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Perspective Drawing Techniques: Difference Between The East And West

An Introduction To Perspective Drawing In Art

What is perspective? You must have heard the term before. Perspective in literature means ‘a point of view’. Similarly, in art, perspective is the technique of depicting objects from a fictional point of view in space. Different types of perspective drawing techniques are used to convey different meanings. For a long time, the East and West had entirely different approaches to the use of perspective drawing in art.

Without any further delay, let’s jump right into perspective drawing in the East and West by looking at their characteristics and differences. Let Rooftop provide you with a fresh perspective on perspective drawing techniques and differences.

Perspective Drawing In The West

The European technique of ‘linear perspective’ was discovered during the Renaissance period. The projection lines intersect at an imaginary point on the horizon, called the ‘vanishing point’. Artists were able to show a three-dimensional pictorial space on the 2D picture plane due to the vanishing point. Linear or scientific perspective drawing was the foundation of European visual language until the nineteenth century.

Perspective Drawing
‘The Arnolfini Wedding’, Jan van Eyck (image source: worldhistory.org)

It came to be seen as the only ‘right’ way to make art. It’s no wonder that artists rebelled against European scientific technique, as it did something innately absurd: it put art, and by extension, artists, into a box. The Bauhaus movement in Germany and the Bengal School of Art in India are some of the movements that rebelled against western ideologies in art. This sentiment became even more apparent when the Bauhaus in Calcutta exhibition was held in 1922.

Perspective Drawing In The East

Asian art does not view perspective drawing as a means to express realism. It moves beyond it into the spiritual, the mystic, and the unknown. Traditional Indian paintings always use flat perspective drawing and are two-dimensional. Objects of equal size are drawn, and distance is conveyed by placing them behind objects that are near.

This shows us that Indian artists were not concerned with realism but rather with stylization. We see this through intricate detailing, bright colours, and fantastical environments. The use of linear perspective in Indian art began as a result of European influence, first in Mughal miniature paintings and later in the development of the Company Style.

Chinese artists used axonometric perspective drawing. It is the Chinese equivalent of European linear perspective drawing. Their paintings used a flattened, or two-dimensional, perspective. Axonometric perspective, unlike linear perspective drawing, does not rely on optics because it lacks a vanishing point. Parallel lines do not converge and remain unaffected by optical distortion.

The size of all objects remains constant, regardless of the viewer’s position. Traditional Chinese painting omits depth and shadows and, in doing so, disregards the illusion of reality. It is an idealistic approach rather than the scientific view of the Western perspective. The flattened perspective drawing gives viewers space to think, imagine, and interpret.

Perspective Drawing
Chinese landscape painting drawn in a flattened or axonometric perspective (image source: metmuseum.org)

A Comparison Between Eastern And Western Perspective

Western perspective is connected to realistic depiction, or optics. In contrast, the Asian perspective drawing is an idealised view. The artist observed what they wanted to draw and depicted it symbolically. Thus, Asian art is part realistic and part fantasy. At first, it was believed that Chinese, Japanese, and Indian painters were not aware of the rules of perspective drawing. It was later theorised that the painters were aware of it and had chosen to ignore it entirely. Similarly, the British believed that Indian art was animalistic and barbaric. Since it was different from what they were used to, they chose to assume that it was inferior.

Diagram showing the differences between linear and flat perspective (image source: radicalreversibility.org)

Sadly, the demeaning of Asian art is partly due to the difference in style and perspective and partly due to the racist and xenophobic views of the European world. Art has power; to acknowledge someone’s capability, it is necessary to accept them as equals. Since Europeans saw themselves as superior, they held similar views towards art as well. The Bengal School of Art fought against this ideology by displaying the rich cultural significance of Indian painting.

Also read: Shape Language And Storytelling In Indian Tribal Art

Perspective As An Introspection On Cultural Nuance

Both Eastern and Western perspective drawing techniques have their merits and demerits. They’re inherently different, but not because one is superior to the other. The difference in perspective also displays the difference in thinking and culture.

Western perspective drawing is scientific, objective, realistic, and depicts the beauty of the outside world. The spiritualistic Eastern view is stylized and idealistic and depicts the beauty of the inner world of the artist through an exploration of their thoughts and feelings. Each is culturally significant and, thus, artistically relevant.

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By Melissa D’Mello

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