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Theory of Chinese Painting (8): What is Chinese Painting

Author/Tianwaike sees kindness

What is Chinese painting? There is no need to talk about this topic, but it is a controversial topic in today's painting circle. The main reason for this controversy is that some people have different ideas on the form of painting expression, and this is also the reason for the differentiation of traditional Chinese painting and contemporary Chinese painting.

        In fact, before the Republic of China, there was no such term as "Chinese painting", let alone the term "China" as a national concept. The term Chinese painting emerged when modern Western painting was introduced into China, and it was relatively named and distinguished by region. In ancient times, paintings were mainly named after the materials and media used. For example, the earliest pictures painted on silk fabrics more than 2,000 years ago were called "silk paintings", and the more primitive paintings on rock slabs in caves were called "rock paintings". Paintings on the walls of temples and palaces are called "mural paintings", and there are also screens, scrolls, albums, fans, etc.; they are called figure paintings, landscape paintings, and flower-and-bird paintings according to the subjects of the paintings; wait. Because the pigments used in early paintings were mainly mineral red and turquoise, the painting was referred to as "Danqing". Later, the term "Danqing" has been carried on and has become synonymous with Chinese painting. Including the current Western painting is also named after the painting medium, because turpentine is used to blend the paint, so it is called "oil painting". Earlier, they used egg white or egg yolk to blend the paint, which was popular in the European Renaissance in the 14th to 16th centuries. At that time, it was called "tempera painting". In fact, this name named after the painting medium can more accurately distinguish different paintings. The reason why it is called Chinese painting has the connotation of highlighting the Chinese cultural background and the unique characteristics of Chinese painting itself in a sense.

        So what is the source of the current controversy over what constitutes Chinese painting? It is caused by the collision of different concepts on the technical expression and content of Chinese painting. After all, we live in the environment of modern society, and the basic necessities of life are quite different from those of ancient society, so some painters want to express the contemporary environment and humanistic connotation. Due to the changes in the environment and the popularization of Western painting modeling concepts in the minds of the majority of painters, many people like to try to integrate different artistic techniques through the trend of advancing with the times. Although some innovative changes have been made, it is refreshing, but at the same time It also weakens the unique sense of form and charm of traditional Chinese painting. It seems that the materials and techniques used in Chinese painting are still used, but the artistic conception expressed is too far away from the aesthetic psychology of Chinese culture, so it is not recognized by painters who are accustomed to traditional painting forms. However, these seemingly traditional painters imitated the ancients in a large number of creative themes and forms of expression, and mainly imitated the works of the Ming and Qing Dynasties. Although they advocated the Song and Yuan Dynasties, their level still remained at the general expression forms of the Ming and Qing Dynasties In terms of painting, there is no greater breakthrough, and it is only a superficial copy, which is also dismissed by trendy painters who keep pace with the times, thus causing different concepts and conflicts in the definition of Chinese painting.

        In fact, since it is called Chinese painting, it must also have the connotation and profound meaning of traditional culture in it. Let us talk about it from another angle. China has been called Huaxia since ancient times, so the Chinese nation is also called the Huaxia nationality, but the definition of the Huaxia nationality is not divided according to the region, nor is it named according to the appearance and morphological characteristics of the race. In ancient China, the Huaxia ethnic group lived in the Central Plains, which was the center of civilization, while the surrounding areas were relatively backward. Therefore, the concept of distinguishing groups of people based on civilized etiquette and righteousness gradually came into being. Therefore, Huaxia is the division between civilization and barbarism, not regional or racial distinctions. difference. This is the ancient distinction between Hua and Yi, also known as the distinction between Yi and Xia. So if you follow this standard, is it Chinese? Strictly speaking, it cannot be judged on the surface, it has to be judged from the degree of conformity to etiquette and civilization. If the distinction is only based on race, during the several times of ethnic integration in Chinese history, the blood of the descendants of Yan and Huang would have long been impure. Actually what is Chinese painting? It can also be understood according to this concept. After all, it was produced in the background of Chinese culture. If the orthodox spirit in the cultural background is put aside, it is impossible to reasonably define Chinese painting. Why do Chinese paintings with pure style make people feel friendly? It is caused by this common cultural background spirit. If this spirit is taken away, it is like taking away a person, leaving only a piece of clothing, and this piece of clothing can be worn by anyone, even animals, isn't it nondescript? Therefore, whether it is a Chinese painting depends not only on the form that presents the theme connotation on the surface, but also on whether it conforms to the moral connotation of Chinese orthodox culture. Both can be regarded as pure Chinese painting.

        Speaking of traditional Chinese painting, it is relative to contemporary Chinese painting. But there is still such a question about tradition. The development of Chinese painting has a history of thousands of years, and has experienced many dynasties. Which dynasty's style was not created by traditional culture? But which dynasty style can fully represent the tradition in Chinese painting? That's why some people feel that the word "tradition" is very ambiguous, which is also caused by people's unclear concept of the word "tradition". "Chuan" of course means inheritance, and "Tong" here has a systematic meaning. Chinese traditional culture as a whole is a complete system, all-encompassing and encompassing everything. Although the whole is criss-crossed and seemingly complicated, it is actually very simple from a macro perspective. Its core spirit is the word "morality" that Chinese people have repeatedly emphasized throughout the ages. There are not only the "law" of Buddhism and the "Tao" of Taoism, but also the virtues embodied in Confucianism's benevolence, righteousness, propriety, wisdom, and faith, because Chinese culture is the crystallization of the three schools of Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism. Chinese painting is also one of the art forms rooted in the large system of Chinese traditional culture, so its core spirit is also morality. So as long as it meets the requirements of the spirit of traditional Chinese culture, it is all traditional. The only difference is the difference in realm. Both style and characteristics will change with the passage of time and the change of consciousness, but the spiritual essence that casts all cultural characteristics will never change, and this is the "zong" of the so-called "everything changes".

        Traditional Chinese painting techniques are nothing more than three major parts: brushwork, composition, and color use. In short, the focus of brushwork is "accuracy". If you don't get it right, you won't get the desired effect. About how to master the brushwork and the key points of the brushwork, there are detailed discussions in the ancient calligraphy and painting classics, such as the "Brush Array" written by Mrs. Wei in the Jin Dynasty and the "Brushwork Notes" written by Jing Hao in the Five Dynasties. . But in the composition, we only pay attention to "stability", whether it is white to black, or dense and dense, all are to make "yin and yang balance". As long as a stable visual effect is achieved, it is a successful composition. All changes are based on "stability", which can also be called "balance". The requirements for using color in both Eastern and Western paintings are the same. No matter how to use color, all orthodox aesthetics seek "harmony". There are no rigid rules on how to match colors, but harmony can give people the desired The feeling of beauty is a masterpiece. The key to harmony lies in the unity or complementarity of tones, the so-called "coloring according to the category", which is also the requirement of the characteristics of the photo. Traditional Chinese painting does not deliberately express the light and dark changes caused by light and shadow on objects, but only reflects the inherent color of objects plus the changes of yin and yang, which is different from Western painting concepts. In the traditional aesthetics of Chinese painting, there is also the concept of taking music as beauty. Most of the lines and shapes tend to be round and smooth, appearing elegant and reserved.

        Because the technique has no fixed style, and the style changes with people, so here is just a general summary from a big aspect. Sun Tzu said: "Soldiers are impermanent, water is impermanent, and those who win due to changes in the enemy are called gods." The same is true for painting creation. Painting is impermanent and its shape is permanent. Learn to master the basic principles of painting, and follow the principles of painting to express. There is no need for a rigid and dogmatic painting program. But the basic technique itself is something every painter must master, and how to use it depends on the individual. The so-called "fight after formation, the art of war is constant; the clever use of it is in one mind." Historically, Chinese painting techniques have always been among the folk, literati and craftsmen. It is a kind of inheritance of experience and has never been systematic. Therefore, the use of techniques has been different in successive dynasties. There are also many technical theories left in the past, which are basically the summary of personal experience. It cannot be said whose technical representative is the most correct, only the effect shown is the most convincing. The reason for the peak in history is realistic and vivid.

        In terms of traditional painting techniques, the focus of discussion today is between the Song and Yuan Dynasties. In fact, the Song and Yuan Dynasties are exactly the watershed of Chinese classical painting techniques. Many people like to talk about Song and Yuan together, and often compare the two, but they are actually very different. When talking about freehand brushwork and literati painting, it was mentioned that the Yuan Dynasty was the beginning and heyday of literati painting, and it was also the beginning of the decline of realistic techniques in Chinese painting. So what are the specific differences between Song paintings and Yuan paintings? In fact, it is a transfer of technique and spirit. Song people's works pay attention to learning from nature, so the method is precise and strict. Yuan people's works are full of enthusiasm and interest, focusing on brush and ink, not focusing on sketching objects. The people of the Song Dynasty painted according to principles and preparedness, and made sure that the spirit and spirit are complete, and the form and spirit are both perfect, so there are two glorious Song Dynasties. The people in the Yuan Dynasty admired that the literati painted their ears. Most of the so-called literati did not take painting as a profession. Therefore, there are many people who are thirsty for pens and ink, and later generations call them "bookish" and "cherishing ink like gold".

        In fact, in terms of prosperity, why is it refined and rigorous? If you can't be precise and strict, how can you make it broad? It's just that literati have a high social status and have the right to speak, so the development direction of Chinese painting can be influenced by them. In fact, literati also have different realms. Confucianists also have the difference between gentlemen and villains, and even monks and Taoists have the distinction between authenticity and falsehood. Therefore, literati do not necessarily have high morals, so they are all recommended. A true scholar is not bound by knowledge itself, nor does he judge others by status, but only distinguishes the good from the bad by the principles of good and evil, and distinguishes the superior from the moral. Guo Xi of the Northern Song Dynasty, a great master of landscape painting through the ages, burned incense every time he made a painting, as if he were a big guest. His son Guo Si said in "Lin Quan Gao Zhi • Preface" that his father Guo Xi learned from Taoism when he was young, so his paintings often have Taoism, which is extraordinary. Guo Xi, who was born in a commoner, was able to learn the way in this painting and made great achievements. He created a school of landscape masters. This is enough to show that the realm of painting does not lie in the status. Forget it, in a thousand years, how many people can compare with it?

        Speaking of learning Taoism and seeking Taoism, this is really the essence of Chinese culture. Since the first human ancestor, the Yellow Emperor, became a god by practicing Taoism, he rode away on a dragon. Today's Huangshan is the place where he achieved Taoism and ascended, so the mountain is called Huangshan. Its clothes and crowns are still there, and its history and legends still exist, which further demonstrates the profoundness of Chinese culture, its own orthodoxy, and its long history. The establishment of culture by the Three Emperors and Five Emperors made the subsequent emperors rule the world according to the will of heaven, respect morality and educate the people, and respect the will of heaven in everything. But with the progress of history, people's hearts are no longer the same as before, gradually shifting from the core value of respecting heaven to humanity. This core change also started the decline process of Chinese civilization, and the Tang Dynasty was the turning point of prosperity and decline. It was both the apex and decline point of this Chinese civilization. The reason why the heyday of the Tang Dynasty can become the pinnacle of Chinese civilization this time is because the wind of cultivating Taoism prevailed at that time, and Buddhism and Taoism flourished, which positively influenced people's moral concepts in an unprecedented manner, which made the people's customs simple and civilized prosperous. According to Buddhism, goodness is the reason for all human happiness. All the rulers and ministers in the world are born from the cultivation of virtue, and virtue embodies fundamentally the observance of the way of heaven, so those who follow the will of heaven are good people. In the heyday of the Tang Dynasty, no matter the king or the common people, they all worshiped the Buddha and followed the Tao. How could the hearts of the people be at odds? How can the world be wrong? Therefore, the prosperity of the Tang Dynasty reached a height that would be unmatched by future generations in various fields, and there was even a grand occasion for all nations to come to the court, which can be described as unprecedented.

        From the perspective of the development of Chinese painting, the Wei, Jin, Southern and Northern Dynasties are the rising stage, and the Sui and Tang Dynasties are the peak stage. Especially in the Tang Dynasty, figures, Buddhist and Taoist paintings were the mainstream of creation, especially murals of gods and Buddhas, comparable to the Western Renaissance. In the Song Dynasty, people's hearts gradually declined from the way of heaven to the way of humanity, and the paintings also showed that landscape paintings and flower-and-bird paintings were the mainstream of creation, and the theme of Buddhism and Taoism gradually weakened. During this period, people's reverence for gods and nature gradually turned to expressing their personal feelings, which shows that the realm of Chinese painting has already begun to decline in the Song Dynasty, and the change of creative themes is a sign. The realm is not so high, and the superficial techniques can no longer continue to make breakthroughs. Therefore, the concept of "literati painting" appeared in the Song Dynasty, which directly led to the decline of the technique itself, from the real depiction of nature to the interest of brush and ink itself. The purpose is no longer to learn from nature, but to express oneself. Great works of art have the functions of inheriting civilization, cultivating morality, disseminating knowledge, and cultivating sentiment, and they have a lofty status in all major civilizations of the East and the West. But these cannot be achieved based on the theme of expressing human beings, because human nature is not perfect, and all the brilliance created in the history of the East and the West is based on the period when people are generally kind, have a high moral level, and are full of faith. , so the development of Chinese painting began to decline in the Song Dynasty. Today, not only is the subject of creation no longer a god, but even the realm of the original literati has fallen short. Today's theme is mainly emotional catharsis, and the requirements of moral value are hardly reflected. Even some unbeautiful things have become a trend. The art is full of exaggeration and deliberate distortion, and the main body of the performance is like a body without a soul. From the perspective of xinxing, looking at the history of painting, isn't this the development from heaven to the world, and from the world to the underworld?

        In all the discussions on painting today, the changes of people's hearts and the factors of moral decline have always been neglected. Why were the ancients so keen on seeking and cultivating the Tao? He found that only by cultivating the Tao can one truly achieve the realm of harmony between man and nature, open up true wisdom to understand a wider space level, and understand the truth of the universe. Exploring the deep connotation of life, this is another meaning of "harmony between man and nature". Only on a higher level can we explain everything below it clearly, and only on the basis of a high level of mind can we fully display the exquisite skills. However, most people today sneer at this because of the exclusion of gods in their concepts. They understand ancient society from the perspective of modern empirical science and atheism, and deny traditional moral concepts. Based on the corrupted moral concepts to figure out the mental state of the ancients, how can we understand the ancient society? Therefore, if we want to restore traditional painting, we must reshape cultural concepts, starting from the cultivation of the heart, to meet the moral requirements of a gentleman, to distinguish between good and evil, and to regain the ability to distinguish good from bad, so as to understand what is real Chinese painting!

*This article is published with the authorization of the author.

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