Categories of Chinese painting

Source:Global Times Published: 2010-9-21 17:23:00

Chinese traditional painting is highly regarded throughout the world for its theory, expression, and techniques. According to the means of expression, Chinese painting can be divided into two categories: the Xieyi (写意) style  and the Gongbi (å·¥ç¬") style. The Xieyi style is marked by exaggerated forms and freehand brush work. The Gongbi style is characterized by close attention to detail and fine brush work.

1. Meticulous - Gong-bi (å·¥ç¬") often referred to as "court-style" painting

Gongbi (pinyin: gōng bǐ;å·¥ç¬") is a technique in Chinese painting. The name is from the Chinese Gong chin meaning tidy (meticulous brush technique). The technique uses highly detailed brushstrokes that delimit details very precisely and without independent or expressive variation.

It is often highly colored and usually depicts figural or narrative subjects. The term Gongbi is also used to refer to paintings that are generally more descriptive than interpretive. Gongbi paintings are considered to be the opposite of more freely and quickly sketched paintings called Xieyi, or "sketching one's thoughts."

The Gongbi style had its beginnings approximately 2,000 years ago during the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD) when Han's political stability and its prosperity favored the advancement of the arts.

Chinese Gongbi paintings peaked out between the Tang and Song Dynasties (618 AD - 1279 AD) where these paintings were endorsed and collected by the Royal families of China.

The Gongbi artists to perfect this style must totally commit themselves to the Gongbi techniques. Only the wealthy could afford Gongbi artists. This style of art was accomplished in secret in royal palaces and private homes.


2. Freehand - Shui-Mo (水墨) loosely termed watercolour or brush painting

The Chinese character "mo" means ink and "shui" means water. This style is also referred to as "xie yi" (写意) or freehand style.

Xieyi, however, is the fundamental approach to Chinese painting. It constitutes an aesthetic theory which, above all, emphasizes the sentiments. Even in ancient times, Chinese artists were unwilling to be restrained by reality. A famous artist of the Jin Dynasty Gu Kaizhi (348—409, 顾恺之) was the first to put forward the theory of "making the form show the spirit".

In his opinion a painting should serve as a means to convey not only the appearance of an object, but express how the artist looks at it. Gu's views were followed by theories such as "likeness in spirit resides in unlikeness" and "a painting should be something between likeness and unlikeness".

Guided by these theories, Chinese artists disregard the limitations of proportion, perspective, and light. Take Qi Baishi (1864-1957, 齐白石), the modern painter, for example. He does not paint shrimps, insects, birds, and flowers as they are in nature; only their essence has shown as a result of the artist's long-term observation and profound understanding of the subjects.

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