Chinese Brush Painting
In the past great art is thought to have had a positive influence on society. If there ever was a time when art was needed for this purpose it is now. The question becomes what is the best path to this art. The tradition of Chinese Brush painting has its appeal. In the Preface to the First (1679) Edition of The Mustard Seed Garden Manual of Painting it is written, Appreciating the works of others, one is essentially a spectator receiving impressions; whereas, in painting pictures, the conception originates and rises from the deepest recesses of the heart.
It is this heartfelt quality that is of interest here. In the introduction to the same work it is written, It may be observed that, like everything else written by the Chinese painters and critics on the subject of painting, virtually the entire contents of the manual are aimed at developing the painter’s spiritual resources (ch’i) in order to espress the Spirit (Ch’i), the Breath of the Tao. The purpose of developing these resources is plain, as developed in the three classes of painting (p.22)
“Hsia Wên-yen said:
Ch’i yün shêng tung (circulation of the Ch’i produces the movement of life) is a principle of Heaven. When it is operating through the painter, the effect in his picture is beyond definition, and the painter may be said to belong in the shên (divine) class.
When brushwork is of a high order, colors appropriate, and expression clear and harmonious, the painter may be placed in the miao class.
When form is realized and the rules have been applied, the painter is of the nêng (able and accomplished) class.
First the student must gather resources to learn the basic rules of painting. Then the accomplished artist must use these resources to channel what is within onto the support medium for a wonderful painting to result.
Initially Chinese Brush painting appears to be rule bound. But in this context it is said “If you wish to dispense with method learn method.” The rules help to provide an understanding of things and how to communicate them. At first the painter must relate the rules to what is seen. When what is seen is identifiable the content can be sorted and analyzed by importance. Then rules can apply to how important things are portrayed. If you wish to achieve what is important you must develop some facility. And it is said “If you aim at facility work hard.” This work involves knowing in greater detail how things relate and how those relationships can be expressed visually. Eventually, even one’s own rules might be formulated. This may seem very complex. Yet it is said “If you aim for simplicity, master complexity.” The relation to meditation appears. In medition an attempt is made to focus on the breath to eliminate other concerns. With painting the image is the focus. As with meditation the insight comes out of the simplicity of the isolated thought. With painting at the beginning there are sights with rules for interpretation. In the end there are images that may express new relationships. These can be interpreted by others. The insight that one gains can be shared or not. To oneself the insight is satisfaction. To another it is communication of perhaps a new direction. But others can also share in the satisfaction. Meditation is personal. Brush painting allows a dimension of communication that can validate and share one’s insight.
The Chinese brush should be considered in this context. The history of the brush is that it was developed for writing the characters of Chinese communication. For this reason the brush has bristles that come to a point. This allows detail. The length of the bristles allow paint to be held so the brush may make many strokes before needing more paint. The result is a brush that is very sensitive. Different motions of the brush will have different results on the trace of the paint on the paper. On the one hand great control of the brush is required to produce a uniform mark. On the other hand the brush will be very sensitive to the mood of the artist. Even the heartbeat of the artist may be revealed in a trace of the brush in the paint across the paper.
The paper of Chinese painting is of only minor consideration. There are many types of support that could be suitable. The absorbancy is important and varies more in rice paper than linen or cotton papers. The ink or paint is of more concern. The caligraphy sets from China are always sold with an ink stick and a grinding stone. One would think that in the present day these are no longer need. But there is a question of the meditative support of this grinding process as a ritual for the painting session. This grinding might serve much a a prayer or a Bhuddist chant. This is appropriate because of the ultimate goal of Chinese painting, obviously communion with the Divine. That Chinese painting is supporting a divine priciple is evidenced in the following quote:
“There is an old saying that those who are skilled in painting will live long because life created through the sweep of the brush can strengthen life itself, both being of the ch’i. But to create life one must comprehend the li principle of life; without that knowledge and understanding, it is impossible for the ch’i to rise. So the art student must study the principles of painting, but this is not enough. The artist must study the principles of life even after the painting principles are mastered. This would seem to be an appropriate process for the artist today. For the last 200 years great art has resulted from the experience of the artist in the world and his reaction to it. An artist can paint art according to the rules and sell paintings. But this is not great art. The artist must go beyond this and either tell the story of the culture or inspire the culture in some real way. At the present this is a particular challenge because the artist is subject to so many distractions from media and advertizing. Even so the artist must juggle the ideas that arise from all that input and be motivated to put down the result. It is certainly possible that the Chinese practice of meditation, T’ai Chi, or Yoga could be of benefit to the artist.
On page 19 are listed the Six Canons (Lu Fa)
- Circulation of the Chi’i (Breath, Spirit, Vital Force of Heaven) produces movement of life.
- Brush creates structure.
- According to the object draw its form.
- According to the nature of the object draw its color.
- Organize composition with the elements in their proper places.
- In copying, seek to pass on the essence of the master’s brush and methods.
These canons have important messages for the art of today. Historically great artists have displayed an special energy in the development of their art. Great art results much more from a heavily studied approach to art. It is this activity that is meant by Spirit. It is not so much the act of creating the art that is involved. It is more that the art expresses the life of the painter or what is going on in the culture of the time. Thus the art of the Renaissance relects both the energy of the artists and the dynamism of the time. So the first cannon can be rephrased “Spirit in the artist or the energy of his culture produces the great art of the time.”
The way that brush creates structure is that brush creates lines. In general lines do not exist in the visual field. Lines are a mental construct that are part of a visual interpretaion. A line drawing is an intellectualiztion of an object in a way that a photograph cannot be. The line delineates structure. This structure is not necessarily revealed by shading. The subject of shading is nmore appropriate to the next cannon.
The application of color is somewhat more complicated than this cannon appears. Color may be a defining characteristic. If an apple is painted green rather than red its image may be missinterpreted because the concept of apples is that they are usually red. There are also societal rules about colors and red is a happier color than green. Also a color of an object in a painting determines its relation to other objects in the picture.
When composition is arranged there are many rules that can apply to placement. Some rules depend upon psysiology. Some depend upon custom and sociology. Others may depend upon physics and chemistry. Knowing the rules is important but knowing them all is hard and may require more than a lifetime.
Studying masters is good. There are two aspects: the way of applying paint, and the way of symbolizing concepts. In the first case all you have is the result. You may have to speculate how it was done. But experimenting with the brush is good. By studying the master’s methods new methods can be learned as well. As to symbols in painting the master has the advantage. The symbols used by the master become the accepted ones. New ideas may need new symbols. These have to be carefully defined in the context of the painting or they will be missunderstood.
Classes in Chinese Brush Painting are available at the FJKluth Art Gallery, 300 N. Water St. Ste I, Kent 44240.
Paintings by Frederick John Kluth using a Chinese Brush and acrylic paint:
- 1. Matrix – Sold.
- 2. Active, Medial, Passive – Acrylic on Canvas, 2008, 36X48 inches, Sold
- 3. Artemis and Troup – Acrylic on Canvas, 24 by 36 inches, $125
- 4. Barbiton – Acrylic on Canvas, 18 by 24 inches, $60
- 5.Cassandra – Acrylic on Paper, 12″ by 15″, $35
- 6. Cityscape – Acrylic on Canvas, 48″ by 60″, $105
- 7. Coral Reef – Acrylic on Canvas, 20″ by 24″, $65
- 8. Goddesses Consider – Acrylic on Canvas, 30″ by 40″, $125
- 9 Under the Sea – Acrylic on Canvas, 16″ by 20″ $45
- 9a. Hecate – Acrylic on Canvas, 18″ by 24″, $60
- 10. Pippin – Acrylic on Canvas, Sold
- 11. Iris – Acrylic on Canvas, 20″ by 24″, $65
- 12. Judge – Acrylic on Canvas, 30″ by 40″, $125
- 13. Kent 1988 – Acrylic on Canvas, 24″ by 36″, $125
- 14. Lyre – Acrylic on Canvas, 18″ by 24″, $60
- 15. Malabar Garden – Acrylic on Canvas, 16″ by 20″, $45
- 16. Our world – Acrylic on Canvas, 22″ by 28″, $90
- 17. Relay Runner – Acrylic on Canvas, 16″ by 20″, $45
- 18. Under the Sea – Acrylic on Canvas, 16″ by 20″ $45
- 19. Andromeda, Digital copy only, 48″ by 72″
- 20. Canna Lillies – Acrylic on Canvas, 24″ by 30″ $115
- 21. Field – Acrylic on Canvas, 20″ by 24″ $100
- 22. Water Lillies – Acrylic on Canvas, 18″ by 24″ $150
- 23. Water Lillies2.html – Acrylic on Canvas, 30″ by 40″ $150
- 24. Zinnias – Acrylic on Canvas, 18″ by 24″ $145
- 25. Irises in Water – Acrylic on Canvas, 24″ by 36″ $145
- 25. Reach – Acrylic on Rice Paper, 16″ by 20″ $45
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