飛鳥入畫——中國畫家與鳥

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1993 / 2月

文‧張靜茹 圖‧國立故宮博物院提供木刻版畫何華仁提供


兩個月前加拿大畫家蘭士登在國內舉行「中國珍禽」畫展,對他描繪中國鳥類與其生態細膩、生動的手法,包括生態學者在內的許多人都認為:「中國人從未好好畫過真實的鳥類生態,這是以後可努力的一個領域。」對中國繪畫而言,這種說法恐怕未必實在。


在保育風氣興起、賞鳥人口日增的今天,連帶畫鳥的風氣也日盛。與臨摩歷代古畫、畫譜為主的花鳥畫,尤其不同的是,畫者以台灣野外的各種野生鳥類為對象,親自深入台灣高山觀察,並記錄鳥類生態,作為畫畫的藍本。

花鳥畫的新道路?

比較起來,缺乏深入觀察的傳統花鳥畫,總讓人覺得欠缺「真實感」,即使以工筆描繪得再細膩,也稍嫌死板。當愈來愈多的賞鳥人逐漸都能辨識台灣野生鳥類的名字和習性後,就更無法接受傳統花鳥畫。許多人遂認為,生態式地畫鳥,為一味臨摩古人的工筆,開了一條新路。

因此,前年郵政博物館發行畫家楊恩生所畫的台灣野生鳥類郵票,廣受喜愛;去年畫家何華仁展出「台灣鳥木刻版畫展」也頗得好評;如今以野生鳥類為主題的卡片、月曆、筆記,也四處可見。加拿大畫家耗費四年完成的卅幾幅「中國珍禽」圖畫在國內展出,更造成轟動。

一般以為,近代圖繪野生鳥類的風氣始於西方,因此今天畫生態鳥類者大都受到西方的啟發。但觀察生態,以真實的鳥類生態作畫,真是西方的傳統嗎?

有近廿年賞鳥資歷,也是鳥會資深鳥友的故宮書畫處長林柏亭可不以為然。別人賞鳥是為了享受自然之趣,對於林柏亭,賞鳥還附帶幫助他更瞭解中國歷代花鳥畫家作畫時的心境,也能進一步辨識古畫的真偽。

古人畫伯勞,今人烤伯勞?

發生在前故宮副院長李霖燦身上的例子,能為他說明原因。

卅年前李先生護送故宮一批國寶到美國舊金山展出。一位觀眾在宋朝花鳥畫家李安忠的「竹鳩圖」前流連了將近兩個小時,終於打起勇氣,告訴李霖燦有事與之相商,並邀請他到家塈@客。李心中雖納悶,但盛情難卻,只好拉著故宮同仁同去「壯膽」。到了他家,房堣@個大籠子中兩隻鳥兒,和李安忠竹鳩圖中的竹鳩竟一模一樣。

這位外國朋友得意地說:「兩位中國朋友,你們說,你們那張畫是照著我的鳥來畫的呢?還是我的鳥照著你們的畫長的?」三人相視大笑。

這隻古人稱為竹鳩的鳥兒,今天賞鳥人卻有不同稱謂,它正是每年過境台灣、人人耳熟能詳的伯勞鳥。墾丁的「烤伯勞鳥」曾是當地人招徠遊客的佳餚。十年前國內生態保育意識初起時,保育人士曾力呼墾丁居民勿再捕捉伯勞鳥,使它成為第一個被保育人士要求保護的野生動物。

今天的鳥友一眼見到竹鳩圖,立刻能叫出「伯勞鳥嘛!」畫中伯勞獨踞高枝、遊目四方,正是伯勞鳥最顯著的特性。在李霖燦看來,圖中的竹鳩「舉目四顧,志在八方,不可一世的神氣模樣,豈是照相匣子所能拍攝出來的?」可惜觀察入微的李安忠沒有料到,今天捕鳥者以鳥仔踏捕捉伯勞,就是利用它居高臨下,獨佔鰲頭的特性。

謙卑的生態觀察

「中國的第一代畫家,就像今天的科學家一樣,對自然做過非常科學性的研究」,在中國美術史的課堂上,前東海大學美術系主任蔣勳如此說道。過去他總覺得中國畫家只寫胸中意氣,是寫意的,事實上是很大的誤解。特別是在宋代,理學盛行,畫家受到格物窮理的思想薰染,作畫的基本精神發自格物,因此不僅觀察物的結構,也去分解物的肌裡。

中國畫家用他們的眼睛觀察自然萬物如石頭、山脈等的結構,再以毛筆勾勒出各種卷雲皴、披麻皴等捕捉自然物的最佳技法,「不論東西方,後來都很少看到畫家會像科學家一樣,去觀察石頭的結構」,蔣勳說。

卅年前因宋朝花鳥畫家李安忠的竹鳩圖所衍生的古今對照,故事有趣。而北宋畫家馬遠的故事,更凸顯了宋代畫家對萬物心存謙卑的觀察態度。

北宋亡國後,馬遠一路由北方奔向南方,抵達西湖,察覺到以原來畫北方乾燥、雄渾山水的技法,來畫南方水融融的景物,有了很大的障礙。馬遠於是四處旅行,觀察南方山水:海浪碰撞石頭反彈起來是什麼模樣,水經過土壤時的線條如何……,然後畫了十二段水與岸關係的「水圖卷」。

西畫中的配角

由於中國人的哲學觀,從未高高在上地排斥其他的自然生命,自然萬物在中國人的民族情感中佔有重要地位。因此含括鳥類、游魚、猿猴等動植物在內的花鳥畫,一直與山水、人物並列為中國三大繪畫,無論質、量均極為可觀。

反觀同時期,西方的宗教畫至高無上,「動物只是西畫中的配角」,何華仁說。當時,幾乎沒有具代表性的動物畫可以進入西方藝術史被廣泛討論。

直到十六世紀西方汲取自希臘、羅馬的藝術母汁已發揮到飽和,加上海運大開,東方美術中,尤其源自中國的日本花鳥畫曾受西畫家青睞,注入西方繪畫大河之中,但基於東西方哲學觀念的差異,激起的漣漪太小。

而中國花鳥畫,由於古人對自然經過長時間的認知與觀察,更促進後世花鳥畫在中國的重要地位。

好鳥枝頭亦朋友

故宮博物院登記組長佘城表示,花鳥畫由唐代孕育於自然思想,至五代急速昌盛後,便一路朝寫實的路子——在表現上追求自然的模擬——邁進,而寫實需要藉助高超的技藝,因此精熟的技巧始終也是畫家追求的目標。

早期的花鳥畫風中,善於設色、華麗的工筆花鳥畫派,開宗祖師是五代西蜀的宮廷畫家黃筌,他留給兒子黃居寀的「寫生珍禽圖」,就如今天的圖鑑一般,圖上的主角們,一隻隻站立紙上,彼此沒有關係,像等著供人辨識。雖然鳥數不多,美術史學者卻認為此畫是宋代畫家充滿觀察自然精神的最佳證明,也可以說是中國最早的鳥類圖鑑。

今天的鳥友們仍可由寫生珍禽圖中的鳥類特徵,判斷出鳥種,曾出現台灣高山上的白頰山雀,冬天過境台灣、停留西部海岸河口覓食的白鶺鴒,都出現在千年前的這幅「鳥鑑」上。只不過它是道地的圖鑑,只有鳥類圖像作為後人的描摹對象,不似今天的鳥類圖鑑,已經加上文字,介紹鳥兒的基本生態、習性與外貌。

多才多藝、詩文書畫俱能的南宋徽宗,也是個花鳥畫寫實論者。某一次宣和殿前種植的荔枝結實纍纍,適有孔雀徜徉樹下,他急忙召來畫工對景寫生,但所畫的孔雀皆舉起右腳站立。徽宗告訴畫工,孔雀上墩爬升時必定先舉左腳,驗之果然。

保存在台北故宮,出自徽宗畫院的「梅竹聚禽」,在美籍中國繪畫史學者高居翰看來,是「真實感底下深藏著精密而耐心的觀察。藝術家知道竹是怎樣抽枝生葉的,也了解到鴿子細長羽毛和鶉的尖銳羽毛是不一樣的。」

越過寫實,進入寫生

北宋承襲五代遺緒,「繪畫技法仍然是寫實第一」,佘城說,宋人描繪技巧的能力比唐人進步,對寫實漸能掌握之後,品評層次更進而觸及形而上的境地。在浸淫繪畫陶冶性情之餘,又喜尋繹事物的內在,因此,成為北宋繪畫主流的花鳥畫,除了追求精細、正確的外形描繪,更注重對象內在精神的表現。

林柏亭也認為,對宋朝畫家而言,畫得逼真已經不夠,因此不再將「寫實」放在第一位,而是要將自然生命畫出來,也就是寫生。林柏亭在「寫生在畫史上之轉變」文中就指出,今人常用的美術詞彙「寫生」,總被誤解為就是面對實景描繪作畫,清末以來,傳統繪畫受西洋衝擊,許多企圖有所作為者提倡畫家應拿起畫筆重新面對自然,或現實的事物,寫生遂屢被提起。事實上,寫生二字最早見於宋人評品花鳥畫作品的文章,宋人的寫生是重在「生」字,而非今人所謂的「寫實」。

林柏亭以他認為最具觀察精神,又超脫形體、捕捉到萬物氣韻的北宋崔白「雙喜圖」為例,畫中兩隻山喜鵲對著路過其領域的野兔做驅趕狀,動物一下、一上,喜鵲展翅作勢嚇兔,羽毛因風翻飛,野兔轉身愕然,一臉迷惑,身體鬆軟如真,讓人欲伸手撫摸。回頭來看今人所觀察記錄的山喜鵲生態,確是具有強烈護衛領域的鳥種。

高居翰在其「中國繪畫史」書中,形容雙喜圖之畫者觀察、捕捉到了自然的天性,且「對出現在自己畫中的生命,有了同情和了解。」

迷霧森林十八年?

欲捕捉自然的內在精神,達到自然生命形、神兼具,觀察的功夫需要更深,於是花鳥畫中被視為畫風野逸、賦色淡雅,以五代南唐徐熙為首的畫派,更融入自然。北宋畫家易元吉,曾入深山,與猿猴為伍,動則累月,觀察猿猴生態與林石景物。也曾在長沙家中鑿池植花,任水禽自然群聚,再藏身隱處,觀察其動靜遊息,與今天的生態學者從事生態調查的精神不相上下。

由於宋人的寫生能力是墊基在觀察功夫上,因此若能與宋人一樣擁有觀察鳥類生態的經驗,可以藉此看出很多宋畫仿作的問題,也較能夠判斷係屬寫生或臨摩而來。林柏亭解釋賞鳥對從事美術史研究的助益何在:「通常後人臨摩宋畫惟妙惟肖,但並未經過觀察,常會不經意地露出破綻。」

尤其到了明朝,畫家也崇尚寫生,極盡寫實之能事,華美富麗更甚於宋畫,許多當時的作品常被後人添上偽款,誆做宋畫欺世。但若細心觀察,可以發覺仿作終究缺少宋人發自思維、悟自物理後具有的特質。

他再舉鶴為例,鶴翅尾端黑色,因此收起雙翅時,尾巴看來是黑色的,但有些人畫飛行的鶴尾部仍呈黑色;同一個作者應該不會在兩幅畫上出現一對一錯的情形,如此就值得再進一步細究。林柏亭表示,不敢說所有宋人都具備格物精神,但在當時這是畫家畫鳥之前必須下的首要功夫,研究鳥類天性的風氣極盛,因此今天看來,宋畫表現通常比較「合理」。

萬物靜觀皆自得

藝術本身具有由簡入繁,繁極返簡的演變法則,繪畫發展至南宋,寫實主義逐漸發展到盡頭,筆墨轉趨簡化的畫法代之而起。佘城指出,南宋畫家在勾勒花鳥的輪廓上,揚棄過去工整圓勁的細線,改用粗獷奔放的粗線,用色也由濃彩敷設改為淡彩漬染;對於對象則力求突出個性特徵,簡化造型,掌握意象的表現,於是開創出筆墨蒼勁、意象蕭疏,以寫意為重的藝術境界。

老一輩的畫家林玉山在其「談雀與畫雀」文中就說,由當時的畫看來,可知畫家已體會出無須以形色華麗者為美,反尚質樸淡雅者,並重視畫面筆墨之效果。在此繪畫思潮的影響下,麻雀「相貌」雖平凡,地位卻不遜於其他珍禽,成為重要的鳥畫主角。

藝術是自由的,並無規範走向一定要如何。南宋之後,特別是文人畫家捨形從神,認為只要能追求到物的精神,可以放棄形的真實。無論重「形」或重「神」,後人只能說是中國人在藝術、文化上的一種選擇,是美學觀的轉變,無所謂對錯。但這樣的改變,仍然墊基在先有了仔細的觀察,再來轉化,也就是透過形的表現,但最終目的是要完成自我。

中國美術發展到後來,畫者皆相信只要思想豐富,不怕技巧拙樸、色彩簡單。人們認為,人永遠達不到自然老師的境界,只有褪去華麗的表相,回到自然,也就是回到自己心中,靜下來聽自然與自己內在的對話。就像清朝八大山人的禽鳥作品,主題常是輕描淡寫幾筆而成,他的目的其實在藉鳥表現自己的心境,這才是中國文人心目中藝術的最高境界。

不經一番寒徹骨

可惜隨著時代發展,不論寫意或寫生,都被認為不能跟上時代。少了形體,隨人自說自話,魚目混珠;另一方面,花鳥畫家漸失靜觀萬物的用心,如清朝畫評家方薰所說,宋人論花鳥是推崇能得生意者,「今人畫蔬果蟲魚,隨手點簇者謂之寫意,細筆鉤染者謂之寫生,以為意乃隨意為之,生乃像生而肖物者,不知古人立法命名之義焉。寫意寫生即是寫物之生意也。」

除了少數畫家,花鳥畫在傳統中打轉,一般人遂誤解中國花鳥畫就是缺乏觀察、只知精雕細琢、臨摹古人的工筆畫。

此時在西方,經過一翻顛簸過程,自然觀察反而發展成為一專門學問。

歐洲在十五世紀後的文藝復興、啟蒙運動,加上商業活動興起,個人生命由宗教的壓抑中解放出來,人自覺到本身的重要性,歌頌人存在與被人所征服的物質遂成為繪畫題材。尤其是佔據過台灣的荷蘭,最早向外拓展市場、尋找資源,新興的中產階級成為畫市主要購買人,於是首先開展出人物肖像與平民化的題材,生活周遭相關的風景、動植物,如兔子、魚、鳥等動物常以靜物畫呈現。科學與醫學的發展,解剖學大盛,以被分屍的馬、被打傷的鳥為主題的狩獵畫,也曾流行一時。但這種包含人類征服自然意味在內的畫,無法成為主流。

中西接上頭?

十八世紀自然科學如大海澎湃,許多畫者追隨探險家,四處描繪來自各地的動植物。以科學記錄為目的的繪畫,首要求真,加上觀賞自然的工具發達、生態研究興起,保育風氣席捲,賞鳥人口大增,科學圖鑑大量出版,藝術市場需求也日多,遂發展出今天的生態繪畫。

西方在師法自然的過程,呼籲應尊重生態、描繪自然的畫家,還與傳統狩獵畫畫家有過唇槍舌劍的論戰。

如今塵埃落定,動植物的自然生態已成為畫家喜愛的對象,尤其色彩鮮豔亮麗,種類、數量最多的鳥類,更成為生態繪畫的主角。「至此中西方接續上了」,蔣勳認為,雖然中國畫家在當時可能沒有西方生物學中動物吃什麼,那一塊肌肉該凹、該凸等等的瑣碎觀察和記錄,「但科學作法上容有不同,尊重自然本性的精神層次,在藝術上已達極高的境界。」

由藝術長河看來,自然生態這一主題,中國曾經走在前頭;但美學發展的路向不同,無關乎誰快、誰慢,誰會、誰不會。今天西方講求所謂科學與藝術兼具的鳥畫,其繪畫理念、思想可能與中國古人不謀而合,只能說今人終於發現自然美妙、引人入勝之處,從而作為繪畫體材。

寫實不難,寫生難

今天本土文化日受重視,人們關心本地特有的鳥類,加上科學講究品種,強調畫的是藍腹鷳、帝雉,對象必須很準確,繪鳥的意圖,除了藝術的欣賞,還需要讓觀者對鳥種一目了然,畫者的挑戰很大。

「畢竟寫意可以大膽揮灑,只怕沒有真正的內涵,而要工筆到『工而能活』卻不容易」,林柏亭說。明、清之後的工筆花鳥畫之所以落入窠臼,正因為沿襲古人風格太久,已經工而不活。

事實上,只要經過正規繪畫訓練,要克服描繪上的求真並不難,但要成就真正的藝術,如宋畫大家的形、神兼具,畫家要克服的是藝術上的表現風格,不只是技巧的問題。

現代的畫鳥或許源自於西方,但就像曾經辭去工作,在中央山脈扇平從事鳥類生態觀察的何華仁,除了求真的生態畫鳥,也嘗試以版畫表現台灣鳥類,線條轉為簡單、樸拙。這樣的轉變,說是西方的,不如說「更中國」。因為就如古人一路行來,深切地體悟到,只描寫真實、畫得惟妙惟肖,畢竟不是藝術的本質。若要回歸藝術,「真不真」就真的只是其次的問題了。

〔圖片說明〕

P.77

自然萬物一直是中國畫家的繪畫對象,然而他們卻從不只囿於描寫實物,也要追求隱藏的形體之後的精神。圖為明朝孫龍所畫的戴勝,簡單的墨塊卻充分表現了鳥兒神氣十足的神情。下為攝影者郭志勇在野柳拍到的戴勝。

P.78

宋朝李安忠的竹鳩圖,也就是今天的伯勞鳥,圖中竹鳩上喙微彎,遮蓋下喙,白色的過眼線與翅膀、體色層次分明,與身在大自然和畫家何華仁所畫的伯勞鳥對照,栩栩如生,唯畫家特意強調了它的渾圓體形。(右圖郭智勇攝,左圖何華仁提供)

P.80

(上)十九世紀德國畫家伍爾夫所畫的台灣朱鸝,發表在當時英國的鳥學雜誌「朱鷺」上。近代野生鳥類繪畫的風氣,始於西方畫者描繪生物學家由世界各地收集來的動植物。(張良綱翻拍)

P.80

(下)前年郵政博物館發行畫家楊恩生的台灣溪澗野生鳥類郵票,頗受歡迎。要使科學與藝術結合,畫家的挑戰更大。(郵政博物館提供)

P.83

崔白的「雙喜圖」,形、神兼具,是宋朝寫生花鳥畫的代表作。

P.85

美術史學者形容這幅出自宋徽宗畫院的「梅竹聚禽圖」:畫者不僅知道竹是怎樣抽枝生葉的,也了解到鴿子細長羽毛和鶉的尖銳羽是不同的。

P.86

黃筌的「寫生珍禽卷」中,有九官、文鳥、白頰山雀等今天賞鳥者——可叫出大名的鳥種。圖左中間則是今天仍每年過境台灣的候鳥白鶺鴒。下圖為郭志勇所拍的白鶺鴒。

P.88

去年舉行「台灣鳥木刻版畫展」的何華仁曾出走城市,遠至六龜進行鳥類觀察,他認為賞鳥對作畫時,捕捉鳥類的神情與生態有所助益。圖為他的木刻作品「褐鷹鴞」,圓而略帶童騃眼神的貓頭鷹,自然、樸實而不誇張。(何華仁提供)

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EN

Flying Into Painting--Chinese Artists and Birds

Chang Ching-ju /photos courtesy of art courtesy of the National Palace Museum and prints courtesy of Ho Hua-jen /tr. by Christopher Hughes

Two months ago a Canadian artist, J. Fenwick Lansdowne, held an exhibition in Taiwan on the theme of Chinese rare birds. His lively and fine depictions of Chinese birds and their habitats has led many people, including some ecologists, to exclaim: "The Chinese have not been good at giving realistic renderings of birds and their habitats, which is something they should strive hard to do in the future." Words that were not perhaps entirely fair to Chinese painting.


Today the rise of environmental awareness and the rapidly increasing numbers of bird watchers has been accompanied by a flourishing of the art of bird painting. What distinguishes this painting above all from the classical Chinese genre of bird and flower painting is that artists today take the various species of Taiwan's wild birds as their subjects and venture deep into the high mountains to make firsthand observations and record birds and their surroundings to make the sketches for their paintings.

A new path for bird and flower painting?

By comparison, the lack of detailed observation in traditional bird and flower painting has always tended to leave people with the impression that it lacks "realistic feeling." It is as if the extreme refinement of brush work in such paintings leaves them like dead specimens. With the growing number of bird watchers gradually getting to know the names and ecology of Taiwan's wild species, people are less ready than ever to accept such traditional bird and flower painting. Now many people have come to the opinion that the ecological style has opened a new path for Chinese bird painting, which used to consist mainly of detailed brushwork imitations of the ancients.

Two years ago, the Chinese Postal Museum thus issued a set of stamps featuring the wild bird paintings of Yang En-sheng which have been very warmly received, and an exhibition was held last year of prints of Taiwanese bird species by Ho hua-jen, which received much critical acclaim. Cards, calendars and notebooks on the theme of wild birds are everywhere. The exhibition on Chinese rare birds by Lansdowne, which was four years in the planning, also created quite a stir.

In general, the recent observation of wild birds and painting styles began in the West, which is therefore where many ecological bird painters received their inspiration from. But is ecological observation and the realistic painting of birds and their environments really a Western tradition?

Lin Po-ting, acting curator of the department of painting and calligraphy of the National Palace Museum, with nearly 20 years of bird watching experience behind him, and a veteran bird lover and fellow of the Bird Watching Society, thinks this is not necessarily so. Whereas other people watch birds so as to indulge their interests in nature, Lin Po-ting sets out with the added purpose of using it to help him get a better understanding of the sentiments enjoyed by the painters of Chinese bird and flower paintings through the ages and make progress in his knowledge of how to tell authentic from fake works of art.

The ancients paint it; the moderns bake it:

An incident that happened to the previous deputy director of the museum, Li Lin-tsan, can clarify the reasoning behind this.

Thirty years ago, Li Lin-tsan sent some great masterpieces from the National Palace Museum to San Francisco for an exhibition. At the exhibition there was one spectator who stood revelling in front of the painting Bamboo Pigeons by the Sung dynasty artist Li An-chung for more than two hours. He eventually got up his courage and invited Li to his house because he wanted to discuss something with him. Although Li was a bit dubious, it was hard to turn down such a kind offer. On arrival he was confronted by a cage containing two birds which were the spitting image of those in the Li An-chung painting.

The American proudly pronounced: "My Chinese friends, you say your painting is based on my birds? Or are my birds based on your painting?" At which they fell about laughing.

For the bird watchers of today, what the ancients called "bamboo pigeons" are in fact the familiar shrike that passes through Taiwan every year. In fact roast shrike was once a delicacy served to guests in the Kenting area. Ten years ago, when environmental awareness was just picking up in Taiwan, environmentalists put much energy into appealing to the residents of Kenting to stop trapping this bird, making it the first animal for which demands for protection were made.

Today as soon as bird lovers catch sight of the bamboo pigeon painting they will exclaim, "the shrike!" The most obvious of the shrike's special characteristics are that it stands alone in the high branches of trees and its eyes roam widely in all directions. In Li Lin-tsan's view, as for the bamboo pigeons in the paintings, "How could their grand, imperious, imposing manner ever be captured by a camera?" Unfortunately, Li An-chung, who carried out detailed observations, could not have foreseen that today's trappers would catch the shrike, exploiting its particular habit of perching up high in its position of great preeminence.

Humble ecological observation:

"The first generation of Chinese painters were like today's scientists and carried out very scientific research into nature," says Chiang Hsun, former director of the fine arts department at Tunghai University. In the past he always felt that Chinese artists just portrayed their inner sentiments through a kind of expressionism, but this was actually a big mistake. This was especially the case in the Sung dynasty, when artists were influenced by the empiricist zeitgeist of a flourishing rationalism, which led them not only to observation of the structures of things, but also to an analysis of their anatomy.

Chinese artists used their eyes to observe the myriad things of nature, such as the structures of rocks and mountain formations, and took their brushes to catch nature's most magnificent objects through a variety of intricate techniques of the brush. "No matter whether you are talking about East or West, there were very few later artists who were so like scientists and made such observations of the structure of rocks," says Chiang Hsun.

It is interesting that some thirty years ago Li An-chung's Bamboo Pigeons led to comparisons being made between the ancients and moderns. People have also been moved by the story of the Northern Sung painter Ma Yuan, who even more conspicuously reveals the humble attitude taken by Sung artists in their observations of nature.

Following the conquest of the Northern Sung, Ma Yuan fled from north to south China where he settled at Hangchow's West Lake. He was soon confronted by many obstacles as he tried to use the techniques he had garnered from observing and painting the arid northern mountainscapes to portray the warm scenery of the south. This led Ma to travel widely, observing the mountain scenery of the south and such phenomena as the shapes created by the action of the sea on stones and the patterns made when water passes over land. He went on to produce 12 albums on the relationship between water and coast.

A supporting role in Western art:

Because Chinese philosophy has never put people in a superior position, the myriad things of nature occupy an important position in the sentiments of the Chinese people. Thus birds, fish, apes and other animals in flower and bird painting have always gone to make up one of the three main themes of Chinese painting, along with mountain landscapes and people.

Looking on the other hand at the unsurpassable religious paintings of the same period in the West, "animals just play supporting roles," says bird artist Ho Hua-jen. It seems there are just not any representative works of purely animal art that can be discussed in Western art history.

By the sixteenth century the influence of Greco-Roman classical art in the West had reached saturation point. With the opening up of sea routes, Japanese flower and bird painting that originated from China came to be highly regarded by Western painters and entered into the mainstream of Western painting. However, due to the different philosophical outlooks of East and West, the ripples it made were still too small.

As for China, the long process of familiarization and observation gone through by the ancients enabled bird and flower painting to secure an important place in its later art.

A bird in the bush worth two in the hand:

Hsu Cheng, director of the registration department at the National Palace Museum, says that flower and bird painting started growing from thinking about nature in the Tang dynasty, and after a rapid blossoming in the period of the Five Dynasties took to the path of realism, seeking to imitate nature in its mode of representation. With such realism requiring high artistic skills, perfect technique became the objective sought after by artists.

The earliest flower and bird paintings had excellent colors and beautifully delicate and detailed brush work, as can be seen in the work of the court painter Huang Chuan of the Western Hsu in the period of the Five Dynasties. The album he left for his son is just like today's illustrations with the subjects scattered on the paper with no apparent relationship, as though waiting to supply people with information. Although this work does not include a lot of birds, art historians believe such art is the best proof of the great spirit of natural observation possessed by the Sung artists, and it can be said to be the earliest example of bird illustration in China.

Bird lovers today can judge the species of birds from the special characteristics shown in paintings. The great tits that once flocked in Taiwan's mountains, and the white wagtails that pass the winter in Taiwan settling in the estuaries of the west coast, can all be seen in the bird illustrations of a thousand years ago. Although these are real illustrations,they were only meant as models for later people to imitate, unlike today's illustrations to which are added inscriptions introducing details of a bird's ecology, habits and appearance.

With much talent and artistic ability, the able poet and painter Emperor Tsung of the Southern Sung was also a realist when it came to painting birds. On one occasion the lychee trees in front of his palace were laden with fruit and the peacocks wandering to-and-fro beneath made a perfect scene which the emperor quickly summoned his artist to capture. However, in the resulting picture the birds were shown with their right feet raised. Emperor Hui told the artist that when a peacock rises up it should first lift its left leg, and when the artist went to see for himself this turned out to be the case.

In the eyes of art historian James Cahill, a painting from Hui Tsung's painting academy of plum, bamboo and animals kept in the National Palace Museum reveals how, "Under the feeling for realism there is concealed concentrated and patient observation. The artist knew how bamboo grows and sprouts leaves and understood the difference between the fine long feathers of a pigeon and the pointed plumage of the quail."

Surpassing realism, entering expressionism:

She Cheng explains that when the Northern Sung dynasty took over the artistic heritage of the Five Dynasties, realism was still of primary importance for painting technique. Techniques in the Sung had made progress over those of the Tang, and after they had gradually been able to catch reality, the level of connoiseurship advanced to touch the area above appearance. Apart from sheer indulgence in the pleasure of painting, art also came to be moulded by a love of searching out the inner essence of things. Flower and bird painting entered the main stream of Northern Sung painting, and apart from pursuing detailed and accurate outer description it came to place even more emphasis on expression of the inner being of the subject.

Lin Po-ting thinks that the portrayal of descriptive reality was just not enough for the Sung painters. Realism was no longer of paramount importance; it was rather the essential life of the subject that had to be brought out.

Lin Po-ting takes the Northern Sung artist Tsui Pai's Double Happiness as an example of art of both superseding appearances and catching the tone of the myriad things of nature. In this work, two magpies face off a hare that has crossed their territory; the birds stretch out their wings to scare the hare, their feathers ruffled by the wind; the hare turns in astonishment with a look of bewilderment, its body pliant with a realistic softness that makes you want to stretch out your hand and stroke it. Looking at what has been recorded today about the magpie, it is in fact a bird that defends its territory very fiercely.

In his history of Chinese art, James Cahill describes how in Double Happiness the artist's powers of observation and his ability to capture the essence of nature, "reveal a sympathy and understanding of life in the painting."

An 18-year fog in the woods?

In capturing the inner spirit of nature and conveying its living manifestations, the linkage of spirit and matter requires much hard observation. Thus flower and bird painting has been seen to be a refined pursuit using a simple elegance of color, as with the Hsu Hsi school of painting of the Southern Tang of the Five Dynasties period which managed to integrate its art with nature to such a great degree. I Yuanchi of the Northern Sung once went deep into the mountains to live with the apes so as to observe their ecology. Digging a pond for flowers, letting water fowl gather there and concealing himself in dark places to observe their activities, his spirit of investigation was not so far removed from that of today's ecologists.

Because the ability of the Sung artists to work from nature was built on the foundation of observation, when you share their ornithological experience many problems are revealed in what are faked Sung paintings as it is possible to observe whether they have been done from life or are just imitations. Lin Po-ting explains, "Usually later people imitated the Sung paintings with great skill, but they had not been through the process of observation, so they could often unwittingly reveal their weak points."

This is especially so with the Ming dynasty, when artists also worked from life, had great ability when it came to realistic portrayal and adopted a more florid style than the Northern Sung. Many works from that time were stamped with seals counterfeiting the Sung paintings. But if you look carefully you can discover that what they ultimately lacked was actually that special quality of thinking developed by the Sung after its engagement in studying the anatomy of objects.

Lin Po-ting says that one cannot go so far as to say that everyone in the Sung was possessed by the empiricist spirit, but at that time it was certainly a prerequisite for any artist who wanted to set about painting birds. It was this flourishing of research into the nature of birds that gives Sung paintings their degree of rationality when looked at from today's perspective.

Finding the self in contemplation of nature:

The basic nature of art is to evolve according to the principle of moving from simplicity to complexity, then returning back from over-complexity to simplicity. By the Southern Sung, painting had developed to such extreme realism that brush work tended now to veer back towards calligraphic simplicity. In sketching flowers and birds, the Southern Sung painters gave up intricate lines of neat perfection in favor of bold and vigorous strokes and forsook rich colors in favor of more gentle pigments. Simplification of form could bring out the impressionistic meaning of subjects, opening the way to vigorous brush work, forlorn imagery and the world of impressionism.

In his writing On Sparrows and Painting Sparrows, Lin Yu-shan, a painter of the older generation, says that the paintings of that time already show an understanding that beauty can be achieved without florid shapes and colors but through a simplicity and plain elegance that emphasizes the effects of brush work. Under the influence of this tide of thinking, although the "appearance" of a sparrow might be plain, its status is not inferior to that of a rare species and it came to play an important role in bird painting.

Art is essentially free and there are no fixed rules to determine how it should be done. After the Southern Sung, painters forsook appearances for the sake of spirit, thinking it was enough to just pursue the spirit of things and that true appearances could be given up. Those who followed could only say that this was a choice made by Chinese artists, an aesthetic shift that could be judged to be neither right nor wrong. Yet even this kind of change was still built on the detailed observation by which it was preceded, passing through the intermediary of formal expression, although the ultimate aim was complete self-fulfilment.

In the later development of Chinese art, artists on the whole came to believe that all that was needed was a richness of thought and no fear of crude technique and simple colors. People felt that human beings would never be able to really attain the rigorous standards of such a teacher as nature and had to get rid of gaudy representations. The return to nature was thus rather seen as a returning to one's own heart, a quiet listening to the dialog of nature with the self. Such was the case of the animal and bird paintings of Pa Ta Shan Jen of the Ching dynasty in which the subject is portrayed with just a few minimal strokes of the brush. Here the aim of using birds as subjects is to express the territory of the artist's inner being. It is this that the Chinese literati came to think of as being the highest attainment in art.

If you do not suffer the winter . . .:

Unfortunately, later developments, no matter whether of an impressionistic or realistic bent, have all been considered not in tune with the times. Lacking form and structure, following the whims of subjective opinion, "fish eyes came to be passed off as pearls, " while flower and bird painters gradually lost their interest in quiet contemplation of the myriad things of nature. The Ching dynasty artist Fang Hsun could thus say that while the flower and bird painting of the Sung was held in high esteem for its capturing of the vital significance of life, "Today when people paint vegetables, insects and fish using blobs of ink it is called impressionist, while detailed outlines and filled in colors are called realistic; thinking that impressionism follows impressions and realism is like life and resembles objects, they know not the meaning of the laws and ordinances established by the ancients. In reality, impressionism and realism are merely the portraying of the vital significance of the being of objects."

Apart from a small minority, most people arrived at the misunderstanding that Chinese flower and bird painting lacks the qualities of observation, only knowing the detailed craftsmanship and polish that harks after the refined brush work of the ancients.

At this time the West was passing through a turbulent stage in which observation of nature developed to become a special discipline.

In Europe after the Renaissance, the Enlightenment and the rise of commerce, the individual was released from the yoke of religion and people became conscious of the value of their own nature. Human existence and the materials conquered by people became the stuff of art. This was especially so for the Dutch, who colonized Taiwan and were the earliest to expand their markets and search for resources. When the ascending bourgeoisie became important buyers in the art market, this led to the rise of portraiture and the gentrification of subjects which came to include scenes common in everyday life, animals and plants, with rabbits, fish and birds often appearing in still lifes. The development of science and medicine and the flourishing of anatomy meant that gashed horses and wounded birds appeared in hunting scenes and became fashionable for a time. However, such art, revelling in the human conquest of nature, never became mainstream.

When China meets the West:

With the eighteenth century explosion in the natural sciences, many artists followed explorers to all corners of the earth to portray the flora and fauna they found. Such painting for the scientific record was concerned primarily with seeking factual truth. When tools were developed to aid in the appreciation of nature and ecological research took off, conservationism swept the world and the number of bird watchers increased daily. Scientific illustrations were produced in great quantities and the demands of the art market gave rise to the ecological art of today.

While the West is in the process of learning from nature, Western artists appealing for respect for the environment and set on portraying nature still lock swords with the traditional painters of the hunt. Now that the dust has settled, the natural ecology of plants and animals has become a favorite subject for artists. Birds, with their resplendent colors and great variety, have especially come to play an important role. "In this way China and the West are connected," thinks Chiang Hsun. Although Chinese artists in the past did not have the Western biological knowledge of what animals eat and how their bodies are shaped, "There are different kinds of scientific method, and the level of respect for the fundamental essence of nature had already reached a very high point."

Looking at it from the long river of art, China once took the lead in ecology. Yet aesthetics developed to take roads leading in different directions, no matter who has been fastest or most able. The ideals and thinking given to painting by the Western meeting of art and science in bird painting might accidentally be the same as those of the classical Chinese, but it can only be said that people today have finally discovered the wonders of nature and drawn them to areas of great beauty. It is thus that it has become the subject matter of painting.

Realism easy--art from life hard:

Today native culture is increasingly receiving more attention, and people are concerned about indigenous bird species. In science, great emphasis is placed on exact breeds and species, and painters strive to portray Mikado pheasants or other precise species of birds. What must be aspired to in painting birds, apart from aesthetic enjoyment, must still be to let spectators understand birds at a glance. The challenge for artists is very great.

"Ultimately, impressionism can paint with a bold freedom, although there is a fear that it lacks any real significance. But wanting to paint in a refined and detailed way that can bring your work to life is not at all easy," says Lin Po-ting. That the flower and bird painting of the Ming and Ching dynasties is said to have fallen into an ossified pattern was precisely because, having followed classical styles for too long, their work lacked vitality.

In fact, it is not that difficult to just go through a rigorous artistic training to overcome the difficulties of true representation. But to achieve the meeting of spirit and form, as did the artists of the Sung dynasty, artists must overcome the problem of style and not just technique.

Perhaps modern bird painting originated from the West. Yet an artist like Ho Hua-jen, who gave up his job to go to the central mountains to make observations, apart from seeking to paint birds realistically also wants to use his prints to represent the bird species of Taiwan with simple bold lines. Instead of being called Western, such an evolution might better be said to be even more Chinese in its travelling of the same road as the ancients. What must be fully realized is that just portraying a good likeness is not the essence of art. If you want to get back to real art, then questions of "real or unreal" are really of secondary importance.

[Picture Caption]

p.77

Nature's myriad manifestations have always been subjects for Chinses painting, although artists have never been confined to realistic portrayal but have pursued the spirit behind appearances. In this work by Ming dynasty artist Sun Lung, simple patches of ink fully capture the lofty air of the hoopoe. The photograph below shows a hoopoe caught in the lens of photographer Kuo Chih-yung.

p.79

In this painting of a "bamboo pigeon" (shrike) by Li An-chung of the Sung dynasty, the upper part of the bird's beak is slightly curved, covering the lower part, while there is white coloring over the eye and on the shoulders and layers of coloring on the body are disdtinct. It seems as vivid as either the one in the wild or the one painted by Ho Hua-jen, except that the Sung dynasty painter chose to emphasize the round body shape. (right photo by Kuo Chih-yung, left picture courtesy of Ho Hua-jen)

p.81

(Above)The maroon oriole painted by the nineteenth century German artist Wolf appeared in the English ornithological journal /bis. The modern style of painting wild birds began with depictions by Western painters of the flora and fauna collected by biologists from all over the world.

p.81

(Below)Two years ago, the issue of stamps by the Chinese Postal Museum showing the wild bird species of Taiwan's mountain streams by Yang En-sheng was widely welcomed. The challenge for artists wanting to unify art and acience is a big one.(courtesy of the Chinese Postal Museum)

p.83

The unity of form and spirit evident in Tsui Pai's Double Happiness is representative of the Sung dynasty genre of flower and bird painting from

p.85

Art historians say that Plum, Bamboo and Animals from the painting academy of the Sung emperor Hui Tsung reveals that the artist not only knew how bamboo grows and sprouts leaves, but also that he understood the difference between the long fine feathers of the pigeon and the pointed plumage of the quail.

p.87

Huang Chuan's scroll of rare species painted from life features birds the names of which today's bird watchers can call out with ease. To the left and center of the picture can be seen the migratory white wagtail which passes through Taiwan every year. Below is a photograph of the white wagtail taken by photographer Kuo Chih-yung.

p.88

Ho Hua-jen, who held an exhibition of woodcut prints of Taiwan's birds, once left the city to travel to Liukuei and observe birds as an aid to capturing their spirit and ecology. This woodcut shows an innocent-looking wide-eyed owl in a style that is natural, simple and unexaggerated. (courtesy of Ho Hua-jen)

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