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The Theory of Chinese Painting

In order to achieve perfection the artist must have first spent time in contemplation of the theme to be painted. According to a famous 11th century Chinese landscape painter, Kuo Hsi, "An artist should identify himself with the landscape and watch it until its significance is revealed to him."

Historically, inspired by Taoism, the love of nature has been inherent within the very soul of the Chinese artist. In times gone by many of the most respected artists would withdraw into some secluded spot where they devoted themselves to the study of philosophy, poetry, painting and calligraphy.

There are six principles of Chinese painting as laid down by Hsien Ho in the 5th Century A.D. which are still the chief criteria used in both Chinese calligraphy and Chinese painting today.

Firstly, the artist must seek and stress the ultimate, essential character of the subject, the horsiness of horses, the humanity of man, and, on a more general level, the quickness of intelligence, the pulse of life, in contrast to brute matter. The artist must strive to bring out the true spirit of the subject in a natural way.

The first principle, then, is given to some quality that is never obtainable by technique alone. It is more concerned with the state of mind of the artist, a "being at one" with the essence of the subject to be painted, from where, through years of experience, an almost spontaneous picture is painted.

The remaining five principles are concerned with the necessary technical procedures, such as, the correct method in the use of a brush, fidelity to the object in portraying forms, care in applying the correct colours, proper planning in the placing of elements and the transmission of the experience of the past in continuing a theme. The recognition given to a master is the greater the more he reveals himself as a custodian of the past.

The overall effect of the gentle and peaceful art of Chinese brush painting, which are sometimes known as voiceless poems, should be one of freshness and spontaneity. The qualities sought are vitality of spirit, intensity of realisation and freshness of perception. Such is the nature of the painting materials that before setting brush to paper the artist must hold a well conceived draft in the mind's eye, as once the painting is started it is not normally possible to alter a wrong stroke.



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