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Traditional Chinese Paintings


  
Traditional Chinese painting does not rely on drawing technique alone. It is part of a 3000-year-old culture in which painting is intermingled with the arts of music, calligraphy, poetry, and religion.
It is difficult to tell how long the art of painting has existed in China. Pots of 5,000-6,000 years ago were painted in co lour with patterns of plants, fabrics, and animals, reflecting various aspects of the life of primitive clan communities. These may be considered the beginnings of Chinese painting.
By the mid-Tang dynasty, landscape and flower-and-bird paintings began their rise to prominence. By the time of the famous Song poet Su Shi(1036-1011 A.D.), the school of "literati painting" had already emerge. Literati typically prefer to paint according to their own fancy and without restriction, and advocate a fresh, free, understated, and elegant style. Subject matter they are fond of includes mountains and rocks, clouds and water, flowers and trees, the "four gentlemen" (plume blossoms, orchids, bamboo, and chrysanthemums), and so forth. When "literati" painting was in vogue in the Yuan dynasty, men of letters began adding personal notes on the painting, or related lines of poetry, to display their prose and calligraphic skill. This writing was now given a more prominent place on the work. At this point there was a new union of signature, names of giver and receiver, and notes on the painting or related verse, with the painting itself. The stamping of name chops also became established at this time. The addition of name chop impressions, in itself an art, further enriched the artistic content of Chinese painting.
An important part of the country's cultural heritage, the traditional Chinese painting is distinguished from Western art in that it is executed on xuan paper (or silk) with the Chinese brush, Chinese ink and mineral and vegetable pigments.
In 1949 from a tomb of the warring States Period (475-221 B. C.) was Unearthed a painting on silk of human figures, dragons and phoenixes. The earliest work on silk ever discovered in China, it measures about 30 cm long by 20 cm wide. Paintings on paper appeared much later than those on silk for the simple reason that the invention of silk preceded that of paper by a long historical period.
Xuan paper is the special material for traditional Chinese painting. It is so called because it is produced at Xuancheng in Jing County, An-hui Province. Xuan paper may be processed or unprocessed. Unprocessed xuan paper absorbs moisture and ink, and colors sink in easily when water is added. Processed paper (treated with the proper amount of soybean milk or liquid glue) does not let ink and colors sink in. This kind of paper is suitable for doing paintings in the meticulous style.
Besides Xuan paper, the other three treasures of the painting are brushes, ink stick and ink slab. Chinese people have called them the four treasures of the study since ancient times.
There are three types of brushes used in traditional Chinese painting: soft, stiff, and mixed. Choosing the right brush for painting depends on your requirements or the circumstances in which you are painting. It is better for beginners to use the mixed brush. When buying brushes, it is better to buy in special stores for the four treasures of the study, as they have a complete assortment. Before you start to use a new brush, soak it in cold or warm water. After using the brush, you must wash it clean, squeeze it dry, arrange the brush hair neatly and hang the brush up. The brush can then be used for a long period.
The ink used for painting is made by grinding an ink stick on an ink slab. The ink sticks consist of pine soot ink and tung-oil-soot ink. Ink sticks with light glue are of top quality. Ink sticks should be well protected against dampness, or sun, so that the glue will not be lost and the stick will not become dry and cracked.
The ink slab is the tool for grinding the ink stick. A good ink slab is a beautiful handicraft. Many materials are used for ink slabs. The most famous are duan stone, produced at Duanxi in Zhaoq-ing, Guangdong Province, and xie stone, produced at Longweishan (Dragon Tail Hill) in Wuyuan County, Jiangxi Province. Both are aqueous rock, fine, even and hard in texture. It is easy to grind the ink fine, even and thick, and the ink does not dry quickly. Ink slab for painting should be large (20 to 26 cm in diameter) and deep and have a lid to keep it clean. It can be either square or round.
Chinese paintings are divided into two major categories: free hand brushwork (xieyi) and detailed brushwork (gongbi) . The former is characterized by simple and bold strokes intended to represent the exaggerated likenesses of the objects, while the latter by fine brushwork and close attention to detail. Employing different techniques , the two schools try to achieve the same end, the creation of beauty.
Traditional Chinese painting is a combination in the same picture of the arts of poetry, calligraphy, painting, and seal engraving. In ancient times most artists were poets and calligraphers. Su Dongpo (1037-1101), Ni Yunlin (1306-1374), and Dong Qichang (1555-1636) were such artists. To the Chinese, "painting in poetry and poetry in painting" has been one of the criteria for excellent works of art. Inscriptions and seal impressions help to explain the painter's ideas and sentiments and also add decorative beauty to the painting. Ancient artists liked to paint pines, bamboo, and plum blossoms. When inscriptions like "Exemplary conduct and nobility of character" were made, those plants were meant to embody the qualities of people who were upright and were ready to help each other under hard conditions. For Chinese graphic art, poetry, calligraphy, painting, and seal engraving are necessary parts, which supplement and enrich one another.
  

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