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(4 pages total)

Page 3 - How to Appreciate Chinese Brush Painting

Mood: In evaluating the painting, use of brush, ink and color are developed skills, while "mood" is the expression of the artist´s feelings. This is the artist´s ultimate purpose. Different viewers, however, may sense different moods from the same painting. Just as in understanding Zen, viewers achieve different levels of comprehension and philosophy. Without mood, a painting is without soul. For example, a painting with flowers and birds attempts to depict the movement of the bird, the bloom of the flower with fragrance and the vibration of a bee´s wing. An illustration in a science book may present the same features, but only provides the outside appearance, not the liveliness and sense of presence. Therefore, in Chinese painting theory an artist should show purity in painting the snow, brightness in the moon, fragrance in the flower, sound in the waterfall and spirit in people. Before beginning, the painter should have a vision in mind. In other words, "the mind has the plan and the hand follows." Once started, the brush and ink require full attention. Without the mood, brush and ink do not have anything to attach to; without brush and ink, the mood cannot be expressed. These are inseparable elements.

Warrior Painting

Brush painting of traditional warrior by the author.

Poetry: It is an old Chinese saying that "a painting lends itself to a poem and a poem depicts a painting." Since the brush was invented, calligraphy and painting use the same and hence, are closely tied. Wang Wei, the renowned poet, calligrapher, and painter of the Tang Dynasty (619-907 A.D.), painting had become a symbol of taste and gracefulness. The famous Wang Shen and Su Tonpo were among those enthusiastic about pairing painting with poetry and calligraphy. The integration of the poetry and painting is a unique feature in Chinese painting. The artist adds poetry to emphasize the essence of the painting or to compliment the painting´s expression of feeling. We can say that the painting is the basis of the poetry and the poetry enhances the painting. Painting and poetry go hand-in-hand to express the artist´s state of mind. In short, one should appreciate the poem as an integral part of the painting.

Inscription: Artists before the Tang Dynasty did not sign their paintings, the practice only becoming fashionable in the North Soon Dynasty. As discussed before, artists after the Tang and Soon Dynasties excelled in both painting and calligraphy and hence developed a very tasteful art of inscription. Signing the painting involved inscribing both the date and the signature. There arose a practice, however, of writing on paintings to characterize and introduce the artist. In addition, some artists wrote down the circumstances of the painting or their thoughts about it. Among the emperors, Soon Wei Tzun loved to write on his own and his subordinates paintings. Emperors Kong-Shi and Ching Run of the Ching Dynasty (1644-1911 A.D.) also liked to write on paintings, sometimes even four or five different inscriptions. Some viewers feel this practice can be overdone, harming the spirit of the paintings. In summary, Chinese paintings has evolved from the simple wordless image in the Six Dynasties to include and integrate poetry and calligraphy, sometimes layered with multiple inscriptions.

Seal (chop engraving): In the Chin (221-207 B.C.) and Han (206 B.C.-219 A.D.) Dynasties, people used a seal as evidence of certification. There were various official government and private seals, but these were not generally used on paintings. It was not until Wang Mien of Yuan Dynasty (1277-1367 A.D.) who used soft stone to carve a seal, that men of letters started using seals. The making of the seal from lettering to engraving, was all done by artists, and hence became a creative part of the painting. The shape and style of lettering of these seals varied widely with the hand of the artist. The red seal added a special accent on the black and white paintings and has become an important and unique element of Chinese painting. This sort of seal identified the artist by last name, first name, alias, and his or her family shrine name or study room name. There are other types of seal. One is an informal seal which includes famous sayings or perhaps the artist thoughts or intentions. Another category of seal of seal gives viewers information about the history of the painting and how it was passed through generations. The proper use of seals can enhance the beauty of the painting. However, some famous paintings are full of emperor´s seals form various dynasties and overshadow the painting itself. Only collectors and those who study painting history view them as pecious paintings.

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