Approaching Shan Shui Art through Gadamer

Confluence 1 (2) (2015)
Casey Rentmeester
Bellin College
Shan Shui art is a traditional style of Chinese landscape painting that has had a lasting impact on Chinese culture. This paper attempts to view a masterpiece of this genre of art – the artwork entitled ›Hermit Dwelling in the Qingbian Mountains‹ by Wang Meng – from the perspective of Hans-Georg Gadamer’s philosophy of art in order to show how such an artwork can convey an ontological insight for those who experience it. Instead of viewing the artwork as simply an aesthetically pleasing landscape and thereby relegating the experience to the realm of feeling as is common in modern Western approaches to art, I argue that the artwork is best understood as imparting meaning into our lives by opening up a new perspective on reality. Specifically, I show the Daoist principles and concepts that underlie shan shui art at work in Wang Meng’s (c. 1308–1385) masterpiece. The Gadamerian approach adopted provides an appropriate avenue to respect Wang Meng’s artwork and other paintings in the shan shui genre on their own terms for those embracing a contemporary Western aesthetic sensibility.
Keywords Gadamer  Chinese landscape painting  Daoism  Wang Meng
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