Shifting Perspective

Maxwell Hearn walks us through an ancient Chinese scroll landscape painting in this New York Times video.

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.“Different from Western paintings, a Chinese painting is not restricted by the focal point in its perspective. The artist may paint on a long and narrow piece of paper or silk all the scenes along the Yangtse River…Why do the Chinese artists emphasize the shifting perspective? They want to break away from the restrictions of time and space and to include in their pictures both things which are far and things which are near. Also, the artists find that in life people view their surroundings from a mobile focal point. As one walks along a river or in a garden, one sees everything on the way.” (This passage is reproduced all over the web without citation…but it’s a good description, so here it is.)

In the landscape collages I’m working on, I am also using shifting perspective. Actually, when you think about it, it’s impossible to make a collage that doesn’t shift in perspective, since each piece of it was photographed or rendered in a different time and space. But I love the idea that the use of a “mobile focal point” more closely describes our actual experience of moving through a landscape, just as Hearn says the viewer is meant to “walk” through the painting.

Here’s an extreme example of shifting perspective in a hand drawn map I surreptitiously photographed at the wondrous Museum of Indology in Jaipur, India. The artist was attempting a birds-eye view from the very center of the compound, which resulted in some buildings being depicted upside-down!