Chinese Art — Aesthetic, Characteristic, and Form
Aesthetic in Chinese Culture
Influences of Taoism — Natural and Simple
Taoism, one of the most influential philosophical schools in Chinese culture, values plainness, and simplicity.
Therefore, beauty is the primitive color white and black, the unadorned lotus flower in water, or the fresh sky after a rain.
Since Taoism was formed by Lao Zi around 2500 years ago, this natural aesthetic has played an important role in Chinese art.
Royal Art — Fancy and Exquisite
Confucianism, the dominant philosophical school in the history of China, values clear hierarchy and fancy etiquette.
Therefore, more items that could show one’s nobility and wealth were used in royal art, such as valuable gold and gem, exquisite embroideries, fancy jade pendant, etc.
Throughout history, there were two main groups of artists: the professional artisan and literate scholar.
They were professionals who were specialized in a certain type of art, such as painting, pottery, sculpture, etc.
Most of them were taught by their family or a professional master. Those extremely talented ones would be selected to work for the royals.
In ancient China, the artisan was an inferior occupation than the peasant.
In ancient Chinese culture, literate Scholar was considered as the ruling class. It included emperors and nobles who were accessible to education in ancient times and those obtained good scores in the Imperial Examination.
They usually were good at many artistic forms, such as calligraphy, painting, poem, music, etc.
Unlike professional artisans, they had the highest social status, and mostly did arts as hobbies or means to express their feelings.
Painting, one of the most ancient art forms, could be drawn on wall, fabric, paper, pottery, and stone.
Part of Painting Thousands Miles of Mountains and Rivers (Qian Li Jiang Shan Tu) (1191.5 cm × 51.5 cm). By Artist Wang Ximeng (1096 — 1119) — The Palace Museum
Mural on the wall of graves was quite popular in ancient China when people believed that a fancy tomb could make sure the decedent’s soul can live a comfortable life after death.
Therefore, Grave Murals mostly included the master’s detailed life experiences, achievements, property, as well as a wonderous world where the decedent’s soul would be living in that was guarded by mythical animals and beautiful clouds and stars.
Frescos on the wall of Palaces became popular after the first unified empire, the Qin Dynasty (221 BC — 207 BC), was established.
Palace Fresco was usually quite fancy and exquisite. Famous sages, meritorious officials, and respectable immortals were the most frequent contents.
Centuries later, Taoism Religion was formed, later Buddhism was introduced to China. Since then, Religion Mural has become an essential painting form in Chinese culture.
Around 2500 years ago, ancient Chinese started to paint on silk, mostly regarding mythology and religion.
The earliest existing Silk Painting in China was the one unearthed from the tomb of a prime minister (named Li Cang) of the Han Dynasty, who has buried around the year 185 BC.
This Silk Painting presents heaven, the secular world, and the hell in ancient Chinese culture.
Earliest Existing Silk Painting in China, from Ma Wang Dui Tomb
Traditional Chinese Painting
From painting on fabric to paper, traditional Chinese painting consists of three main subjects: figure, landscape, and animal.
They are less focused on perspective, light, and precise similarity; instead, the conception, wholeness, line, and blank-leaving are highly valued.
New Year Picture
Around 2000 years ago, Chinese people started to paste lucky pictures, include couplets, on doors and windows, to pray for fortune, and to celebrate the Spring Festival.
New Year Pictures originally were images of immortals, then influential historical figures like brave generals, whom people believe would protect their family from evil forces.
Soon, lucky animal, flower, legendary figure, landscape, beauty, and cute babies were added into New Year Paintings, which represent people’s beautiful wishes.
Nowadays, different types of New Year Pictures are still quite popular among Chinese.
As famous artist Zhao Mengfu (1254 — 1322) had said before, calligraphy is another form of painting.
Calligraphy Work by Artist Zhao Mengfu (1254 — 1322) — Palace Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Chinese Calligraphy is a type of art that tells stories, history, and spirit in Chinese culture.
It uses Chinese Brush and Ink to write Han Zi on paper, stone, or fabric. In ancient times, people wrote to record life experience, express emotion, commemorate important people, and to document history.
In Chinese culture, the handwriting style is believed to the representative of one’s personality.
Appreciating Chinese Calligraphy
Nowadays, besides those who studied calligraphy, it is not very easy for ordinary Chinese people to appreciate calligraphy works.
One of the most important reason is that appreciating Chinese Calligraphy consists of many aspects:
Apply and strength of Chinese brush;
Order and structure of writing stroke;
Arrangement of all characters and blank;
Use of ink and water.
Moreover, there are five main calligraphic fonts in history (Zhuan, Li, Kai, Xing, and Cao), and each of them has several branches that have their special writing skills and stroke arrangements.
Calligraphy Work by Artist Su Shi (1037 — 1101) — Taipei Palace Museum (Photo by Dongmaiying)
Story and Spirit behind Calligraphy
Han Zi on bones and tortoise shells, and those on bronze vessels, are telling important historical activities that happened over 3000 years ago.
Since the Qin Dynasty (221 BC — 207 BC), carving Han Zi on stone became famous in China. Those Stone Inscriptions were used to:
Eulogize exceptional reign, such as those in worship ceremonies on Mount Tai;
Appreciate amazing scenery;
Commemorate decedents, such as those Han Zi carved on tombstones or walls;
Record religion scripture and story.
Besides those giant Stone Inscriptions, seal carving that is used as a representative of one’s status is also quite famous.
Official seals that were authorized by the emperor were standard, square, and valuable, which represents paramount power and strong execution.
Private seals, however, could be artistically designed by the owner; jade, metal, and wood are all normal materials to make seals.
Nowadays, many Chinese are still writing calligraphy in their spare times, as a means of self cultivating. Besides those ancient masterpieces, people would use calligraphy works with famous proverbs or their favorite mottoes as decoration.
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