Landscape of the Soul Summary by Nathalie Trouveroy


The story highlights the different sense of aesthetic and desires of artists in the western and eastern hemispheres. While the western eye craves for exact replication and reproduction of life forms in a mere physical manner, the artists in the East want an active and emotional engagement with the craft.

They want the audience to find their way into the work and find various perspectives to admire and analysis the artwork. For them, it spells more than a mere carbon copy of the original thing and involves greater powers of imagination, beliefs and emotional depth.

They instil a deeper sense of spirituality in their work which makes it more real than it looks. The author mentions three stories to prove his point: two from Chinese folklore and one from Belgium.

First Story

The first story is about a medieval Chinese artist named Wu Daozi under the reign of Emperor. Famed for his painting he was asked by the regent to paint the walls of his abode.

He obliged and painting a beautiful medley of mountains, river, clouds, wildlife, people etc. The splendid work had a cave painted at the foot of the mountains. Wu clapped his hands once near the cave and it came alive.

It opened a portal to a new world. Wu entered the cave and before anyone else could react the painting disappeared into the thin air. Wu vanished with it as well. The story became a Chinese legend and part of a rich lore from the writers and philosopher like Confucius.

Second Story

The second story narrates about a painter who believed in mysteries and spiritual magic of art. He had painted a spectacular dragon. However, he declined to paint its eyes lest they opened and it came to life.

Such was the strength and potency of his belief in his art that he was petrified at the prospect of bringing his art to life and fall prey to a fire-hurling dragon.

Thirs Story

Now, we come to the third and final story of medieval Europe and in particular Antwerp, Belgium. Once there was a blacksmith named Quentin, who was smitten by the daughter of a fellow tradesman, a painter.

The social difference between the two skills and profession made it unlikely that the painter could ever marry them together. To earn his beloved hand in marriage, the blacksmith decided to draw a fly on the painter’s panel.

It was a piece of delicate realism and fooled the painter who tried to swat it away, believing it to be a living insect. He was moved and convinced by Quentin’s skill, resolve and ingenuity.

The painter finally accepted his proposal for his daughter. Finding his true love, Quentin went on to become one of the greatest painters of his age.

The stories reveal an inherent difference in the aim of the artists. The Chinese artists carry a deeper meaning and spirit in their work whereas the Europeans are concerned about the outward appearance and life-like resemblance.

The author then talks about the Chinese concept of ‘Shanshui’ which means mountain-river. He notifies about the concepts of ‘Yang’ (Vertical Mountain which is masculine, warm and rigid) and ‘Yin’ (Horizontal River which is feminine, fluid and moist)

The two dimensions/energies are separated by vacuum or emptiness (represented by white space) where the two energies collide and merge. This is the place where the imagination of the artist lies and how he becomes the eye or conduit of communication through his work.

Finally, the text also talks about the artists who are naturally gifted and do not receive any formal training and lessons. The artists are instinctive and can use unconventional techniques that the groomed artists cannot.

The writer typifies this by mentioning the Rock Garden at Chandigarh, developed by Nek Chand. He was also an unorthodox genius who had the vision to think above and beyond his contemporaries and predecessors.

Further Reading

  1. Play Quiz on Landscape of the Soul
  2. Discussion on Landscape of the Soul