Sublimity in Art
Sublimity is the highest state of art. It was an important term in literary criticism in ancient China, similar to the ideas of “the oneness of heaven and humans” and “the miraculous work of nature.” The assertion that “heaven and earth exist in harmony with me and all things in the universe are inseparable from me,” as made in Zhuangzi’s (369?-286 BC) “On Seeing Things as Equal,” marked the beginning of this theory. A work of art with such excellence shows an aesthetic state wherein one basks in a blissful loss of division between him and his surroundings and heaven and man become completely merged. Whether it is a poem or a painting, it is so naturally created that it bears no mark of men’s “carving or chiseling.” The sublime in art occurs when the artist has had more than sufficient accomplishment, profound understanding and artistic technique. He will then be able to suit his actual execution of strokes to his fantasy by making everything at his fingertips work. Such an effect is achieved as if only by nature’s magical hand, not through human effort at all.
People do not know that, whereas variation is shown mainly through metrical schemes, sublimity in art is an overall artistic vision. The former is easily discernible but the latter is difficult to get a glance into. Variation entails extra ordinariness and oddity; therefore, it disdains convention or plainness. Sublimity in art, on the other hand, requires the blossoming of one’s natural self and that one should always follow the dictates of one’s heart. Du Fu’s objects-poems with five characters to a line, as well as his metrically deviant poems with seven characters to a line – are good examples of variation. Poets after the Song Dynasty tried especially hard to copy his style, although the sublimity of his poems does not lie there at all. (Hu Yinglin: An In-depth Exploration of Poetry)
Sublimity in poetry arrives like an unexpected rainstorm. Like when a god or a devil appears or vanishes, one only sees fleeting fantasies and hears elusive voices – coming and going all of a sudden. Its wording defies any attempt at decipherment and its traces are hard to follow. (He Yisun: Tools and Methods of Understanding Poetry)