Chinese painting is one of the oldest continuous artistic traditions in the world. Painting in the traditional style is known today in Chinese as guóhuà (simplified Chinese: 国画; traditional Chinese: 國畫), meaning ‘national’ or ‘native painting’, as opposed to Western styles of art which became popular in China in the 20th century. Traditional painting involves essentially the same techniques as calligraphy and is done with a brush dipped in black ink or coloured pigments; oils are not used. As with calligraphy, the most popular materials on which paintings are made are paper and silk. The finished work can be mounted on scrolls, such as hanging scrolls or handscrolls. Traditional painting can also be done on album sheets, walls, lacquerware, folding screens, and other media.
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Two Main Techniques
- Gongbi (工筆), meaning “meticulous”, uses highly detailed brushstrokes that delimits details very precisely. It is often highly coloured and usually depicts figural or narrative subjects. It is often practised by artists working for the royal court or in independent workshops.
- Ink and wash painting, in Chinese shui-mo (水墨, literally “water and ink”) also loosely termed watercolour or brush painting, and also known as “literati painting”, as it was one of the “Four Arts” of the Chinese Scholar-official class. In theory this was an art practiced by gentlemen, a distinction that begins to be made in writings on art from the Song dynasty, though in fact the careers of leading exponents could benefit considerably. This style is also referred to as “xieyi” (寫意) or freehand style.
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Specifics and Study
Chinese painting and calligraphy distinguish themselves from other cultures’ arts by emphasis on motion and change with dynamic life. The practice is traditionally first learned by rote, in which the master shows the ‘right way’ to draw items. The apprentice must copy these items strictly and continuously until the movements become instinctive. In contemporary times, debate emerged on the limits of this copyist tradition within modern art scenes where innovation is the rule. Changing lifestyles, tools, and colors are also influencing new waves of masters.
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Late imperial China (1368–1895)
Beginning in the 13th century, the tradition of painting simple subjects—a branch with fruit, a few flowers, or one or two horses—developed. Narrative painting, with a wider color range and a much busier composition than Song paintings, was immensely popular during the Ming period (1368–1644).
The first books illustrated with colored woodcuts appeared around this time; as color-printing techniques were perfected, illustrated manuals on the art of painting began to be published. Jieziyuan Huazhuan (Manual of the Mustard Seed Garden), a five-volume work first published in 1679, has been in use as a technical textbook for artists and students ever since.
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Beginning with the New Culture Movement, Chinese artists started to adopt using Western techniques.
In the early years of the People’s Republic of China, artists were encouraged to employ socialist realism. Some Soviet Union socialist realism was imported without modification, and painters were assigned subjects and expected to mass-produce paintings. This regimen was considerably relaxed in 1953, and after the Hundred Flowers Campaign of 1956-57, traditional Chinese painting experienced a significant revival. Along with these developments in professional art circles, there was a proliferation of peasant art depicting everyday life in the rural areas on wall murals and in open-air painting exhibitions.
During the Cultural Revolution, art schools were closed, and publication of art journals and major art exhibitions ceased. Major destruction was also carried out as part of the elimination of Four Olds campaign.
Text credit: Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chinese_painting
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