Chinese Paintings: Then And Now
There are two major art forms from China that have made major impacts to the rest of the world. The first one is calligraphy and the second comes in the form of Chinese paintings. As a matter of fact, they are considered to be one of, if not, the oldest artistic traditions that are still present up to the present date.
The oldest Chinese paintings were more ornamental than representational. They are made up of designs and patterns instead of pictures. This can be seen in the earliest pottery and other things that had dots, spirals and zigzags printed on them. Representational artwork started to become a fad during the Warring States Period in 475 to 221BC. Anything and everything in the physical world became the subject of Chinese paintings as artists started to create representational works depicting the different things around them.
Traditional painting in China is referred to at the present as guo hua, which means native or national painting. This is to differentiate it from the Western art that was famous in the country during the 20th century. Chinese paintings actually share numerous features with Chinese calligraphy such as in terms of the technique and the tools used in creating them. Both paper and silk are the top options on which both calligraphy and painting is done. The latter can be done on other media such as album sheets, lacquerware, folding screens and walls.
Xie He, a 6th-century Chinese art historian, critic and writer, pointed out that Chinese painting is based on six principles. These six elements are critical in defining a painting and should be duly considered when judging it. Spirit resonance or the painting’s vitality. The painting should be able to translate any forms of energy transmitted from the artist to the artwork. Since this is the total energy in an artwork, its absence eliminates the need to judge the painting any further. Bone Method, on the other hand, refers to how the brush is used. It is not limited to the brush stroke as well as the texture though. More importantly, there is a close link connecting the handwriting and the personality. Correspondence to the Object is all about how the form is depicted. This includes the line and shape to name two. Suitability to Type revolves around the colors applied and their tone and value. Division and Planning involves the arrangement and placement of the different forms in relation to the overall composition as well as the depth and space in every aspect of the painting. Transmission by Copying s focused on how the models are copied from life. This also duly takes note of any related works in antiquity.
In the modern era, painting techniques from the West have been incorporated in Chinese paintings. Socialist realism was employed in artworks during the early part of the People’s Republic of China. Subjects were assigned to the painters, and mass production was expected. Traditional Chinese painting was revived after the Hundred Flowers Campaign in 1956-57. Peasant art was common as rural everyday living were depicted in a lot of works at this time. When the Cultural Revolution took place, art exhibitions as well as art journal publications and art school operations lessened. They were reinstated along with a couple of professional art organizations after the said revolution.
From then on, exchanges with foreign artists have been taking place, and local artists are experimenting with more subjects and new techniques. Chinese paintings of the present time can incorporate modern and Western details or be completely traditional.
Next we look at Chinese Calligraphy.