zhǐchǐ yǒu wànlǐ zhī shì 咫尺有万里之势
Power of Landscape Within Inches
Masters of landscape painting are able to depict natural scenery which has vast breadth and distance on an inches-wide scroll. The artist does not just copy a scenery, but rather creates a work of art which integrates his artistic accomplishments and displays his heart and mind. The artist omits superfluous details and brings close a distant landscape with a broad perspective. This idea also applies to poetry criticism. Its most important element is “power,” which means that general layout and core message give poems, paintings, and other works of art a dramatic effect, expressiveness and appeal, rather than paying excessive attention to detail. To achieve this, artists should not merely duplicate or imitate a landscape; they should personally experience it, expand their horizons, feel the natural wonders and transcend worldly concerns.
Xiao Bi paints carefully and meticulously, and later generations can hardly match him. When he paints on silk, he executes every stroke precisely in accordance with the real scenery. He once painted on a dainty round fan a landscape on which you can see the scenery of hundreds of miles into the distance. In the painting, mountains which are thousands of feet high can be discerned within a square-inch space. (Yao Zui: A Sequel to the Criticism of Painting)
Critics say that a landscape painting can appear to be stretching ten thousand li on a very small piece of paper. The key point here is whether an overwhelming impact can be achieved. Without such impact, even if a vast landscape is squeezed into an extremely limited space, the result will be just another allinclusive map of the country easily available in The Geography Guidebook. A fivecharacter quatrain, which is supposed to present a big picture in extremely few words, puts the creation of power above all else. Only poets in the golden years of the Tang Dynasty can truly understand this marvel. For example, between poetic lines such as “May I ask where you live, stranger? I live in Hengtang not far from here. Let’s halt our boats and ask more about each other, for after all we might be folks from the same hometown,” a tremendous poetic impact keeps hovering even though details are omitted. So much affection is conveyed where no words are actually said. (Wang Fuzhi: Desultory Remarks on Poetry from Ginger Studio)