The use of empty space (ES) is ubiquitous in Eastern art. In this study we used a computational method to quantitatively assess the amount of ES in Chinese landscape painting (CLP) (N=933). The data show that 56.8% of ancient CLPs contain mostly ES, while only 9.4% do so in modern times. ESs reached its peak during the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), and its lowest point in the 1960s. This reflects a substantial variation in the style of CLPs from ancient to modern times. Chan culture, literati ink play, the Exhibition Hall Effect, red politics, as well as other social factors, may have had an important impact on this shift. This empirical study indicates that art keeps abreast of current developments: the philosophy, culture, politics and general education of a specific era influence artists’ perception, aesthetics and creative output.

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Author notes

Prof. Guoyan Wang and Dr. Jiafei Shen contributed equally to this article

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