Soul is more important than form

In calligraphy and painting, soul is more important than form. Most of the good people who look at pictures can point out some slight defect in shape, in position, or in colouring; but that is the extent of their range. As to those who penetrate to deeper principles, they are very hard to find. It has been said that Wang Wei in his pictures paid no attention whatever to the four seasons. With regard to flowers, he would introduce the peach, apricot, hibiscus, and water-lily into one and the same scene. I myself possess a picture of his in which there is a banana-tree covered with snow. The idea flashed through his mind, and was completed by his hand, -- an inspiration of genius. But it is difficult to discuss this with the unwashed . . . Does not the poet say: --

The old masters painted the spirit, they did not paint the form ; Mei Sheng, when singing of things, left no emotion unexpressed. Those who can ignore the form and seize the spirit are few ; But why not apply to verse what to painting applies so well?


(By SHEN KUA. A.D. 1030-1093. A distinguished scholar who was employed in military expeditions, and was held responsible for a defeat in which 60,000 Chinese soldiers perished and banished to Shensi. He ranks among the highest as an art critic. Excerpted from Gems of Chinese Literature, by H. A. Giles.)

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