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Home > Worldwide Gardening > Chinese Garden > Features of Chinese Garden
Features of Chinese Garden
Features of Chinese Garden1) Certain gardens included miniature replicas/simulacrums of famous sites (famous environments), whose purpose was similar to landscape paintings -- to depict a favorable environment in three-dimensional set- up, or installation. These designs were not considered as inferior to designs that presented something yet unseen, something new. In this case it was important to catch and recreate the spirit of the particular environment. Also, sometimes the designer would attempt to recreate a landscape (or part of it), already presented in some landscape painting (in many cases the designers were landscape painters). In Chinese art (between 12-13th century) landscape, or its elements (rocks, bamboo, waters, birds, etc.) become more important than human figures (face, in particular), even when the main subject was an emotion, or sentiment.

2) To define valuable art, Chinese art criticism differentiated two pairs of concepts: substance (chih), and ornament (wen); skill (kung-fu), and spontaneity (tzu-jan). In the Chinese tradition the obsession was to be close to nature; the ideals were spontaneity (tzu-jan), and sincerity (chen), or authenticity. One of the most important elements of natural spontaneity in landscape design were garden rocks. From the middle of the T`ang dynasty (8th cent.) important element in landscape design became rocks eroded by water, whose creation was absolutely spontaneous, and therefore they embodied naturalness. These rocks were, perhaps, the first ready-mades in the history of world art. There were two types of rocks: recumbent, and standing .The first were piled up to make hills/mountains. Vertical stones, larger and with more interesting shapes, were treated as monuments, sometimes set up on pedestals, and solitary. "Their decorative function in the Chinese gardens is often the same as that of the statues, obelisks, and urns found in European gardens, only with the difference that they merge so much more naturally in the picturesque play of light and shade of their surroundings." The function of standing stones was not mimetic, on purpose, although they were usually named according to associations they provoked.

They were like abstract sculptures in modern art, at the time when European gardens and parks (in the Renaissance and Baroque) were full of naturalistic sculptures. However, associative and mimetic function of rocks was also utilized, and many visitors would associate upon their resemblance, "seeing" in them goblins, lions or dragons. Designers of Chinese landscapes introduced amorphous rocks that could not be explained away, and could provoke the experience that Roquentin had in front of a chestnut root -- of pure existence: inexplicable, unnamable, astounding, mysterious, like ultimate tao (chih-tao), or Buddhist ultimate suchness (chen-ju). The Chinese saw the "abstract" nature force displaying in the "concretness" of gnarled branches or roots, or water eroded rocks. "Faith in nature`s self-disclosure was expressed aesthetically by an intense, empathic interest in natural forms,... old trees, and... odd-shaped rocks, pitted an cut through by natural forces" Rocks pitted and cut by water brought to mind lines of Tao Te Ching: "Nothing under heaven is softer or more yielding than water.

The process of choosing and putting rock(s) in the right setting, was usually very meticulous and slow, as can be also depicted from recorded episodes in designing the Japanese gardens.

3) Chinese landscape designers also had to solve the antagonism of naturalness and style. To follow nature and discard artificiality can mean identification of style with spontaneity, or -- seen the way round -- absence of style, negation, or abandon of style. In Chinese painting this was achieved by utilizing chance (splashing, spattering, or dripping ink, or color), by lack of ostentation, or deliberate clumsiness, changing the learned right, for the unlearned left hand, getting drunk, etc.

4) In certain Chinese gardens (or in certain parts of the garden) the point of observation was determined, the observer was guided by the design (pathways, corridor, bridge, tunnel, pavilion, or tower) to move to certain points of observation. In others he was free to choose the point of observation. "The Chinese garden can never... be completely surveyed from a certain point. It consists of more or less isolated sections which... must... be discovered gradually and enjoyed as the beholder continues his stroll: he must follow the...paths... wander through tunnels... ponder the water... reach... a pavilion... from which a fascinating view unfolds... He is led on... into a composition that is never completely revealed..." We see that, although Chinese gardens belong to plastic arts broadly defined, they also have marks of temporal arts. They are observed and contemplated gradually, in time, through a succession of scenes, designed to unfold one after another. Siren compares this to unfolding of a Chinese landscape painting in a form of scroll. Mirror as a metaphor of art played a considerable role in European tradition, but in this context we could say that the garden was a place where nature as a miror was held up to mind (to paraphrase: "art is a mirror held up to nature").

5) Aesthetic judgment of environmental works of art is challenging, because environments offer a broader perspective for philosophy of art, and aesthetics, than standard works of art. Certain types of environment are particularly valuable because of the view they offer, but some because of fragrance, tactile qualities, etc. Some are poor in view, but rich in "whispers" of nature (sounds of water, wind, birds, frogs, or other animals). Describing the range of perception in Chinese gardens, Johnston says: "Chinese gardens are... making a direct appeal to the emotions and devoted exclusively to serving all the senses: visually unfolding a succession of pleasing surprises; introducing textures which seek to be touched; mingling the perfumes of blossoms and bark; capturing whispers of moving leaves and water; exploiting the ever changing character of the trees whose varying beauties enhance each season."

Aesthetic contemplation of the environment can be either general, or related to particular (visual, audible, tactile, or olfactory) aspects of the environment. Listening to various sounds (of water, rain, wind, birds), or watching particular objects, or sight, sometimes develops as a separate affinity in relation to the overall contemplation of the environment. For example, bird-watching developed as a particular pastime and chapter in environmental aesthetics in England, at the beginning of this century. Some Chinese paintings from the 12th century -- like the masterpiece "Birds among plum-trees and bamboo" -- seem to prove that the pastime was probably known in China at the time, as well as listening to the "whispers" of nature, recorded in the painting by Ma Lin, "Listening to the wind in pines".

Most damaging for perception is "speeding-up" of perception, forced by contemporary film and TV (especially by commercials, and spots), high-powered speakers, and other gadgets invented to "hit you into guts," to force an information into you. People are conditioned to be targets of machine-gun fire of chaotic short- duration percepts. This damages the sense of time, and replaces meaning and depth with speed, force, and distortion. Sensitivity to sounds in nature seems now almost lost for man in the West and East. Sounds of the natural environment are drowned in aggressive sounds of the urban environment, or they are already bellow the damaged faculty of hearing, or just absent, because nature is dead. However, some contemporary poets try to keep in our memories particular sounds, like rain drops hitting leaves, sounds of crickets, birds, or frogs, or sound of the wind.

Perhaps the tactile qualities of the environment are less understood or recognized than other percepts. Some people have tactile experiences, whether they touch the texture, or just watch it. They spontaneously "translate" part of the visual experience into tactile (synaesthesia) -- sometimes just because it is not possible to touch it.
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