Grim and Desolate
This term refers to desolate and barren landscapes described or portrayed in classical poems or paintings that convey a feeling of loneliness and desolation. During the Tang and Song dynasties, some poets who were either exiled or sent to work at border garrisons did not only dwell in desolate places but also felt the dire bleakness within as they saw no hope for their future and they were being unappreciated and unrecognized for what they were worth. As a result, in their poetry they would create bleak, desolate scenes with a view to expressing their perseverance and determination to maintain personal integrity. In doing so they created a unique artistic method capable of transcending reality. Paintings depicting grim, desolate scenes suggest the lonely communication of man with nature, expressing as well the integration of man with nature. Such poems and paintings represent a kind of taste and style characteristic of Chinese culture.
The vivid portrayals of grim and desolate scenes beyond the Great Wall in Nalan Xingde’s ci poems derive from his personal experience escorting the emperor on inspection tours, so that his portrayals are so close to nature. On the other hand his long ci poems are a bit loose, not as good as his short ones. Is it because his talent had its limits? (Cai Songyun: Keting’s Comments on Ci Poetry)
As for snowy scenes produced after the time of Wang Wei, those worth notice were by Li Cheng, Fan Kuan, Li Tang, and Xu Daoning. Although their brushwork was amply vigorous, they could not compare with Wang Wei in regards to that sense of grim desolation. (Yun Shouping: Nantian’s Comments on Paintings)