"Paint the space! Feel the space. Paint what you feel.Don't think about it. Put your sensation directly onto paper. You don't have to celebrate," the teacher told me.
This advice solved a problem I had of fitting everything into the picture in the proper relationship. Instead of focusing my attention on the multitude of people and objects in the classroom studio -- which had only resulted in confusion -- I tried painting the space. It worked.
Far Eastern painting uses this principle, I knew. Now I began to understand how this way of painting works. It seemed far easier and more natural than Western methods of plotting objects. One renders what one knows, what one feels , what is there. One abstracts, if you like, from experience rather than creates an illusion.
It is not a matter of representing a common view of things as they appear, although it makes use of certain conventions in order to be comprehensible. There is much more emphasis on getting at the essence of something and rendering that. It has to do with the recognition that space is a concept rather than a medium.
Michael Sullivan, in his book "The Meeting of Eastern and Western Art," comments about the Chinese sense of things with regard to space: "The idea of plasticity, of the rendering of three-dimensional objects as solid forms occupying space -- rather than the rendering of space itself -- was always foreign to Chinese art." He also says, "The Chinese artist is never concerned with the surface of things. He is always aware of what lies behind it, and the misty distances that fill so many traditional paintings are intended to hint at a reality that exists beyond what the eye can see."
The reality is not a material thing.William Calfee, a sculptor, discusses the business of space perception in terms of the idea of up or down, a movement discernible physically or mentally either way. "Deeper may also mean higher in terms of levels of being," he observes. That is, depth/height of experience, of consciousness. "Inner and outer relate to the idea of up, down, deeper, higher.Thus ideas of form develop through placement, where something is put wherem in relation to other parts." Sculpture, then, is an exploration and expression of the various attributes of space. And it shows where the sculptor's level of consciousness may be.
It is the "where." It involves the questions "Where am I? Where are you? How shall we come together or how do we move away from each other? What is our relationship?" These questions pertain to the form the sculptor produces as much as to the artist himself.
The same is true in painting. In Persian miniatures, for instance, the viewer can see clearly with what aspect of space the artist was concerned, or if he was concerned with it at all. Some painters produced flat designs. Others overlapped people and objects as if they were elements of a stage set. Some combined various viewpoints, or used Western-style perspective, or let untouched paper represent space. Or they used color and mistiness to suggest space. One or two painters were exceptionally logical in their representations, so that one has no doubt where anything is in relation to anything else. The viewer responds accordingly.
Stuart Cary Welch, curator of Hindu and Muslim Painting at the Fogg Art Museum of Harvard University, thinks that how well integrated the picture is reflects how well integrated the artist was, how fully developed as an individual.
One artist produced such skewed space, such a confused jumble of things full of ambiguity as to what is where or why, that Mr. Welch concluded the man must have been an alcoholic, unable to sense space coherently. Later he learned from contemporary accounts that the artist was indeed addicted.
I leave it to you to decide how the artist renders his concept of space in the accompanying Persian miniature.