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Dictionary of the History of Ideas

Studies of Selected Pivotal Ideas
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7 occurrences of Dictionary_of_the_History_of_Ideas
[Clear Hits]

V

The history of our subject in Western civilization
has a close parallel in the Far East, although the evi-
dence is even more fragmentary and its frame of refer-
ence difficult to interpret. As early as the eighth cen-
tury, toward the end of the T'ang dynasty, there were
Chinese painters using procedures astonishingly similar
to Cozens' Method. Their style, called i-p'in (“untram-
meled”), is known only from literary accounts such as
that concerning one of them, Wang Mo:

Whenever he wanted to paint a picture, he would first drink
wine, and when he was sufficiently drunk, would spatter
the ink onto the painting surface. Then, laughing and sing-
ing all the while, he would stamp on it with his feet and
smear it with his hands, besides swashing and sweeping it
with the brush. The ink would be thin in some places, rich
in others; he would follow the shapes which brush and ink
had produced, making these into mountains, rocks, clouds,
and water. Responding to the movements of his hand and


353

following his inclinations, he would bring forth clouds and
mists, wash in wind and rain, with the suddenness of Crea-
tion. It was exactly like the cunning of a god; when one
examined the painting after it was finished he could see
no traces of the puddles of ink

(S. Shimada, 1961).

Such a display of sprezzatura was surely an extreme
manifestation of the i-p'in style. Yet Wang Mo and the
other “untrammeled” painters had a catalytic effect
upon the development of Sung painting analogous to
that of Cozens on the Romantics. Their works may
not have survived for long, but descriptions of their
methods did, providing future artists in both China and
Japan with a model of the creative process stressing
individual expression and an exploratory attitude to-
ward the potentialities of ink technique.

There are later accounts, ranging from the eleventh
to the nineteenth century, of painters soliciting chance
images in ways comparable to those of the i-p'in pio-
neers. None of the surviving examples, however, ap-
proach the freedom of Cozens' “blotscapes.” It is hard
to say, therefore, how accurately the literary sources
reflect actual practice. One recurrent element in these
accounts is the claim that the work—almost invariably
a landscape—looks as if “made by Heaven” or
“brought forth with the suddenness of Creation,” rather
than like something made by man. Such terms of praise
imply that the picture in question seems completely
effortless and unplanned; a work of nature, not a work
of art. This aesthetic ideal must have led the Chinese
to the discovery that certain kinds of veined marble
could be sliced in such a way that the surface suggested
the mountain ranges and mist-shrouded valleys charac-
teristic of Sung landscapes. The marble slabs would
be framed like paintings and supplied with an evoca-
tive inscription (Figure 22). Since they were small,
durable, and produced in large quantities, it seems
likely that some of them reached the West with the
expansion of the China trade in the eighteenth century.
If so, these Far Eastern chance images may have helped
to stimulate the train of thought that produced Cozens'
Method.