Echoes of One Hand Clapping: Picturing Sound in Asian Art

Sound cannot be seen, so how can it be pictured? Sound can be heard, felt as vibrations, and can move the spirit through music and memory. Such ways of experiencing allow the knowledge and presence of sound to be visualized in painting, calligraphy, poetry, and photography. Painters can depict actions or things that generate noise, such as a waterfall or a wartime explosion. Sometimes the very process of applying ink or color can be used to emulate sound, as in Li Huasheng's brooding grid, painted in a way that mimics a ritual chant. Calligraphy captures in brush and ink the sounds of languages, some almost forgotten. For example, Le Quoc Viet uses a barely remembered script to link Vietnam's past to its changing present. Married to painting and calligraphy, poetry can evoke or activate the echoes of sound, as in Wang Hong's Evening Bell from Mist-shrouded Temple and Shitao's Echo. The question of picturing sound also resonates in Minor White's photographic sequence The Sound of One Hand Clapping, derived from the artist pondering a Zen Buddhist riddle: "Two hands clap and there is a sound; what is the sound of one hand?"

Cary Y. Liu, Nancy and Peter Lee Curator of Asian Art

  • 32896
    Chinese, Qing dynasty, 1644–1912
    Zhang Feng 張風, d. 1662
    Listening to the Waterfall (Shi yai ting quan), ca. 1658–60
  • 104450
    Wang Mansheng 王满晟, Chinese, born 1962
    Sound in the Mountains, 2010
  • 34033
    Chinese, Tang dynasty, 618–907
    Dharani Pillar Inscribed with Buddhas and the "Usnisa-vijaya Dharani", 878 CE; modern rubbing
    1995-115 b
  • 125500
    Le Quoc Viet, Vietnamese, born 1972
    This is what I heard #22, 2007
  • 125499
    Li Huasheng 李華生, Chinese, born 1944
    Untitled, 1998–2000
  • 125501
    Wilson Shieh 石家豪, Hong Kong, born 1970
    Harp, from the series Music Families 音樂家庭, 2009
  • 125502
    Wilson Shieh 石家豪, Hong Kong, born 1970
    Violin 小提琴, from the series Music Families 音樂家庭, 2009
  • 32799
    Chinese, Southern Song dynasty, 1127–1279
    Wang Hong 王洪, active ca. 1131–ca. 1161
    Eight Views of the Xiao and Xiang Rivers (Xiao-Xiang ba jing 瀟湘八景), ca. 1150
    y1984-14 a-b
  • 38844
    Chinese, Qing dynasty, 1644–1912
    Dai Xi 戴熙, 1801–1860
    Listening to a Stream (Ting quan tu 聽泉圖), 1839
  • 30519
    Chinese, Qing dynasty, 1644–1912
    Shitao 石濤, 1642–1707
    Echo (Kong shan xiao yu), undated; ca. 1677–78
  • 35950
    Chinese, Ming dynasty, 1368–1644
    Wang Chong 王寵, 1494–1533
    The Nine Songs (Jiu ge 九歌), 1527
  • 125497
    Fung Ming Chip 馮明秋, Chinese, born 1951
    Music Script, ref FMC 18, 2006
  • 125498
    Fung Ming Chip 馮明秋, Chinese, born 1951
    Sound Seeing (Guanyin 觀音), 2010
  • 55696
    Japanese, Meiji period, 1868–1912
    Kōkyo, 1863–1925
    Published by Matsuki Heikichi 松木平吉
    Published by Sawa Hisajirō
    Illustrated Reports on the State of Battle in the Russo Japanese War, 1904
    2008-126 a-b
  • 55692
    Japanese, Meiji period, 1868–1912
    Kobayashi Kiyochika 小林清親, 1847–1915
    Published by Matsuki Heikichi 松木平吉
    Private Onoguchi Tokuji Destroying the Gate at Jinzhou, 1894
    2008-122 a-c
  • 11540
    Minor White, American, 1908–1976
    The Sound of One Hand Clapping, Pultneyville, New York, October 10, 1957
  • 11553
    Minor White, American, 1908–1976
    Windowsill Daydreaming, Rochester, July 20, 1958
  • 11556
    Minor White, American, 1908–1976
    Empty Head, Frost on Window, 72 N. Union Street, Rochester, 1962
  • 11600
    Minor White, American, 1908–1976
    Galaxy, Frost on Window, 72 N. Union Street, Rochester, January 12, 1959
  • 11601
    Minor White, American, 1908–1976
    Burned Mirror, Rochester, June 25, 1959