Human endeavors are never far removed from Nature. The study of and role within Nature of humans has always been a focus of contemplation and exploration. By the Sung dynasty, this had reached new heights. Taoists revered Nature by taking part of the natural world, while Sung Confucianists "sought knowledge through things," reflecting their interest in observation and understanding.
The great landscape painter Fan K'uan, for example, is said to have lived in the mountains, sitting all day in contemplation observing the mysteries of Nature. Such powers of observation also extended to other artists, such as Kuo Hsi, who said that a painter should reflect differences of the landscape in terms of seasons, distances, and times of the day in their art. Consequently, he developed ways of expressing the appearances of the land in his painting. Likewise, the bird-and-flower painter I Yuan-chi raised various plants and animals. Not content with just viewing them, he built a secret post from which he noted how animals behaved in Nature. He also traveled deep into the mountains, where he observed gibbons, roebucks, and other wild animals. Sung artists focused on "sketching from life," seeking not only realism, but also the nature of their subject matter and appearances in different seasons, weather, even times of the day. This trend also applied to arts and crafts, where the naturalistic depiction of plants and animals served to lodge one's feelings towards Nature. In terms of studies on plants and trees, writings on the cultivation and appreciation appeared, such as on peonies, lichee, and citrus fruits. Advances in printing during the period spread such works and they were handed down to later generations.