Principles of Chinese Painting

Principles of Chinese Painting

Principles of Chinese Painting

Principles of Chinese Painting

Excerpt

This book is an attempt to formulate the Chinese cultural traits and to analyze their expression in pictorial principles. Because it has been impossible to find satisfactory English equivalents for the Chinese terms, transliterations of the main terms have been inserted into the text for greater accuracy. It has also been difficult to select a single term for a specific pictorial idea because the terms themselves have been reinterpreted in different periods and because the Chinese writers have not been consistent in their use. It is illuminating to note that Chinese terminology has been rich in dealing with the nature of art and very limited in describing principles of design, probably because the latter were handed down as the accepted rules without the need for formulation into conceptual terms. To us the notions of unity, coherence and emphasis are basic in any composition, but the Chinese tend to describe each process instead of defining them by single terms (see List of Terms).

The handling of the Chinese cultural orientations has been equally troublesome. Comparisons with western attitudes are apt to be more misleading than helpful, and yet the Chinese approaches to experience defy our understanding unless we relate them to western orientations. In discussing each cultural attitude, the device has been adopted of establishing two western polarities between which the Chinese have functioned. Only in this way can we avoid the pitfalls of interpreting the Chinese spirit in terms of western idealism, naturalism, subjectivism, romanticism or modernism. For example, because Chinese painting and "modern" painting are both more intuitive, abstract and suggestive than western painting has been since the Middle Ages, it does not follow that these superficial similarities stem from similar motivations. Chinese intuition is far removed from contemporary subjectivism; the abstract quality of Chinese design arose from simplification and elimination rather than from mechanization or distortion of forms; and suggestion in Chinese painting, although used to heighten the awareness of the unknown, seldom departs from the laws of nature. Today our painters strain after the new and the startling, while the Chinese artists built upon the old and the mature. If we look at Chinese painting through "modern" eyes we will miss its meaning. It should be our constant endeavor to escape from ourselves and from our machine-minded and psychologically intense age. Only then will we reach the inner harmony of the Chinese spirit which has revealed itself so supremely in Chinese painting.

The first edition was illustrated from the collection of Dr. DuBois S. Morris, generously presented to Princeton University in celebration of its Bicentennial. Obviously, no single collection, whether public or private, is comprehensive enough to illustrate the scope of this text. Therefore, examples for the second edition have been selected from many sources. These paintings have been chosen for their quality, appropriateness of subject matter, and coverage of all periods of Chinese painting from Han to modern times.

GEORGE ROWLEY

Princeton University, 1959 . . .

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