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Confucian Influence on Oriental Calligraphy and Painting

Updated on November 17, 2013

Oriental Landscape Painting

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Confucius, the Ancient Orient, Art and Writing

Confucianism has influenced East Asian/Oriental art in a number of ways. This is demonstrated through a number of different painting forms and movements as well as themes depicted in many paintings of traditional oriental artists and calligraphers. All of these things were influenced by the spread of Confucianism. One of the ways that Confucianism has influenced Eastern Asian art is through the art of landscape painting. The development of landscape art as one of the major forms of art in Korea for a period of time provides a good example of exactly how and why Cofucianism influenced this area of art. To begin with Korea did not have a very strong tradition of landscape painting. This is attested by, Soyoung Lee, in his article; “Religious Influence on Korean Art.” Lee writes that, “The earliest depictions of landscape in Korea, from the Three Kingdoms Period (57 BC–668 AD), appear as rudimentary background elements, not as an independent genre of painting.

Oriental Landscape Art

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Confucianism and the Changing Trend

However over time and with the subsequent spreading of Confucianism and Confucian ideals and beliefs from China through Eastern Asia this trend began to change. This was because, according to Lee, Confucianism put a strong emphasis on the concepts of humility and intellect which shifted the focus from people and the social to nature and learning from and it. In support of this point Lee writes in regards to Confucian philosophy the following excerpt. “This philosophy prescribed, among other things, the cultivation of the intellect and humility. Translated into art, it meant that pictures of the human figure—the physical body, the mundane activities of humans, even historical episodes that focus on human activity or achievement—were secondary. Instead, landscape painting emerged as the means for exploration and expression of the intellect
and of the larger world beyond human beings.” This trend continued to grow and the practice broke off into several different branches of landscape painting.

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Neo - Confuscianism

Japan’s religious and artistic culture and traditions are similar to those of Korea. Confucianism also played a major role in the developing of many religious beliefs and this in turn affected Japanese art. This was especially true for the spread of Neo-Confucianism which tried to combine or emphasize the unity of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. Because of this certain themes, which supported this idea, became popular in Japanese art. And there are many paintings, which depict the three patriarchs from the three religions together. Sankyo is one of these themes, which depicts the three together and translates to three patriarchs. Sansan-zu is another one of these themes ,which translates to the three sages tasting vinegar. Another is Kokei Sanshō which, is called three laughers of tiger ravine. All of these depict the three founders or prominent figures of each of the three religions.

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