Title page for ETD etd-07062007-194455

Type of Document Master's Thesis
Author Henderson, Sara Madeleine
Author's Email Address shende5@lsu.edu
URN etd-07062007-194455
Title Natural History Connects Medical Concepts and Painting Theories in China
Degree Master of Arts (M.A.)
Department Art
Advisory Committee
Advisor Name Title
Fredrikke Scollard Committee Chair
H. Parrott Bacot Committee Member
John B. Henderson Committee Member
Kelli Scott Kelley Committee Member
  • mythology
  • landscape painting
  • worldview
  • interdisciplinary
  • cosmology
  • calligraphy
  • scholarship
  • diagrams
  • oral history
Date of Defense 2007-06-04
Availability unrestricted
The earliest decipherable Chinese history traces back to the Shang Dynasty (B.C. 1766 – 1154). This period was considered prehistory until the discovery of artifacts describing divination rites in this era, practices that forge a culture. Divination rites included patterns in nature (natural law, li) such as the Five Elements and the Eight Trigrams. The Eight Trigrams were the first attempt at writing ancient philosophies. Eight symbols represent categories that are not static, but the changing patterns in nature are captured by organizing events and forms in nature relative to seven other influences. Later this idea expanded eight-fold, embracing the patterns of nature as well as human nature, thus creating Sixty-four Hexagrams. Such categories illuminating ‘likeness’ and ‘kind’ in nature originated in ritualistic practices and were the theoretical foundations of Chinese traditional art and medicine still in practice today.

This thesis finds that ancient philosophies and rituals are the roots of Chinese culture, medicine and art. One ancient concept that is still prevalent in medical theories today is that of the body as a microcosm reflecting the macrocosmic universe. Medical concepts about the body illuminate a view of nature based on the concept of largeness in smallness. The technique of ‘depicting things as they are’ asks artists to capture the likeness of forms in nature. This is a time-honored aim of Chinese artists. Artists should strive to capture ‘likeness’ representing nature’s complexity, such that there is largeness in the smallest forms (such as humans) and space in nothingness (such as mist).

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