Origin of Chinese Painting


Our prehistoric ancestors at first knew little more than hunting, the rudiments of survival. Their needs were few and simple, and the tools and implements they used were limited. With time, life became more settled. Ceramic vessels were formed from clay, and eating and drinking became convenient. Designs were painted on these pots and bowls that today earn our attention and appreciation.



By historic times the various arts and crafts were in practice. Gradually vessels were cast of metals, stone and jade were chiseled and ground, ivory and rhinoceros horn carved – each art object demanded physical effort and thought, and dwellings, chariots and clothing were all subject to design and adornment. At the same time, the thoughts and sayings of the sages of antiquity were recorded and inscribed.


After generations of practice, Chinese painting can be divided into two major stylistic modes: the fine-brush style and the less detailed approach called “sketching ideas.” In both cases, however, there is a shared attitude that internal spirit guides outward form. At root is the Chinese belief in the Middle Path “Zong Yon Chih Dao,” neither following one extreme nor the other. A painting may be finely detailed, but it will not be concerned solely with the outward appearances that fill one’s eyes. Another painting may adopt the liberated approach of following one’s ideas with abandon, throwing aside the basic rules of representation, but it will not become wholly a representational or abstract art.


A painting may be composed of hundreds of mountains and valleys, or it may only describe a single peak, a single tree, or even a single flower or leaf, a glance between two people or between a person and an animal. In all cases, the goal is to lead the viewer into the painting, to make one feel that one has entered a true scene that attains the reality in which heaven and man become one.


Chinese painting and calligraphy are sister arts. When the painting does not quite fully convey the artist’s feelings, the artist inscribes it with a poem. In other cases, a specific poem will be the subject, and without having written a single character on the painting it is filled with a lyrical mood. Thus, painting, poetry, and calligraphy are fully integrated. And when the habit of applying one’s seal on it, the spirit of Chinese painting is presented in its complete form.



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