Gong Xian was interested in art theories and methods. He composed a few illustrated books for students of painting with practical instructions on structure and brushwork. He singled out stability (an) and strangeness (qi) as key to landscape composition by stating, “If a composition has no strangeness, there is no value in its stability. Stability without strangeness is the work of a commonplace hand; strangeness without stability, of an immature hand.” An ideal painting, such as this landscape, should have strange imagery to stimulate the viewer’s imagination beyond the mundane world yet be convincing enough to stir his yearning for accessibility.
Gong complements this evocative landscape of bizarre rock masses and empty dwellings under lush trees with a melancholy poem:
Green willows, fresh cattails, an expanse of water in the wilderness; Reflections of red balustrades around the pavilions of private homes. Having seen the spring off, I still call for wine, In a rainy chill that the setting sun cannot dispel.