Chinese painting more than technique

The oldest living art in the world is traditional Chinese painting. Although the traditions of this art form go back over two thousand years, thousands of modern western artists have been inspired by its timeless beauty.

     True Chinese painting is a spiritual discipline as well as a painting technique. The subjects are based on nature. Serious artists concentrate totally on the natural world and the act of painting, to the point where the artist feels completely united with the work. This meditative state results in paintings of great sensitivity.

     There are three distinctive qualities to look for in Chinese painting. The first and most important is simplicity. Artists strive to paint a few well-chosen elements with a small number of expressive lines, using line and space in such a way, as to allow the viewer’s imagination to complete parts of the picture. The aim is to capture the essence of an image or an idea.

    For the Chinese, simplicity is regarded as the high point of elegance and refinement. This feeling led to a preference for monochromatic paintings (paintings using only one color), which are considered the purest essence of traditional Chinese painting.

     Spontaneity is the second element. The painting should go directly from mind to hand to brush and paper. There should be a feeling of “effortlessness,” even though this actually requires a lot of effort. The artist must be perfectly disciplined and in tune with nature to produce “free and easy” brushstrokes.

     Another distinctive feature of Chinese painting is asymmetry and the creative use of space. Formally balanced paintings (the same kind of things on each size of the painting) are static. Asymmetrical or informally balanced paintings are dynamic.

     There are also two basic styles of Chinese painting. One is known as “labored brush,” and the other is called “write idea,” or “idea writing.” Labored brush method is detailed, careful, and done with slow, fine brushwork. In contrast, idea writing is very spontaneous and calls for bold, fast brushwork. Idea writing is more difficult and challenging because the artist has to put his subject down freely and quickly, almost on the spur of the moment, to capture the essence / idea of the picture.

     Only four tools are needed for Chinese painting: brush, ink, inkstone and paper. Chinese also often have stone stamps and red “dragon’s blood” ink pads which are used to stamp the artist’s signature onto the finished work. The signature can be part of the total design of the painting.

     For all artwork, excellence depends on experience and understanding of the process. Chinese painting also requires complete and utter familiarity with the brush, to the point where one’s thoughts flow right onto the paper.

IMAGE: “Loquats and a Mountain Bird” by an anonymous painter of the Southern Song Dynasty (1127–1279); small album leaf paintings like this were popular amongst the gentry and scholar-officials of the Southern Song.

Published by on April 2013. Filed under Art-to-Art Palette Journal, Bugle Section. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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