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Theory of Chinese Painting (3): Portrait

Author/Tianwaike sees kindness

The original meaning of "portrait" is "picture and portrait", and the "truth" here means "spirit", that is, "lifelike portrayal". To be specific, it is to have both form and spirit when expressing objects in the way of painting—realistic images and vivid intentions. "Photography" reflects people's understanding of the concept of painting at the beginning, and has also become a feature of traditional Chinese painting. Since the themes of paintings in the Tang Dynasty and before that were portraits of people—Buddhas, Taoists, gods, ancient sages, martyrs, etc., the requirements for the creation of portraits of people should not only be similar in shape, but also their true shape and charm. The mainstream of Chinese painting is figures, so portrait also specifically refers to painting portraits of figures, and it has been used until now. In fact, it is very accurate to use the original meaning of "portrait" to summarize the characteristics of various objects in Chinese painting. At the same time, it has the dual meanings of "realism" and "freehand brushwork". Half realistic, half freehand. During the peak period of landscape and flower-and-bird paintings in the Song Dynasty, his works were realistic, taking into account both form and spirit. The advocacy of literati painting puts great emphasis on expressing the characteristics of connotation and freehand brushwork, voluntarily abandoning the requirement of realistic surface techniques, and it is becoming more and more extreme, resulting in the shortcomings of many later Chinese paintings that lack realistic skills in techniques. Although the emphasis is on freehand brushwork, its realistic technical characteristics cannot be weakened like the literati paintings advocated. Therefore, using "portrait" to summarize the characteristics of Chinese painting can well preserve the dual characteristics of both freehand brushwork and realism in traditional painting.

Why did scholars in history emphasize freehand brushwork rather than realism when proposing and developing literati painting? The reason is that literati painting has its own technical deficiencies, so it is avoided, and it is also influenced by traditional cultivation culture. In traditional Chinese cultural beliefs, both Buddhism and Taoism believe that everything about people is unreal, that a person's life is short, that the interests that people pursue are not long-lasting, and that everything in the world that people live in is fascinated. human nature. That's why Taoism talks about "returning to the original and returning to the true", and believes that the realm of "emptiness" and "nothingness" is the highest and the real. Buddhism talks about "emptiness" and thinks that all achievements in the world are just dreams and bubbles. However, Zen Buddhism, which has a profound influence on modern history, has taken the understanding of "emptiness" to the extreme, and has become a way of cognition. The meaning of existence of all tangible substances is far from the original meaning of Buddhism, so it was also controversial in Buddhist circles when Zen was first introduced. However, this kind of thinking gradually became popular later, and many literati and officials were deeply influenced by this kind of thinking. Therefore, in terms of painting concepts, "literati painting" also increasingly emphasizes abandoning superficial realism and focusing on accurate representation of objects. It is becoming less and less important, and it has also caused people's misunderstanding of traditional Chinese painting today, and they have an extreme understanding of "emphasis on freehand brushwork".

        The realism of Chinese painting and the realism of Western painting we are talking about here are not the same concept. There is a fundamental difference between the two, mainly due to the differences in the characteristics of the traditional cultures of the East and the West. Here first explain the origin of the Western realistic painting school. In fact, the entire history of traditional western painting is the history of realistic techniques. After the appearance of Impressionism, people's artistic concepts declined, and the orthodox realistic art was driven out of the academy with the fallacy that "no picture is as good as photorealism". Orthodox artists call themselves "realists" in order to survive in the only space they have. Why is the theory of Impressionist photography wrong? The art of photography is different from the art of painting. It can only take pictures of things that can be seen by the human eye, and cannot use this technology to express the invisible things. For example, can photography be used to represent Michelangelo's Sistine Ceiling frescoes? Can you express the "School of Athens" created by Raphael? Paintings are not only the connotation to be expressed by the content of the picture itself, but also include the artist's moral emotion, life experience, experience and knowledge and other factors into it. There are also endless ways to express the divinity beyond human nature in painting creation.

        The artistic feature of orthodox western painting is realism, which focuses on the supernatural workmanship of the surface, and pays attention to the accurate reproduction of objective things, including the changes caused by light, shadow, light and shade, etc., as far as possible. In short, western painting focuses on the precise depiction of objective objects. During the Renaissance period, a complete set of systematic training mechanism for basic skills was formed, which quickly matured Western realistic painting. Traditional Chinese painting, however, has always been passed down from teacher to teacher and by oral instruction. There is no systematic professional training mechanism, and the focus is on freehand brushwork. Therefore, it does not pay much attention to the skills of surface modeling, and the proportion of modeling and perspective is often not accurate enough. Inner spiritual essence to achieve vividness. In the process of creation, the painter does not completely copy what seeing is believing, but to find the natural laws in it. After mastering the laws of nature, he paints according to the general effect he wants, without facing the real world. Sketching of objects from life can also conform to the natural characteristics of things. The process of creation is like building a car behind closed doors, which is the so-called "making a car behind closed doors, and going out to follow the same track". Of course, this is based on long-term observation and comprehension and understanding, otherwise it will become a doodle? From a certain perspective, Chinese painting is actually the natural law of painting. Painters are also very good at summarizing the laws of nature and observing the mental state reflected in the movement and stillness of things. They will do these things consciously or unconsciously in daily life, and they are already familiar with them when they create, and they can use them at will. The painter's cutting or adding of objects is to highlight the need to express the artistic conception in his heart, and to create according to his own subjective ideas, not necessarily to completely use objective things to conform to objective laws. Therefore, sometimes there is even a large amount of blank space in the picture, counting white as black. For example, "Han Xizai's Night Banquet" does not draw a background at all, without any foil, so that the main subject of the painted object is highlighted and presented completely and vividly. This point is very different from the realistic expression of Western paintings. Western paintings do not talk about leaving blank spaces, and the blank spaces in Western paintings are also painted with color to express whiteness. In the creation of Chinese paintings, sometimes in order to highlight a certain characteristic of the object, it will be slightly exaggerated, so that the object being expressed is more vivid and expressive. For example, in the Vajra statue in Chinese murals, in order to reflect his majesty, the eyeballs are drawn abruptly. This is an exaggerated technique, and it is also a common feature in the expression methods of Chinese paintings. Just like Li Bai's "flying down three thousand feet", using this exaggerated rhetorical technique to express the momentum and majestic artistic conception of the waterfall, the life of the Lushan Waterfall is written with great tension. Of course, there are other techniques of expression. Generally speaking, there are rhetorical techniques in poetry, and paintings have corresponding techniques of expression. Compared with the realism of Western paintings, the realism of Chinese paintings is actually freehand.

        As mentioned earlier, there is no systematic teaching mechanism for the inheritance of Chinese painting, and there is a lack of practice of basic modeling skills, so there are great defects in the modeling of ancient paintings, especially in figure paintings. Although there are many Chinese painters who don't mind this, it is a defect after all. People who want to inherit traditional painting today don't need to be influenced by their ideas in this respect. Insufficiency is insufficiency, and it should be treated positively. Some people do not treat this rationally, and regard such defects caused by immature skills as beauty. In fact, art is the pursuit of perfection, and the standard of aesthetics is also continuously improved with the improvement of the realm. Although the ancients created a peak in their era, it does not represent the highest level of the realm of art. Art has no limits! The process of their exploration of painting art on the basis of Chinese traditional culture has laid a good foundation for us and left precious experience. If we can make up for the inaccurate shape of Chinese painting, and be more accurate in painting shape, wouldn't it be more vivid and lifelike to have both form and spirit?

        Although it is suggested here to learn from the realistic features of Western paintings to make Chinese paintings more accurate in shape, it is only a conceptual reference, and the characteristics of Chinese paintings must be guaranteed-emphasis on freehand brushwork. The two cannot be mixed at the technical level. The different artistic characteristics of Chinese painting and Western painting reflect different cultural systems behind them, and mixed expressions will lose their essence. Just like green tea and coffee, they have their own aromas, and when the two are mixed, they will not be harmonious. In modern times, many people have tried to integrate Chinese painting and Western painting, but they all ended in failure.

        During the Ming and Qing Dynasties, there were two extremes in the understanding of the "portrait" feature of Chinese painting. One is an extreme understanding of the characteristics that focus on freehand brushwork. Some painters deliberately distort the shape of figures and regard them as beautiful, while others deliberately do not express objects accurately and give up righteous thoughts in creation, which is almost crazy. The other is influenced by the realistic characteristics of Western painting, which is as realistic as Western painting in the representation of objects and images, and loses the charm of Chinese painting. Therefore, when expressing the characteristics of Chinese painting, it is more appropriate to use "photographing", which includes two meanings of realism and freehand brushwork. But more often the word "Xieyi" is used to highlight the emphasis on freehand.

*This article is published with the authorization of the author

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