imperial times, painting and calligraphy were the most
highly appreciated arts in court circles and were produced
almost exclusively by amateurs--aristocrats and scholar-officials--who
alone had the leisure to perfect the technique and sensibility
necessary for great brushwork. Calligraphy was thought
to be the highest and purest form of painting. The implements
were the brush pen, made of animal hair, and black inks
made from pine soot and animal glue. In ancient times,
writing, as well as painting, was done on silk. But after
the invention of paper in the 1st century A.D., silk was
gradually replaced by the new and cheaper material. Original
writings by famous calligraphers have been greatly valued
throughout China's history and are mounted on scrolls
and hung on walls in the same way that paintings are.
Painting in the traditional style
involves essentially the same techniques as calligraphy
and is done with a brush dipped in black or colored
ink; oils are not used. As with calligraphy, the most
popular materials on which paintings are made are paper
and silk. The finished work is then mounted on scrolls,
which can be hung or rolled up. Traditional painting
also is done in albums and on walls, lacquerwork, and
Beginning in the Tang dynasty (A.D.
618-907), the primary subject matter of painting was
the landscape, known as shanshui (mountain-water) painting.
In these landscapes, usually monochromatic and sparse,
the purpose was not to reproduce exactly the appearance
of nature but rather to grasp an emotion or atmosphere
so as to catch the "rhythm" of nature. In
Song dynasty (960-1279) times, landscapes of more subtle
expression appeared; immeasurable distances were conveyed
through the use of blurred outlines, mountain contours
disappearing into the mist, and impressionistic treatment
of natural phenomena. Emphasis was placed on the spiritual
qualities of the painting and on the ability of the
artist to reveal the inner harmony of man and nature,
as perceived according to Taoist and Buddhist concepts.
Beginning in the 13th century, there
developed a tradition of painting simple subjects--a
branch with fruit, a few flowers, or one or two horses.
Narrative painting, with a wider color range and a much
busier composition than the Song painting, was immensely
popular at the time of the Ming dynasty (1368-1644).
During the Ming period, the first
books illustrated with colored woodcuts appeared. As
the techniques of color printing were perfected, illustrated
manuals on the art of painting began to be published.
Jieziyuan Huazhuan (Manual of the Mustard Seed Garden),
a five-volume work first published in 1679, has been
in use as a technical textbook for artists and students
Beginning with the New Culture Movement,
Chinese artists started to adopt Western techniques.
It also was during this time that oil painting was introduced
In the early years of the People's
Republic of China, artists were encouraged to employ
socialist realism. Some Soviet Union socialist realism
was imported without modification, and painters were
assigned subjects and expected to mass-produce paintings.
This regimen was considerably relaxed in 1953, and after
the Hundred Flowers Campaign of 1956-57, traditional
Chinese painting experienced a significant revival.
Along with these developments in professional art circles,
there was a proliferation of peasant art depicting everyday
life in the rural areas on wall murals and in open-air
During the Cultural Revolution,
art schools were closed, and publication of art journals
and major art exhibitions ceased. Nevertheless, amateur
art continued to flourish throughout this period.
Following the Cultural Revolution,
art schools and professional organizations were reinstated.
Exchanges were set up with groups of foreign artists,
and Chinese artists began to experiment with new subjects
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