The issue of brush-and-ink (Bimo 笔墨) is one of the most important issues in the field of traditional Chinese painting, especially Chinese landscape painting (Shanshui 山水). It can be literally interpreted as the painter’s skills and techniques of stroking brush and using ink in the process of painting creation, as well as the viewer’s appreciations of brushstroke and ink trace. But unfortunately, both in the West and Chinese artistic world, there is no such a theory which has a clear definition for the good brush-and-ink or poor brush-and-ink, nor could anybody answer which brush-and-ink is better and why when comparing two similar pieces of Chinese landscape painting.
This article will use the illustrations of many famous masterpieces in the history of the Chinese landscape painting by the way of contrast to historically propose the good-and-poor judging criteria, principles or rules, and therefore to give the answer to the long outstanding issue in Chinese art history.
1. The Importance and Significance of This Restudy of Brush-and-Ink
According to James Cahill, professor emeritus at UC Berkeley and one of the world's foremost scholars of Chinese art history, the brush-and-ink is the most important principle in the appreciation of Chinese painting, as well as the most important thing read in mind for the Chinese painters and critics at least in the past seven hundred years. But he also mentioned that as far as the most subtle and innermost perception of the painting is concerned, it is usually taught and lectured between the masters and their apprentices. Even there are some occasionally publicized and printed landscape painting works or essays which are the key 'tips' for identification, the simplification and dilution are inevitable. There is no exception even in the documents discussing painting in China, although in China there are already many and the most published works in the world without doubt on such topic until the modern time.*
As the most important appreciator and collector of Chinese art in the United States in the second half of the twentieth century, C. C. Wang also said, " ... regarding the truth of the brush-and-ink ... My teacher Wu Hufan has never explained to me ... He only knew the truth, but he did not know the reason behind it. I think that no one has ever explained the basic elements of good or poor Chinese brush-and- ink. ... No one has ever told the reason behind it. "** In fact, there are already immense of articles about this subject of brush-and-ink in China, including those of Huang Binhong, the first Chinese artist to make an overall study of brush-and-ink in both of theory and practice, as well as his many followers and commentators. But unfortunately they still lack convincingly logic and systematic construction of the specific guidance on the aesthetic standard of brush-and-ink.
This is a reason for that. On the one hand, the traditional Chinese philosophy, literature and art theory are full of rhetorical devices, such as metaphor, hyperbole and synesthesia as the way of expression and presentation. Under such influence, the brush-and-ink becomes an invisible and elusive art or issue, though it belongs to the most intuitive visual art – painting category. On the other hand, as their reasoning method, they often or just only quoted what the ancient people or the masters said or written, and failed to indicate how their statements are actually reflected on the relevant paintings. Thus the theory is not supported by the painting instances, and the images are lacked in the study of the most intuitive visual art – paintings. This issue has something to do with the easy spread of the ancients’ speeches and the difficult graphic printing. But such difficulty has made this accumulated issue even worse, and harder to solve in the long painting history. As a result, we could see so many contradictories in the field of brush-and-ink, such as between the comments and remarks, between the theory and practice, between the speeches and doings, between the writings and paintings, and even between the inscription prominently written on a painting and the actual painting itself. Their mentioned brush-and-ink methods could not be verified by the completed paintings.
For the purpose of avoiding the above-mentioned drawbacks, instead of quoting the sayings and theories of any ancient person or master, this article will address this issue in the plain wordings and language of the contemporary mass readers and observers (no matter whether they are painters or have any professional knowledge about the paintings and the art history) through the combination of some famous paintings’ instances.
2. The Special Qualities of the Tools and Materials
The basic media of traditional Chinese landscape painting are brush, ink, paper or silk. Water is dependent to ink, and pigment I is not the must-to-use tool, which will not be addressed thereafter.
2.1. The most basic beauty
Different from other types of painting, the most basic and original beauty of Chinese landscape painting and ink painting is reflected from two points below. One is the black and white contrast created by white paper and black ink. Another is the unique beauty of fresh and moist effect created by ink and water soaking into Xuan paper. The paper could be replaced by other paper, silk, paper with gold ground, etc.
Xuan paper is widely better than silk material in terms of the gradation richness and beauty due to the ink penetration effect, which is why paper has been widely applied to the Chinese landscape painting since Yuan dynasty, and the element of brush-and-ink has also been increasingly highlighted and gradually has achieved the independent aesthetic significance and value, and thus its own system is established.
2.2. Changeful painting styles
The varied processing degree for paper and silk will result in the different degree of water absorption and the different effect of seepage. Composed of carefully selected animal hairs formed into a conical clump and fixed into the end of a bamboo or other tube, different brush will have different composition and arrangement of hairs which will also lead to different water absorption and different resilience. During painting process, the varied ink colors will result from the ink quality, its new and old status, and the different process for the ink cake to be rubbed on the ink stone, as well as the different proportion of ink and water mixed, and the volume and order of ink being absorbed by the brush.
Each time after loading the brush with ink, by gravity and capillary action, the ink held in the tip is relatively thick while the ink held in the root is relatively weak. Therefor the ink color of the earlier painting part is relatively wet and thick while the ink color of the later painting part writing is relatively dry and light, unless the brush is inked again.
The existing ink already painted on paper or silk and the just painted ink will also interact or blend together.
The more ink on the paper stacks together, the less the degree of water absorption and the effect of seepage will be.
2.3. Various brushstrokes
Among various changes, the diversity of the traces resulting from the writing brushstrokes stands out prominently. Being raised, pressed down, suspended or backlashed, being moved and stroked lightly, heavily, and quickly or slowly by the painter’s hand through the force, stress and pace rhythm, the soft and flexible brush will bring the various changes on paper, such as bold and thin, long and short, square and round, thick and light, dry and wet, withered and moist, solid and void, etc. A boundless repertory of special brushstrokes can be achieved by varying the status of brush and its tip, the angle of brush to paper, the ways the brush is inked and used, and the position of bush tip in brushstroke.
2.4. Chinese painting’s regularity of semi-abstract and semi-realistic is determined
Both the ink and watercolor belong to the transparent material with the weak hiding power feature. The thick ink and watercolor can cover the weak ones. But instead of hiding the earlier ink, the later ink will only make the earlier ink dark and thick. Thus the material properties thoroughly eliminate the ink paintings’ possibility for the purpose of infinite close to the true nature through many times modifications and adjustments of delineation and smear just as the Western oil painting and gouache do. But all the paintings development has gone through the process in pursuit of the realistic representation of the subject matter. And the intelligent Chinese people just extracted the abstract symbols from the nature and invented all kinds of techniques and skills, such as rock-texturing methods, leaf-painting methods and water-painting samples to depict rocks, mountains, leaves, trees and waters. This is the semi-abstract and semi-realistic characteristics of Chinese ink painting and even Chinese painting.
The Chinese culture mostly has a tradition to beautifying the defects. The Chinese literati and scholars of successive dynasties have offered so many aesthetic theories to prove a belief that a good painting need not -- should not --truly reflect the objective facts. So such belief has run through the whole Chinese art history.
3. Defining the Concept, Bounds and Category of Brush-and-Ink
3.1. Defining the concept and bounds of Brush-and-Ink
The “brush” (Bi 笔) of “brush-and-ink”, here firstly refers to one of the media material tools in the field of Chinese landscape painting. Secondly it refers to painter’s application to brush, such as holding brush, stroking brush and moving brush. Lastly it refers to the brushstroke, brushwork, brush touch and brush mark which are depicted on painting and observed by viewer. This last part of the brush will be mostly covered by this article regarding my comments and remarks on the brush-and-ink.
The “ink” (Mo 墨) of “brush-and-ink”, here firstly refers to one of the media material tools just like the brush. Secondly it refers to painter’s ink-using with water. Lastly it refers to the ink track and mark which are depicted on painting and observed by viewer. Similarly the last part of the ink will also be covered by this article regarding my comments and remarks on the brush-and-ink.
The difference between brushstroke and ink trace. Following painter’s brush-using, ink including water will be loaded and held by brush, and be applied on paper or silk with touch. Then its adsorption and penetration will interact with the existing ink and water in or on the paper or silk to produce the effect Vignette Blur. Therefore it can be said that brushstroke is ink trace, and ink trace is brushstroke. However, when painter uses the brush for outlining, texturing, rubbing and dotting, , the volume of ink is quite small, and the space on which the brushstroke and ink trace stay is also very small. Then more attention is relatively paid to the shape quality of brushstroke and ink trace, and the stroke’s order is clearer. Thus we often refer it as brush or brushstroke (Bi 笔). But when painter uses the brush for rendering or others, the volume of ink is relatively large, and the space on which the brushstroke and ink trace stay is also large. Then painter has no need to pay particular attention to the shape quality of brushstroke and ink trace and the stroke’s order due the reason that the ink and water will interact with the existing ink and water. Thus we often refer it as ink or ink trace (Mo 墨). Sometimes brushstroke and ink trace could be well defined, but sometimes their bounds are very close, and it is neither easy nor necessary to defined.
3.2. “Five Methods of Brush”, “3D, 9 Methods, 30 Kinds of Ink”
The brushwork could be further broken down into the below five categories: outlining (Gou 勾), texturing (Cun 皴), rubbing (Ca 擦), dotting (Dian 点), and rendering (Ran 染).
Firstly the ink could be classified into 3 kinds: light ink (Danmo 淡墨), thick ink (Nongmo 浓墨) and scorched ink (Jiaomo 焦墨) based on its thick-and-light degree resulted from the differently mixing proportion of water and ink. Secondly the ink could also be divided into such 5 kinds: accumulating-ink (Jimo 积墨), soaking-ink (Zimo 渍墨), splashing-ink (Pomo 泼墨), breaking-ink (Pomo 破墨), floating-ink (Zemo 泽墨) according to its different applications, of which the soaking-ink refers to the spiral pattern effect caused by ink penetrating into untreated Xuan paper, as well as the ink blotchy marks staying on treated Xuan paper while the water penetrating into the paper after brush full of ink and water is put to the paper. Sometimes it also could produce the unique effect together with other ink methods. The floating-ink refers to the application of ink on the moist paper which is just like swamp. Lastly the ink could have the below 2 kinds: new ink (Xinmo 新墨) and overnight ink (Sumo 宿墨) according to its freshness. Therefore the ink could be summarized as 3D, 9 methods and 30 kinks. The 9 methods refer to light ink, thick ink, scorched ink, accumulating-ink, soaking-ink, splashing-ink, breaking-ink, floating-ink, and overnight ink. The 3D indicates thickness-and-lightness, the application and the freshness. The 30-kinds mean 3*5*2=30.
The above mentioned view is different from Huang Binhong’s “Seven Methods of Ink” as his methods are lack of 3D element.
4. Aesthetic Principles of Brush-and-Ink: Seven Laws
Here the elegance mainly refers to the temperament and the emotional appeal of brush-and-ink, which is the overall aesthetic principle, the highest principle and the most difficultly stated principle of the brush-and-ink as well as its initial starting point and the ultimate goal. The negative expression may help understand the view, that is: traditional Chinese landscape painting is not handicraft, not decorative painting, not poster, not advertising picture, not new year picture, not children painting, not abstract painting, not print, not sketch, not computer painting ... It could not be created as the above-mentioned paintings, nor become marketplace painting or popular ones. The landscape painting need be distinguished from these kinds of painting in terms of brush-and-ink. Elegance is artistic, and requires “literati taste” (Wenrenqi 文人气), the atmosphere and feeling of scholar. The brush-stroking and ink-using must be beautiful, elegant, ornamental, and memorable. We should avoid ugliness, vulgarity and tacky taste. The below belong to “craftsman taste” (Jiangqi 匠气, the taste of a craftsman): formalization, formulation, mechanization, restraint, neat order, symbolization, or purely geometrically abstract structure extracting from tree, stone, cloud and water.
In a sense the elegance also includes the following principles: change, interaction, richness, harmony, and brush-visible. Or we could say that only these principles are met, is the elegance achieved.
Then what is the elegant brush-and-ink? Let’s take tree and stone as the examples, which are the most basic parts of a landscape painting. The pine tree of Travelers in a Wintry Forest (fig. 1) is full of literati taste, also its brush-and-ink meets the below mentioned principles change, interaction, richness, harmony, and brush-visible, including outlining, texturing, rubbing, dotting, and less rendering. Its every stroke could be termed as delicate and excellent, and it is really perfect elegance. Another painting, like Gong Xian’s Landscape (fig. 2), whose brush-and-ink depicts elegant temperament and emotional appeal through the mountain rocks. Then there are also many paintings, such as Huang Gongwang’s Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains (fig. 3) and Ni Zan’s The Rongxi Studio (fig. 4), on which the common elements of tree, stone, mountain and water are all depicted. They truly represent the elegance of brush-and-ink.
As the general principle of brush-and-ink, elegance is also deeply influenced by other elements of the painting. After all, Chinese landscape painting is a vision art of sculpt categories, so its brush-and-ink could not be elegant if either the shapes of tree, stone, mountain, forest, cloud and water or the composition, line, color, artistic conception and calligraphy are not elegant. This is a common issue. Because the brushstrokes for drawing lines are often used or served for, or even directly determine the shapes. If they lack quality, beauty and elegance, the other brush-and-inks will have difficulty to show the elegance no matter how perfect they are. This is like the relationship between skin and hair, how the hair could adhere without the skin?
For example, due to many constraints and rendered in the meticulous style that featured close attention to detail, many court paintings of building, landscape with genre and secular figure all represent craftsman taste. Their brush-and-inks are tuff to achieve their fair status in the paintings and are not possible to have any relationship with elegance as depicted in literati landscape painting. See Xu Yang’s Prosperous Suzhou (fig. 5).
For example, if the key modeling in a painting is not beautiful, the elegance of the brush-and-ink will be difficult to shown. Let us take a look at Dong Qichang's Landscapes after old masters (fig. 6). Its structures of mountain seem to display uniqueness, steepness or peculiarity, while its gestures of tree seem to pursue a sense of innocent beauty. But they lack the lifelike naturalness and are hard to conceal the uncomfortable and abrupt sense. Thus the elegance of brush-and-ink is already not a major issue or an issue. This already has widely influenced many followers. Let us take a look at Huang Binhong’s Landscape in the Spirit of He Shaoji (fig. 7). There are two trees in the main position, which should be the most important brushwork of this painting. But unfortunately the quality of lines is not good enough to deliberate, and failed to match his proposed “Five Methods of Brush” of Balanced (Ping 平), Sustaining (Liu 留), Round (Yuan 圆), Heavy (Zhong 重) and Changing (Bian 变), let alone the strength (or nervous energy) and good change. However the brushwork of main landscape is not beautiful, the overall elegance is not easy to achieve. But compared with Guo Xi’s Old Trees, Level Distance (fig. 8), whose main landscape is also the two trees, and Guo Xi’s brushwork is masterly marvelous. We could tell without any hesitation which brush-and-ink is more elegant.
Therefore it proves that the elegance is calm, steady and unruffled while the unstrained impatient mind state and disorder brushwork will damage the elegance. The issue of frankness, casualness and not enough elegance has widely existed in the brush-and-inks of Huang Binhong’s followers.
Generally speaking, the elegant brush-and-ink is better than non-elegant one under the same conditions.
It refers to the subjective use of brush-and-ink. The brush-stroking and ink-using must be consciously changeable, and try to avoid the stereotype. The change is in pursuit of the beauty and vitality. There are two levels in its content: one is the change at the choice of types of brush-and-ink. In accordance with the elements of tree, rock, cloud and water as well as their positions, some methods of brush-and-ink shall be naturally used each time of stroking after the brush is inked. Such as “Five Methods of Brush” of outlining, texturing, rubbing, dotting and rendering, the methods of accumulating-ink and splashing-ink, as well as the change of thick and light ink. However the scorched ink, soaking-ink, floating-ink and overnight ink need be consciously used or applied many times in order to add the rich change and beauty to the picture. The other level refers to the changes of every brush-stroking, such as “raising, pressing down, suspending and backlashing”, “lightly, heavily, quickly and slowly”, the flexible lines, the powerful strength, the combination of hardness and softness, the remaining of the idea between separated brushstrokes or lines, the display of calmness and restraint, the demonstration of the implicit romance, the possession of the rhythmic beauty, the attractiveness of a line or brushstroke from its beginning to the ending, and the advocate of free handling of the brush movement (with the attention being paid to the control when an important stroke or line is drawn out. The final strength should be saved, held and kept. Otherwise the energy will be lost without restraint). The brushworks and brushstrokes should be as various as possible.
As far as the change of brushwork and brushstrokeis concerned, the most widely cited and mostly influenced is the stone depicted in Elegant Rocks and Sparse Trees (fig. 9) by Zhao Mengfu. Its use of side-brush (Cefeng 侧锋), brush-turning (Zhuanbi 转笔) and the effect of half-dry stroke (Feibai 飞白) are ideally well. Compared with the same subject painting of Shiao’s Landscapes of the Four Seasons (fig. 10), the latter change and handling of the brush-and-ink are relatively inferior.
The flexible and changeable brush could not be used like the stiff and unchangeable marker pen. From the Northern Song dynasty to Southern Song dynasty, the brushwork of Ma-Xia (Ma Yuan and Xia Gui) was generally inferior than the one of Li-Guo (Li Cheng and Guo Xi). Such case could also be illustrated by comparing Ma Yuan’s depiction of Singing and Dancing (fig. 11) with the previously mentioned Guo Xi’s art work of Old Trees, Level Distance (fig. 8). Both paintings’ ancient trees are depicted on the central position of the whole paining, but Ma Yuan’s brush-and-ink is incomparable with the perfect one of Guo Xi. Such weakening trend has been influencing China until now with no exception for Japan and Korea.
The brush-and-ink must be changeable instead of being uniformity, neat order, simplicity, mechanization, stereotyped repetition, ranking, spreading-out, symbolization, patterning, formulization and conceptualization. The traditional Chinese landscape painting need take the symbolized extract from the different kinds of tree leaf (as presented by some of my comments and remarks in “2.4. Chinese painting’s regularity of semi-abstract and semi-realistic is determined”). Among these different leaf-painting methods, the method of outlining leaf is most easily used with “craftsman taste”. The brush-and-ink changes of leaves in Fan Kuan’s Travelers by Streams and Mountains (fig. 12) are medium quality, neither better nor worse. Those in Clearing Autumn Skies over Mountains and Valleys (fig. 13) traditionally attributed to Guo Xi, are changeful freely in the very small dimension with perfect outlining. Those in Wang Meng’s Thatched Cottage of Dongshan (fig. 14) lack changes and the brush-and ink seems light and week. From Wen Zhengming’s Contending Streams among Myriads of Valleys (fig. 15) to Wang Hui’s The Colors of Mount Taihang (fig. 16), nothing could be mentioned about the non-vital skill and technique of the brush-and-ink applied in these depictions as if the blank spaces of the picture are only filled by using the uniform patterns. Those masters’ brushwork skill and technique were at such level, let alone other painters. That is the reason why it so commonly existed for the poor quality of brush-and-ink for outlining leaf and even the trees, its branches and trunks. However, when the time evolved into the times of Li Xiongcai, whose painting named as Qiu Ying’s One of Methods for Painting Tree (fig. 17) demonstrated the gracefully slenderleaves with highly skillful technique, the brush-and-ink is excellently perfect in terms of shape, line, intersection and avoidance , thickness and lightness as well as solidity and void. Such high degree of professional proficiency had not been achieved by Qiu Ying, and it is really unprecedented and unrepeatable in the human history.
Comparing with those trees with outlining leaves, pine tree may be the most enduring images in traditional Chinese landscape painting. Besides its spiritual level, the pine’s needle shape leaves are very changeable. The quantity of stroke for each cluster of pine needles is different, and pine needles may have the varied up-and-down, left-and-right, and front-and-back angels and shapes. Such subtle changes could be arranged in terms of the brushstrokes’ size, length, end, radian, and color brightness. Theoretically every cluster could be different and should be different, and Guo Xi’s brushwork of such technique is mostly skillful, and nobody is better than him, as depicted by the painting of Early Spring (fig. 18). Let us take another look at Shen Zhou, Tang Yin, Wen Zhengming and Qiu Ying’s Landscape and Figure (fig. 19), the plane fan-shape of its pine needle is just uniform without any up-and-down change and mutual coordination. The uniform size and straight lines and the simple rendering are lack of any change in terms of length/shortness, thickness/lightness and flexibility. Its brush-and-ink displays dullness and stiffness compared with Early Spring (fig. 18). The pine needles created in similar brush-and-ink are too many to mention in the painting history.
In a painting the change of brush-and-ink is also profoundly impacted by the modelling to the extent that if the modelling is changeable, if the modelling and the change meets the natural law, and if the change of modelling is rich. Such impact remains same true for the subject as small as the tree leaves including pine needles or as grand as the mountains. For example, let us take a look at Wang Jian’s Dreamland (fig. 20), which is his middle age’s magnum opus. The brush-and-ink and even the whole picture are lack of enough change and the interesting charm due to the reason that the Four Wangs (four masters named Wand in Qing dynasty, including Wan Jian) did not like to learn from nature, and were not good at the observation and summarization of mountain and water, which led to that in this painting the modelling of mountain is dull, rigid, uniform and repetitive spreading-out as well as that a same brushwork method is used to stiffly texture the mountains and rocks to fill the blank spaces of the picture. However while we look at Dong Yuan’s paintings, Fan Kuan’s Travelers by Streams and Mountains, Guo Xi’s Early Spring, Huang Gongwang’s Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains and Gong Xian’s paintings, etc., all of them mainly used a single texturing method but without such weakness because the change of the modelling of the mountains is natural and rich to fully demonstrate the change of brush-and-ink. Further example is shown in the painting of Travelers by Streams and Mountains (fig. 21), in which the shape, size, position and direction of the mountain are scattered different, the gully wrinkles are rich and lean to rich angles without any same two parallel lines. Such mass size of mountains does not display any dullness though it is spread only by Texturing Method of Raindrop (Yudian 雨点皴).
Generally speaking, the changeable brush-and-ink is better than non-changeable one under the same conditions.
It refers to the interaction of brush-and-ink. Let us go back to the essence of the Chinese ink painting. The ink and water naturally interact and penetrate into the fiber of paper or silk, presenting complicated and subtle effects, rich gradations, and unique beauty. The interaction as one of the aesthetic principles of brush-and-ink is neither the interaction of brushes nor the interaction of inks, and is the interaction between brush and ink. More specifically it is the interaction between “outlining, texturing and rubbing, which mainly use brushwork” and “dotting and rendering, which mainly use ink and water”. These two kinds of brushwork are just like the relationship between the primary and secondary, the trunk and branch and the bone and flesh, which must be interacted into each other and not isolate each other. This interaction means that the latter painted part generally should be added to the earlier painted part that is still not fully dry.
Let me take as the further examples the tree and rock of the basic elements of the Chinese landscape painting to illustrate the interaction and non-interaction. First let us take a look at two Song dynasty’s artworks created on the silk: Travelers in a Wintry Forest, (fig. 22) and Liang Kai’s Shakyamuni Emerging from the Mountains (fig. 23). Though both paintings’ main subject is the tree root and truck, the formal’s brush-and-ink depicts the interaction, and the latter one does not display the interaction with the brush and ink separating each other and, then by rendering after the ink becoming dry. Second Let us take a look at another two paintings with their main subject being rocks beside water: Travelers by Streams and Mountains (fig. 24) and Chen Shizeng’s Landscape (fig. 25). The formal one’s rock demonstrates the interaction of brush-and-ink though it was created on silk. The latter one does not present enough interaction though the mountains and rocks have been created by outlining, texturing and rubbing on paper. On the one hand the use of dry stroke and half-dry stroke is not good at displaying the rigidness of rock due to the rendering’s existence. On the other hand the lack of brush-and-ink interaction fails to present the beauty and moist.
Generally speaking, the interactive brush-and-ink is better than non-interactive one under the same conditions.
It refers to the objective effect of brush-and-ink. Why don't Chinese people like those articles written plainly and directly? Why do Chinese people prefer Jade than glass and crystal? The traditional Chinese aesthetic favors the semi-transparently gentle texture instead of the transparent and plain one, and this is the same as the fresh and moist beauty of ink on paper. The aesthetic of brush-and-ink requires the richness of brush-and-ink in terms of the kinds, the gradations, the colors and the effects, which is the result from the change and interaction of brush-and-ink as well as from the reinforcement of brush-and-ink.
The accumulating-ink is the typical illustration to gain the rich effect by adding ink color, and this is very common and easy to understand. Here I would like to give you an example of adding gradations and enriching effect by adding brushstroke or line, as illustrated by Wu Li’s Spring on the Lake (fig. 26) and Xiao Cheng’s Herd Boy Returning Home along a Willow Embankment (fig. 27). Let us take a look at the willow of the formal painting. The trees are three dimensional, and the lines of tree branches and leaves are divided into thickness and lightness. It all looks to have appropriate gradations, but we still could have a kind of feeling of thinness, a feeling of brush without ink, and a feeling of line drawing, the decorative picture and the woodcut picture without brush-and-ink interaction, solidarity and gradations. However the latter painting’s texture and brush-and-ink depict more solidity without any thin weakness. The willow branches and leaves demonstrate totally different effect though they were all created by using fine stokes. The reason is that the brush lines of the formal painting do not overlap while the latter ones do. In the later painting, the layers of branch and leaf are based on light ink brushstrokes or short lines with different thickness. If fact, when tree leaves are drawn, the brushwork of different thickness and lightness is commonly added to enhance the solidity of crowded leaves and tree crown and to enrich the gradations of brush-and-ink. Only the lines are mainly used for the pine needles while the dots are mainly used for other tree leaves.
Then take a look at the section of Shen Zhou’s Traveling in Xishan Mountains (fig. 28). The trees reveals lack of change and interaction of brush-and-ink, thus such brush-and-ink is not rich enough in terms of kinds, gradations, colors and effects. However Wen Zhengming’s Traveling in Xishan Mountains (fig. 29) looks as if the leaves are drawn only in the simply uniform dots, but the brush-and-ink of the branches and leaves have changes, interactions and overlaps, the brush-and-ink has unfolded much richness in terms of kinds, thickness-and-lightness, color, gradations, effects and lasting appeals.
Another example here is about stone. Though the rocks are all painted by ink and color on silk as depicted both by Tang Yin’s Fishing in Reclusion among Mountains and Streams (fig. 30) and Li Tang’s Windy Pines among a Myriad Valleys (fig. 31), the brushwork of the partial rocks of the first painting displays too much water without enough ink, and the marks of brushstrokes have melted together without maintaining the relatively independent and effective graded accumulation. Therefore the texturing lacks efficiency and effectiveness, and the brush-and-ink on the rocks surface and the picture demonstrates the flatness and thinness instead of the gradations and richness. However the second painting uses in more efficient way, which leads to the better gradations’ effect, the more rich brush-and-ink and the more textures of rocks. In Fan Kuan’s Travelers by Streams and Mountainss (fig. 24), the brush-and-ink of rocks is interacted more richly and obviously, which has been mentioned previously.
According to the aesthetic of brush-and-ink in the field of Chinese painting, superficiality and thinness should be avoided. Unless necessarily, simple, plain, even and flat painting should also be avoided like other kinds of paintings, for example, just like watercolor painting. Why has the Chinese painter named Muqi not attained his corresponding art position in China even though he has mostly influenced and has mostly admired by the Japan? As illustrated by Returning Sails off Distant Shore (fig. 32), one of his Eight Views of the Xiao and Xiang Rivers, the art style is very decorative with the thin picture and not-rich brush-and-ink, which is contradictory to traditional Chinese aesthetic. However, we do not feel any superficiality in the artworks by Ni Zhan even the subjects and pictures are very simple, because the literati painters would have tried their efforts to display the brush-and-ink in a way of more richness, more gradations and more appeals. Even though similar to the subject and style of Returning Sails off Distant Shore, for example, the brush-and-ink of Mi Youren’s Rare Views of Xiao Xiang (fig. 33) is more rich. Both of them are all painted in Song dynasty and about the theme of Xiao and Xiang Rivers in mist.
The trend of flat painting with light ink had developed obviously for the theme of distant shore’s rivers and mountains in the Ma-Xia times of Southern Song dynasty, as illustrated by Xiantang Estuary in the style of Xia Gui (fig. 34). And this trend has profoundly influenced the Japanese painting. But the Chinese painters has still in the pursuit of more rich brush-and-ink since Yuan dynasty, as depicted previously by Huang Gongwang’s Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains and many symbolic distant mountains in the paintings by Ni Zan. Another example is the distant mountains of Wu Zheng’s Reed Catkin and Cold Wild Geese (fig. 35), which demonstrates more rich brush-and-ink than the ones in the landscape paintings by Xia Gui, Muqi and the Japanese painters.
Let us compare two more paintings with the same subject, which are all Ni Zan type of landscape with characteristics of very simple picture, ordinary scenery, brief brushwork and light ink. Fu Ru’s A Boat on the Misty River (fig. 36) displays the thinness, and seems to have brush without ink and have bone without flesh, while Ni Zan’s Sparse Trees (fig. 37) reveals both bone and flesh as well rich brush-and-ink. Such richness is neither reflected by sensitive contrast between think and light ink, nor by number of brushstrokes and volume of ink. Instead it is reflected first by the brushwork types of outlining, texturing, rubbing, dotting and rendering, and second by the methods of ink application.
Generally speaking, the rich brush-and-ink is better than poor one under the same conditions.
It refers to the organic relationship of brush-and-ink, which should be naturally coordination without any abruptness. The volume of ink loaded by writing brush each time is limited. As mentioned previously, “each time after loading the brush with ink …the ink color of the earlier painting part is relatively wet and thick while the ink color of the later painting part writing is relatively dry and light …” So the whole picture or part of it requires a basically unified coordination. First the brush-and-ink’s boldness-and-thinness, length-and-shortness, square-and-roundness, thickness-and-lightness, dryness-and- humidness, withering-and-moisture and solidity-and-void should fit and coordinate with outlining, texturing, rubbing, dotting and rendering required here by the shapes of tree, rock, mountain, forest, cloud and water. Furthermore the relative connection, turn and transition should be natural. Second, the brush-and-ink’s boldness-and-thinness, length-and-shortness, square-and-roundness, thickness-and-lightness, dryness-and- humidness, withering-and-moisture and solidity-and-void in the all parts of the whole picture should fit and coordinate with the statuses required by the corresponding parts’ tree, rock, mountain, forest, cloud and water in the composition of the whole picture. Last, the whole picture should have the feel of the balance and harmony.
Most of the landscape painting masterpieces left by Chinese art history have the harmonious brush-and-ink with too many such examples. However it is necessary to illustrate some of the paintings without the harmonious brush-and-ink.
As far as the front solidity and back void, and the near solidity and far void are concerned, the solidity refers to the strong black and white contrast with the application of thick ink, while the back and far should be void and the weak black and white contrast with the application of light ink. The ink color of the hilltop is not well controlled with too much thickness and darkness and belongs to the flaw work in the below two paintings. One is the highest and mostly far hilltop at the left top position of Dong Qichang’s album leaf Eight Scenes in Autumn (fig. 38). The other is the mostly far hilltops at both left and right sides of Wang Shiming’s Pavilions on the Mountains of Immortals (fig. 39). Then let us take another look at the ink color of the main tree’s outlining leaves in the near, front and below position of the painting of An Ancient House under Tall Pine Trees (fig. 40) by Shitao. The ink color is also not well controlled with the ink color of some outlining leaves being too dark. Such dark ink color is really unnecessary from the location of these leaves, and is not harmonious with the color of this tree’s other leaves. The leaves’ ink color of the tree at the back and above position is better controlled. Other parts’ brush-and-ink of these three paintings is relatively better coordinated, but a disharmony is formed due to the flaw work caused by the poor control of partial brush-and-ink.
Generally speaking, the harmonious brush-and-ink is better than disharmonious one under the same conditions.
It refers to the readability of brush-and-ink. The previous chapters cover the black-and-white beauty and the fresh-and-moist beauty caused by the medium material characteristics of Chinese painting: brush, ink, paper or silk. So many changes and effects could be achieved by variety of types of tools like brush, ink, paper and silk, by variety of specific types of brush-stroking and ink-using, as well as by variety of subtle gestures in terms of the force, the movement-and-ending and fastness-slowness in the use of brushwork and brushstroke. The painter shall consciously and unconsciously make efforts to reveal the beauty of brush-and-ink in terms of elegance, change, interaction, richness and harmony, and because all of these have the regularity that after each time’s brush being inked, the brushstrokes and ink traces have the process from humidity-and-thickness to dryness-and-lightness, and that the ink and water will penetrate and interaction with each other. Therefore, after painting is finished, viewers could see and observe the connection sequences of each stroke and ink color’s change orders from thickness to lightness and from humidity to dryness. Chinese landscape painting’s spatial visual art has enhanced the timing of aesthetic appeal. Thus is the reveal of the brushwork traces and their orders, and after a painting is created, viewers could imagine and appreciate the process of painters’ brush-stroking and ink-using through brushstrokes and ink traces left on the painting. Then the venation or sequence of brush-and-ink could become an independent appreciated aesthetic item of a painting.
Brush-visible requires the simplification of brushwork without any surplus. If one brushstroke is enough, then there is no need to add a second one. If several brushstrokes are just fine, then there is no need to add one more stroke. Furthermore line, trace and stroke should not be repeated at a same place in the painting as it is not good for brush-visible, and it will not make each stroke look simplified and pretty. Therefore this not only fails to meet the demand of elegance, but also has negative impact on becoming independently appreciated aesthetic item. As far as the style is concerned, the classical and rigorous landscape painting in pursuit of the structural design and artistic conception is not such easy for brush- visible as the painting of forthright brushwork with emphasis on the temperament and interest of brush-and-ink. As far as material is concerned, untreated Xuan paper is better than treated Xuan paper, semi- treated Xuan paper and silk for brush-visible.
Let us take an illustration of Qian Xuan’s Dwelling in the Floating Jade Mountains (fig. 41) and Huang Binhong’s Traveling in Yandang Mountains (fig. 42). Though both have the same subject of rocks around river shores, the latter one is better for brush-visible than the formal one. However the two artworks also have the different styles and the latter one is regarded to have more temperament and interest of brush-and-ink.
Generally speaking, the readable brush-and-ink is better than unreadable one under the same conditions.
It refers to the artistic scope of brush-and-ink. Specifically speaking, a traditional Chinese landscape painter should follow and release the regularity and artistry which are relied on the characteristic of the medium materials: brush, ink, paper and silk. He should make his innovation and creation based on the traditional rules, trying to demonstrate all beauty or partial beauty of the brush-and-ink in terms of elegance, change, interaction, richness, harmony and brush-visible to avoid becoming other categories of painting. If such avoidance could not be done, then his creation already does not belong to the category of traditional Chinese landscape painting. In other words, if the effect of painting creation could be achieved without bringing into play the special qualities of Chinese tools and materials: brush, ink, paper and silk, such creation is already beyond the scope of traditional Chinese landscape painting.
5. The Application and Verification
5.1. The application
The aesthetic principles, “Seven Principles of Brush-and-Ink”, only apply to those Chinese landscape paintings, of which the brush-and-ink has the independent aesthetic value and could be an independent aesthetic element.
5.2. The verification of “Seven Principles of Brush-and-Ink” through the comparison of both Chinese and Japanese paintings and their aesthetic principles
Following that the Chinese landscape painting has gradually formed the unique aesthetic preference of brush-and-ink, the preference of brush-and-ink of the Japanese and Korean paintings is different from Chinese, and such differentiation is becoming even bigger though their paintings are influenced by Chinese painting. Here let us take as example two Japanese ink landscape paintings of national treasure class for the illustration purpose so as to better understand the above-mentioned “Seven Principles of Brush-and-Ink” in a contrast fashion.
Sesshu’s Landscapes of Autumn and Winter (Autumn) (fig. 43) belongs to Japanese national treasure, and his style is very significant in the Japanese ink landscape painting. His style is obviously impacted by Ma-Xia style of Chinese Southern Song dynasty. However, judged by the aesthetic principles of Chinese landscape painting, the mark pen type’s stiff lines are lack of changes, the brush-and-ink is lack of interaction, and the types and gradations of brush-stroking and ink-using are lack of richness, let alone the elegant and good brush-and-ink is achieved.
The bone-immersing technique and obscure style is a style of Japanese painting. This style emerged firstly in the Meiji Reform period, when traditional Japanese painting was facing the huge impact of Western painting. Therefore the painters gave up the writing lines by greatly applying colors to their drawings to reveal the natural texture of air and light ray, so that the rich visual gradations could be created with a lightly and freshly oriental beauty of artistic conception spreading all over the picture, as depicted by Yokoyama Taikan’s Holy Peaks of Chichibu at Spring Dawn (fig. 44), an imperial collections. Then judged by the aesthetic principles of Chinese landscape painting, this artwork presents neither brush-visible nor brushstrokes and ink traces, thus the aesthetic of brush-and-ink does not exist. This style and technique of Japanese painting have also influenced many Chinese painters, including Lingnan School painters, who are criticized by their opponents.
* Joan Stanley-Baker 徐小虎, Recorded Utterance of Painting—Listening to C. C. Wang for the Brush-and –ink of Chinese Calligraphy and Paining (Huayulu, 画语录——听王季迁谈中国书画的笔墨), trans. Wang Meiqi 王美祈 (Guilin China: Guangxi Normal University Press, 2014), v-vii.
** Ibid., xxvi-xxvii.
1. Traditionally attributed to Li Cheng, Travelers in a Wintry Forest, section of a hanging scroll, ink and color on silk, Song dynasty. 63 3/4 × 39 1/2 in. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
2. Gong Xian, Landscape, section of a hanging scroll, ink on silk, Qing dynasty. 41 3/4 × 23 1/2 in. Tianjin Museum.
3. Huang Gongwang, Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains, section of a handscroll, ink on paper, Yuan dynasty. 13 × 250 3/4 in. National Palace Museum, Taibei.
4. Ni Zan, The Rongxi Studio, section of a hanging scroll, ink on paper, Yuan dynasty. 29 1/3 × 14 in. National Palace Museum, Taibei.
5. Xu Yang, Prosperous Suzhou, section of a handscroll, ink and color on silk, Qing dynasty. 14 1/8 × 482 1/4 in. Liaoning Provincial Museum, Shenyang.
6. Dong Qichang, Landscapes after old masters, album of eight leaves, ink on paper, Ming dynasty. 9 5/8 x 6 5/16 in. each. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
7. Huang Binhong, Landscape in the Spirit of He Shaoji, hanging scroll, ink on paper, Modern. 36 5/8 x 17 3/4 in. Zhejiang Provincial Museum, Hangzhou.
8. Guo Xi, Old Trees, Level Distance, section of a handscroll, ink and color on silk, Song dynasty. 14 × 41 1/8 in. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
9. Zhao Mengfu, Elegant Rocks and Sparse Trees, section of a handscroll, ink on paper, Yuan dynasty. 10 7/8 × 24 3/4 in. Palace Museum, Beijing.
10. Shitao, Landscapes of the Four Seasons, section of an album of eight leaves, ink and color on paper, Qing dynasty. 8 1/4 x 12 3/8 in. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
11. Ma Yuan, Singing and Dancing, section of a hanging scroll, ink and colors on silk, Song dynasty. 75 3/4 x 43 3/4 in. Palace Museum, Beijing.
12. Fan Kuan, Travelers by Streams and Mountains, section of a hanging scroll, ink on silk, Song dynasty. 81 1/4 x 40 5/8 in. National Palace Museum, Taibei.
13. Traditionally attributed to Guo Xi, Clearing Autumn Skies over Mountains and Valleys, section of a handscroll, ink and color on silk, Song dynasty. 10 1/4 x 81 1/8 in. Freer Gallery of Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, DC.
14. Wang Meng, Thatched Cottage of Dongshan, section of a hanging scroll, ink and color on paper, Yuan dynasty. 45 × 24 in. National Palace Museum, Taibei.
15. Wen Zhengming, Contending Streams among Myriads of Valleys, section of a hanging scroll, ink on silk, Ming dynasty. 52 1/8 × 13 7/8 in. Nanjing Museum.
16. Wang Hui, The Colors of Mount Taihang, section of a handscroll, ink and color on silk, Qing dynasty. 10 x 82 1/2 in. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
17. Li Xiongcai, Qiu Ying’s One of Methods for Painting Tree, section of a frame, ink on paper, Modern. 15 x 10 5/8 in. Memorial Hall of Lingnan School of Painting, Guangzhou.
18. Guo Xi, Early Spring, section of a hanging scroll, ink on silk, Song dynasty. 63 3/8 x 42 1/2 in. 19. National Palace Museum, Taibei.
19. Shen Zhou, Tang Yin, Wen Zhengming and Qiu Ying, Landscape and Figure, section of a joint handscroll of four images, ink and color on paper, Ming dynasty. Dimensions unknown. Shanghai Museum.
20. Wang Jian, Dreamland, hanging scroll, ink and color on paper, Qing dynasty. 64 1/8 x 26 3/4 in. Palace Museum, Beijing.
21. Fan Kuan, Travelers by Streams and Mountains, section of a hanging scroll, ink on silk, Song dynasty. 81 1/4 x 40 5/8 in. National Palace Museum, Taibei.
22. Traditionally attributed to Li Cheng, Travelers in a Wintry Forest, section of a hanging scroll, ink and color on silk, Song dynasty. 63 3/4 × 39 1/2 in. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
23. Liang Kai, Shakyamuni Emerging from the Mountains, section of a hanging scroll, ink and color on silk, Song dynasty. 46 1/4 x 20 1/2 in. Tokyo National Museum.
24. Fan Kuan, Travelers by Streams and Mountains, section of a hanging scroll, ink on silk, Song dynasty. 81 1/4 x 40 5/8 in. National Palace Museum, Taibei.
25. Chen Shizeng, Landscape, section of a hanging scroll, ink and color on paper, Modern. 53 1/4 x 19 1/8 in. National Art Museum of China, Beijing.
26. Wu Li, Spring on the Lake, section of a hanging scroll, ink and color on paper, Qing dynasty. 48 5/8 x 24 5/8 in. Shanghai Museum.
27. Xiao Chen, Herd Boy Returning Home along a Willow Embankment, section of a hanging scroll, ink and color on silk, Qing dynasty. 17 3/8 x 10 1/4 in. Palace Museum, Beijing.
28. Shen Zhou, Traveling in Xishan Mountains, section of a handscroll, ink on silk, Ming dynasty. 11 1/4 x 341 1/2 in. Shanghai Museum.
29. Wen Zhengming, Landscape, section of a hanging scroll, ink on paper, Ming dynasty. 28 3/8 x 17 in. Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, Kansas City, Missouri.
30. Tang Yin, Fishing in Reclusion among Mountains and Streams, section of a handscroll, ink and color on silk, Ming dynasty. 11 7/8 x 240 in. National Palace Museum, Taibei.
31. Li Tang, Windy Pines among a Myriad Valleys, section of a hanging scroll, ink and color on silk, Song dynasty. 74 1/4 x 55 in. National Palace Museum, Taibei.
32. Muqi, Returning Sails off Distant Shore, hanging scroll, ink on paper, Song dynasty. 12 3/4 x 40 3/4 in. Kyoto National Museum.
33. Mi Youren, Rare Views of Xiao Xiang, handscroll, ink on paper, Song dynasty. 7 7/8 x 113 3/4 in. Palace Museum, Beijing.
34. In the style of Xia Gui, Xiantang Estuary, album leaf; ink and color silk, Song dynasty. 9 1/8 x 9 3/8 in. Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
35. Wu Zhen, Reed Catkin and Cold Wild Geese, section of a hanging scroll, ink on silk, Yuan dynasty. 32 3/4 x 11 in. Palace Museum, Beijing.
36. Pu Ru, A Boat on the Misty River, section of a frame, ink on paper, Modern. 13 5/8 x 27 in. Xiling Yinshe 2016 Autumn Auction, Shaoxing.
37. Ni Zan, Sparse Trees, section of a hanging scroll, ink and color on paper, Yuan dynasty. 26 3/4 x 22 1/2 in. Osaka City Museum of Fine Arts.
38. Dong Qichang, Eight Scenes in Autumn, album leaf, ink and color on paper, Ming dynasty. 21 1/2 x 14 7/8 in. each. Shanghai Museum.
39. Wang Shimin, Pavilions on the Mountains of Immortals, hanging scroll, ink on paper, Qing dynasty. 52 3/8 x 24 7/8 in. Palace Museum, Beijing.
40. Shitao, An Ancient House under Tall Pine Trees, section of a hanging scroll, ink on paper, Qing dynasty. 72 3/4 x 34 3/4 in. Princeton University Art Museum.
41. Qian Xuan, Dwelling in the Floating Jade Mountains, section of a hanging scroll, ink and light color on paper, Yuan dynasty. 11 5/8 x 38 7/8 in. Shanghai Museum.
42. Huang Binhong, Traveling in Yandang Mountains, section of a hanging scroll, ink and color on paper, Modern. 31 1/2 x 17 5/8 in. Liaoning Provincial Museum, Shenyang.
43. Sesshu, Landscapes of Autumn and Winter (Autumn), hanging scroll, ink on paper, Ming dynasty(Muromachi period). 18 3/4 x 11 7/8 in. Tokyo National Museum.
44. Yokoyama Taikan, Holy Peaks of Chichibu at Spring Dawn, hanging scroll, ink and gold wash on silk, Modern. 26 1/2 x 44 3/4 in. Sannomaru Shozoka (Museum of the Imperial Collections)