listing of my online photography projects dating back to the 1960's, my resume, contact information, and more.