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In this assignment, you have an opportunity to employ art history knowledge and comparative essay writing skills covered in this Module. You will choose a landscape artwork from Eastern culture—either Japanese or Chinese—and one Western landscape by a European or American artist. Both artworks should have been made around the same time, between the 11th and 17th centuries. You will then compare and contrast these two paintings created during the same time period but from different cultures, drawing on course vocabulary, contextual analysis, and formal analysis. 


Mountain with River and Trees

School of/style of Wang Yuanqi.  Mountain with River and Trees.

ca. 1642-1715.  Ink on Paper. 

Used with permission of the British Museum.

The Eastern (Asian) landscape tradition is markedly different from that of the Western (European). Traditional Asian artists intended to evoke meditative contemplation through visual imagery using atmospheric perspective, placement, and asymmetry. Eastern works also stress a reverence for nature and often include calligraphy or poetry as part of the primary subject. What ideas do European landscapes of the same time period convey?

For this assignment, you will choose one example each of paintings that represent the Eastern and Western landscape tradition from the same time period. In your essay, compare and contrast each work’s individual similarities and differences and identify major contrasts in these two cultural approaches. For basic information on how to approach this comparative essay, visit the Module 5 Writing Skills page.

Step 1: Research

First, conduct basic research on Eastern and Western landscape paintings and create a list that includes the major ways in which they are similar and different.

Then, using the  Art Research Guide sources or comparable sites, browse examples of both Eastern and Western landscape art and choose two examples that allow you to write a fully-developed essay based on three or more major points of comparison.

Consider the following questions as you brainstorm your comparisons:

What did each artist hope to accomplish with his or her work?

What aspect of the landscape did each artist most value?

Did the artists demonstrate personal connections with their landscapes, or were they conveying broader cultural messages?

Do the artworks represent attitudes towards nature that continue on today?

Explain each consideration in detail and refer directly to how they are demonstrated in the art itself.

Next, summarize the primary points you will address in one “thesis statement,” which will appear as a sentence in your essay’s introduction. Note that not all Eastern and Western landscapes will make strong enough statements to support a fully-developed essay. For example, if Eastern landscapes stress a reverence for nature, look for Western examples that either clearly do or do not represent the same idea. Your choices should provide you with at least three clear, strong points of comparison.

Recommended Research Sources:

Recommended Research Sources:

Step 2: Writing

Essay (800 – 1200 Words)

First, review the information regarding “comparative essays” in the Module 5 Writing Skills Development page and decide which strategy you will follow to write your essay.

Insert an image file with caption of each of the landscape examples you have chosen to write about at the beginning of your document file—one by an Eastern artist and one by a Western artist.


Identify the artists who created the landscapes, the subject of the works, and the era in which they were painted.

Provide a brief description of how each work represents the ideals of the Eastern and Western landscape traditions or philosophies. As before, this is a “thesis-driven” essay. Include your thesis statement in the introduction and explain the three or more points of comparison you will be using in your analysis of the different attitudes towards nature, landscape, or the environment that you find in these two works.

Using one of the strategies explained in the Module 5 Writing Skills Development page (Compare and Contrast Strategies), explain how the two works compare or contrast according to your three points of comparison. Use terminology from the elements of art and principles of design as you examine each work.

Conclude by explaining any major differences, similarities, or attitudes towards nature that were revealed by the artists of the works you chose. Do you think the Eastern and Western philosophies concerning nature are vastly different, or are they similar? Explain why. Is this still true in the modern era?

Basic Information for All Essay Submissions:

Create a “Works Cited” section that lists your 3+ scholarly sources in MLA Style format at the end of your paper. Be sure you have properly cited any direct quotes you use in support of your own writing. For help with MLA Style citations, visit the suggested links in the Art Research Guideor look here in this course under Content > Syllabus > Research.

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