Preface to the Second Version of the Mt. Hua Paintings

Wang Lü


Although painting is representational, the emphasis is on the expression of ideas [yi]. If the meaning is insufficient, one may say that a painting is not even representational. Nevertheless, ideas exist in visual forms; if one discards these forms, where can one find the ideas? Thus, one who realizes the actual forms has a painting in which the forms are filled with ideas. What kind of representation is possible if one loses the forms of things? In painting it is desirable that the painted images resemble the actual things. How can one paint things without actually knowing them? After all, was the fame of the ancients achieved by groping in the dark? Many who devote themselves to copying paintings are content to know things through paintings and do not venture outside, so their own paintings become increasingly false and removed from reality. The loss of representational likeness is bad enough, but the loss of ideas is even worse. If I did not know the visual forms of Mt. Hua, how could I paint them?


I painted Mt. Hua, yet the ideas were not yet realized, so they were on my mind all the time   while staying in my quiet room, while talking, while sleeping, while eating and drinking, while amusing myself, while listening to music, while receiving guests, and while composing essays. One day during a leisurely interval, I heard drums and horns passing my door. Startled, I stood up and said, "I've got it!" Consequently, I rubbed out the old paintings and painted Mt. Hua again. At that time I realized that the true method exists in Mt. Hua, and I was oblivious to the so called schools of painting. The reputation of a school of painting is founded on the accomplishments of people. Since schools are created by human beings, am I alone not human? Tradition is taking traces of the past as one's rules and guidelines. Observing a tradition implies following, but does it mean following and nothing more? One can follow the rules and models, when doing so is really following; and one can oppose them, when doing so is really following. Is opposing actually following? When one should oppose and it is reasonable [1i] to do so, then I oppose the methods of past masters. Although I am opposing them, my opposition is in accord with what is reasonable. At the times when one should follow and it is reasonable to do so, then I follow. Is such following merely subjective? In truth, I follow the dynamic principle of the universe [1i] and nothing else. Would you then say that I belong to a tradition? Or would you say that since I am not restrained by the specialists' rigid adherence to rules and models, I do not belong to a tradition? No. Moreover, I am not far from the path set down by my predecessors. Thus, I am somewhere in between following and not following a tradition!


As for mountains being mountains, their appearances are not singular. Large, lofty mountains are called song. Mountains that are small yet tall are called cen. Tall, narrow mountains are called luan. Low lying yet large mountains are called hu. Sharp, high mountains are called jiao. Small, clustered mountains are called kuei. Mountains like balls are called mi. Mountains with sides sloping like those of a pyramid are called qin. Mountains with prominent foothills and recesses are called jie. Cliffs are called yai; mountains with steep cliffs are called yan. Mountains with outstanding summits are called feng. These are all the ordinary norms [chang zhi chang]. Mountains that are not pure examples of any of the above are all ordinary variants [chang zhi bian]. As for mountains that are in no way similar to any of the above, not one can be named. Are these not unusual variants [bian zhi bian]? How can I deal with mountains that arise from unusual variations, if I paint them using ordinary norms? Thus, I must depart from the past and proceed to what is new. Nevertheless, these forms newly defined in my paintings have attained some resemblance to those defined by my predecessors.


As for the ultimate of spirituality and beauty, it definitely cannot be attained by ink and brushes; however, from this time on I was able to keep step with the great masters and progressed rapidly, so that gradually I felt I was my own master and did not fret that I was hopelessly behind. Each time I sat in the empty hall with my spirit at peace silently facing the paper, the ideas came to me in a way that I cannot put into words. How would I dare to purposely turn my back on my predecessors? Yet I cannot help but stand apart from them. People tend to like what is similar to the popular taste and not what is different. I kept my paintings at home; and once someone by chance saw them. He thought they were contrary to all painting styles and with surprise asked, "Who is your master?" I replied, "I take my heart–mind to be my teacher. It takes as its master my eyes, which in turn revere Mt. Hua as their teacher."