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Chinese Brush Painting

Chinese painting has developed continuously over the course of nearly 6000 years. In its early stages, Chinese painting was restricted to crafts such as pottery and lacquer ware but later developed to include the painting of murals.

There are three general categories of Chinese brush painting. Figure painting had its origins in the painting of religious murals but developed to include paintings of historical nature and everyday life. Landscape painting branched into two separate styles: blue-and-green landscapes which use bright blue, green and red pigments and ink-and wash landscapes which use brushwork of varying intensity. Flower-and-bird painting obviously depicts flowers and birds but also includes plants, insects, and fish.

The brush used in Chinese brush painting is similar to a watercolor brush used in the West. Although both painting and calligraphy are evident in Chinese brush painting, the brushes used for each are different. The brush techniques that are used include not only line drawing but expressions of shade and texture called cunfa and a dotting method called dianfa, used for trees, plants and simple ornamentation.

Ink is prepared in cake form and mixed with varying amounts of water to create a desired consistency and then applied to either paper or silk. Early Chinese paper was commonly made from tree bark; it is called rice paper in English. Today, machine-made paper is most often used. Since brush strokes can be seen better on paper, it is preferred by both artists and calligraphers.

The objective of Chinese brush painting is not to express the variation in shades resulting from a source of light in a realistic way, but to express the characteristics of the subject. Therefore, the artist has more freedom than in Western art to make use of compositional space in the way that he or she feels fit. The artist can place seemingly unrelated objects together, suspend objects in midair, or omit the background altogether.

A significant feature of Chinese brush painting is the use of calligraphy and seals, a practice originated by scholar painters. The purpose of the calligraphy is to express the artist’s conception of the painting. At a minimum it includes the artist’s name and the date but can also include details about the occasion of the painting, for whom it was painted or even poetry related to the painting. In ink-and-wash paintings, the vivid red seal is the final touch. The seal is generally a design or symbol relating to the painting. The seal is carved in stone, dipped into a pot of cinnabar paste and then pressed onto the painting, thereby “adding the eye to the dragon.”

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Diana Blake is a professional artist and art history enthusiast. Her fascination with art history began when she encountered European art firsthand during several trips abroad as a young adult. As she began to compose a portfolio for her own art career, she called upon what she had seen in Europe and extended her knowledge to other styles of art through profuse reading and exhaustive research. As a result, Diana has written more than one hundred articles in which she delves into a variety of art history topics and she has compiled a list of links that she believes to be invaluable for art history enthusiasts. In addition, she also reviews books and movies on the topic of art history and has assembled an extensive list of online stores that sell books, movies and gift items related to art history.
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