An Introduction to Chinese Painting

Chinese art, and in particular, Chinese painting is highly regarded around the world. Chinese painting can be traced to as far back as six thousand years ago in the Neolithic Age when the Chinese have started using brushes in their paintings. Chinese art dates back even earlier than that.

According to subject matter, Chinese paintings can be classified as landscapes, figure paintings and flower-and-bird paintings. In traditional Chinese painting, Chinese landscape painting embodies a major category, depicting nature, especially mountains and bodies of water. Landscapes have traditionally been the favorite of the Chinese because they show the poetry inherent in nature. Consequently, many famous paintings are landscapes.

When it comes to technique, there are two major categories of Chinese painting: meticulous (or the ‘gongbi’ school), characterized by fine brush work and close attention to detail and freehand (or the ‘xieyi’ school) characterized by freehand brush work and exaggerated forms. The Xieyi school of painting technique, which emphasizes the sentiments, is the basic school of thought in traditional Chinese painting.

There are several characteristics of traditional Chinese painting:

  • Brush techniques. A freehand painter coordinates his fingers with the wrist, elbow and shoulder. Practice entails acquiring the ability to paint with his wrist suspended in order to paint the longest lines, the roundest circles especially when paining bamboo poles or willow twigs in Chinese landscape painting.
  • The use of ink. The Chinese use the color black as the main color in traditional Chinese painting. They use darkness or lightness or density or dilution of ink in relation to water to represent the light and color intrinsic to various objects.
  • The use of color. The natural color intrinsic to objects, especially those found in the natural world, is emphasized in Chinese painting.


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