This link leads to a TV interview (part 1 of 2) with the Hong Kong HKSTV’s beautiful and talented hostess Ms Wang Mingqing, in Hangzhou late June. During interludes Ms Wang plays the ancient qin zither, with a clarity and force belying her gentle mien, bringing out a depth of feeling hidden from ages past. The visit took place in the just completed Visiting Faculty Lodge by Dean Wang Shu of the School of Architecture,China Academy of Arts, and 2012 winner of the distinguished Pritzker Prize. Link to Part 2 of 2.
Disclaimer and Invitation
Most Chinese paintings and calligraphy works are not as dated
But Months to Centuries Later
Here we share research results
not often found elsewhere
Fearless of New Findings
witih no claim to Absolute Authority
but only Absolute Honesty
and the right to err as seekers err
but now in untried ways
let us lift off where Rowley’d left it
and clear our minefield with method
to let in light where darkness looms
This Web-Paper is an attempt to explore the visual features or Period Style of an era in Chinese landscape painting rather than proceeding from attributed works clustered under the name of a single Master. Here we explore the perceptual characteristics that seem to be unique to Qing painting around the reign of the Qianlong emperor (r.1736-1796) Hongli. This period has left much unspoiled authentic testimony in its Court-commissioned paintings, scrolls and copper-plate engravings that have not been subject to retouching, cropping or resizing and, in the context of imperial paraphernalia, garments and utensils from the same period, makes it possible to attempt to describe in an orderly manner the changes in painting then or recently manifested. Much has been brilliantly studied on the meeting of East and West, notably by Michael Sullivan, James Cahill and Richard Vinograd. Here we explore only the formal aspects, with the hope of becoming better acquainted with the zeitgeist and image of this period.
It is also a first attempt to present in web-page format an academic ‘paper’ with the unique advantages of the internet. Now we can, and should, proceed from the visual evidence as our first point of departure, being able to enlarge details for close-up examination as rarely possible before on such a wide scale. And the text, like a children’s book, only follows the images with enquiries, hypotheses or exegeses.
Riegl’s notion of an ‘History without Names’ frees art historical scholarship from its traditional bondage to ‘signed and dated’ attributions. For the past century or more it has been this stifling bondage that has confined the student to works attributed to a certain Master and to line up his attributed oeuvre in a fictitious ‘chronology’ based on purported ‘dates’ rather than an in-depth investigation of the works themselves. This passive method has obliged countless scholars to concoct lame explanations for a Master’s evident ‘change in style’ when confronting what in effect are works from different hands and usually different periods.
Here we can depart from the approach of studying a famous Master through whose works light may be shed upon his person, his thoughts or his age. Instead, we first examine authentic visual evidence drawn from Qing Court collections, and these collectively and in context of the furnishings, architecture, lacquer and ceramics present enough parallels to form hypotheses about prevailing perceptual tendencies.
Qing Court-based works have revealed unmistakable characteristics that distinguish this period from all previous ones. These features bear a strong relationship, not by accident, with contemporary tendencies in Baroque Europe. Incidentally, these features appear also in paintings bearing names of ancient masters as well. In this essay some though by no means all of these interesting period features are highlighted in chapters and by sections. In many, corresponding details are cropped from their respective paintings and placed side by side to show the similarity. When an individual detail is clicked, the name of the painting as well as the total view should pop up in a separate window, which can be closed to return to the discussion, Qing-dated and also forgeries ascribed to ancient masters appear side by side to highlight in each section the particular period feature in the heading, and in the context of similar features appearing on contemporary Qing works.
In the first ‘chapter’ we begin with an examination of the copperplate engraving of a scene from the Yuanmingyuan Western Compound, to study the ways in which this work differs from works of previous centuries. The analysis proceeds in logical order, beginning with identification of distinctive characteristics in general structure, in morphology, and in brushwork behaviour. Having outlined the general characteristics, we proceed to the identification of particular themes that seem ‘new’.
The ‘Index’ to our left indicates the organization of this illustration-cum-text paper. There are eight ‘chapters’, most comprising sections, each to illustrate a particular observation. Thus under changes in morphology, for instance, we find two (among doubtless many more) changes illustrated, one being a more rational interrelationship of formal elements within a single composition, the other being the schematisation and reduction of forms, as well as their decorative proliferation. The chapter on new brushwork behaviour, for instance, shows how Qing brushwork has become linear, uniform and unchanging, as well as decorative in its execution and in its dispersal. The second section shows how brushwork, and the larger units of brushwork in the form of minor motifs, are dispersed for a decorative effect. A third section presents the finding that the traditional ‘modelling stroke’ used for rough surfaces, the oblique axe stroke or fupicun 斧劈皴has disappeared entirely from view. Instead, they are replaced by an awkward application of L-shaped hooks and lines – all in the very same unswerving unified ‘line’.
Qing examples are used from the beginning to the end of the eighteenth century, their common features of newness identified. Together with these are the same manifestations from ‘ancient’ attributions illustrated. This helps us clear out a great deal of the erstwhile inexplicable gaps in stylistic continuity from Tang to Qing. It explains why we could not find anything from archaeological or more securely datable Song and Yuan examples from Japanese collections that correspond in style in structure or in brushwork. This is I believe because the Tang, Song, Yuan, and even Ming attributions introduced in these ‘pages’ are all products of the eighteenth century Qing, as we identify their Qing characteristics. Such is the advantage of approaching the history of Chinese painting without resorting first to labels, but depending first to last on the eye, and using texts and sources only in the second stage.
Such a presentation may seem unfriendly to those new to Chinese painting. I hope that to the seasoned student it may open another dimension to seeing. The hyper-linked names or terms need not be clicked during your first reading. Rather, click it only if you are curious, and click ‘close’ to return to the discussion. I hope you enjoy this experience, and since this is an experimental website with an open forum, don’t forget to visit the discussion area and make your contribution. It is only with corrections and additions and re-corrections that we can eventually be delivered from the seemingly everlasting ‘middle ages’ of Chinese painting studies where scholars are evidently hard put to date a painting within a thousand years.
徐小虎 謹識 Joan Stanley-Baker, Tainan, October 2003
Qianlong Court Engraving Yuanmingyuan Western Complex
This is one in the series of twenty copper engravings by European and Chinese Court artists depicting the various buildings, gardens and mansions built in the European compounds northwest of the Imperial Palace, begun by Kangxi era (r.1662-1723) completed under Qianlong (r.1723-1796). They testify not only to the original appearance of these complexes, but to the thoroughly hybrid fruit of this period of intense artistic exchange between East and West. In this example of the Yuanmingyuan 圓明園 Court for instance, artists trained in European architecture and painting techniques incorporate certain Chinese elements into their modern creations, including the curved bridge and gate either side of the mote-stream, and the earthen hillocks beyond the compound wall with their Chinese-style open pavillion. In painting the master for this copper engraving, they have created layered hills with rounded outline and gentle ‘shading’ interspersed with trees. These ‘hills’ are rendered with a ‘Chinese’ feel in shape and modeling – but executed in largely identical fashion, as everything else in the print, without individuation, contributing to the sense of overall unity that Wolfflin had observed in Baroque painting in Europe.
Striking is the Baroque expression of visual values in an amazing number of features that must have seemed new to the Chinese eye but yet have been almost instantly and masterfully absorbed into eighteenth century Chinese arts. In motifs these include wisteria (here organized into four European trellis clumps), the ornamental shrubs shaped like poodles, the flat-surfaced stone facade or wall, and in following images the Roman pine, the sculpture-like oblong rocks built in angular upward thrusts, the thickened, ornate and expressive clouds that thread their way horizontally through woods and mountains, as well shading of the underside of objects in European fashion seen in other Court works below, etc. Morphological novelties include the almost compulsive parallelism of lines (even without labyrinth), the regimented, equidistant disposition of linear elements, the half-realistic half-abstract depiction of natural forms arranged with decorative intention.
Most remarkable is the curious ‘brushwork behavior’ seen here in a new, Baroque linearity that dominates painting, where lines of all elements are largely reduced to equal value (inspired perhaps by the novelty of engraving, where linear uniformity is of course a direct result of the hard engraving tool or stylus?). The following segments explore these new features that, by the eighteenth century, are richly and deeply incorporated into Chinese Court and literati painting alike. And because of their common Baroque quality, it is easy to recognize these features as they appear also in the many forgeries evidently produced at this time.
This space on this Website is dedicated to a preliminary exploration of features that characterise this fascinating period. Readers are asked to realise that statements here are not final, but result of observations and comparisons that await refinement with your help. Please do not hesitate to query what you see, or to add your own observations and comments to what is hoped to become an open FORUM which hopefully will help turn a new leaf in our common pursuit.
The various Baroque manifestations we shall examine in works the mid-eighteenth century by Tangdai 唐岱(1673-1752+), Huang Ding黃鼎 (1650~60–1730), Sun Hu孫祜 (active mid 18 c), or Wu Hong吳宏 (active 1750s), or indeed the Court commissioned paintings of consorts at leisure, copper engravings of Qianlong’s constructions or military campaigns, are mostly foreshadowed here in the later works of Wang Hui. These works by Wang Hui illustrate the encroaching parallelism of contour lines in the rounded ‘Southern school’ mountain forms that were already evident in the Yongzheng era. Most of the ‘European Baroque’ elements seen in the Qianlong–period paintings and engravings are already in formative process here. Wang’s own dynamic gathering and folding of concentric mountain forms rise and writhe as the proverbial “Dragon Arteries” advocated by Dong Qichang (1555-1636). Now adding opaque, ornamental ‘designer’ clouds to silhouette decorative tree foliage, increases rhythmic abstraction. This hallmark Qing feature becomes formulaic, regimented and decorative through the Yongzheng and Qianlong eras.
Here, in this first decade of the eighteenth century bracketed by Wang Hui’s three works, of 1702, 1706 and 1708 we see landscape evolving toward this new textural homogeneity. Now smoothly repeated mountain folds are whipped up like heavy cream, resembling the skin of the sharpei dog 沙皮狗. The overall linear parallelism, the surface or textural smoothness and uniformity anticipate the same characteristics in Europe-derived copper engravings, and may explain why Qing Court painters were so ready to embrace their introduction to Chinese painting with such ready acceptance.
北宋之崇高元朝之深曠 Northern Song Magnitude, Yuan Clarity
Qing landscape paintings often evoke Northern Song painting in their grandeur, in the stunning height of their mountain forms, and actually surpassing the Northern Song in depth – because Qing painters have mastered Yuan recession into deep space as well. In spatial recessional consistency they also surpass the Yuan, for more than in Yuan painting they hint at incidents ‘beyond’ the clearly visible horizons. Thus ghost-like peaks or flat marshlands may loom pale in mists barely discernable, wafting up in the upper half of hanging scrolls, sighing from impossible distances. All the while, Qing monumental landscapes witness a sharp increase in human and structural incidents. Painters following Wang Hui ( 1632-1717), like Tangdai (1673-1752+), Sun Hu (Sun You, fl. 1750s) and Huang Ding (1650~60 – 1730) among others, all developed their own distinctive personal styles. In structure however they share common period characteristics.
At the same time, there is marked decrease in both motif variation and brushwork typology as well as in geological credibility. On the other hand, this reductionist development in Qing painting is amply compensated by stunning skills in draftsmanship and in its often hair-raising spatial aerobatics that lead the eye to soar and tumble from breathtaking heights and with dramatic ‘speed’.
Each of these painters has his individual stylistic preferences, but they collectively maintain the basic unitary principles outlined above. Walled compounds in dense woods are rendered skillfully to be seen clearly ‘from above’ as tucked hidden within dense woods or hills. The practice in and production of such rich and high-angled perspective like the Yuanmingyuan series depicting the ‘owner’s favourite retreat’ facilitated the creation of eremitic mountain villa-type compositions ascribed to beloved literati titans like Wang Wei, Lu Hong of the Tang, Guo Zhongshu and Li Gonglin of the Song plus their alleged imitations, as well as countless hand scrolls with close-up observations of human activity within pavilions or garden settings ascribed to Wen Zhengming and Qiu Ying (omitted in this discussion). Painters of the time perfected the bird’s eye view of mountain hideouts amidst dense foliage, with wall-enclosed complexes with manor houses and courtyards, all spied from above.
This fashion is seen in scrolls depicting mountain manors, courtyards bounded by moat and walls or fence, under the names of Li Sixun, Wang Wei or Li Gonglin. Mountain villa scenes and other hermitages all affording perfect visibility into the shenyuan 深遠deep- space interiors. This bird’s eye perspective also afforded many scenes of scholars or monks socializing or contemplating in outdoor settings that require the viewer to search through masses of woodland foliage before these are ‘discovered’, increasing the pleasure of viewing in this anecdotal ambience. This penchant echoes the Baroque fascination with skillfully crafted tiny drawers within drawers, all carved like gorgeous hollow ivory spheres within each other so highly prized at the time.
王翬之後的典型畫家如唐岱(1673-1752+) 仿范寬山水, 孫祜 (或祐, 約1750年代) 關山行旅圖，黃鼎 (1650~60-1730)群峰雪霽軸（1729）都有個別的風格偏好，但仍保有著上述基本的統一原則。在描繪密林中被牆垣包圍的住宅時，常相當技巧性地將視點提高以便清晰地看到藏在林木、山岳間的景物。這種隱居的意象和透視技巧的普遍化，由類似主人公之別墅如同「圓明園」圖等系列的繪畫及銅版圖畫之興起，促進了古人隱居之山莊畫類─如唐人王維的「輞川圖」，盧鴻的「草堂」，宋人李公麟的「山莊」─等主題的發展及作偽的能力和意圖。我們也可以在數不清以明朝大畫家文徵明或仇英命名的手卷中，像近距離觀察般，看見美麗典雅的人物在遠方涼亭、庭園或屋內活動的清晰景象（在本文略）。當時畫家都能完美地表現鳥瞰的視角，俯瞰隱蔽於繁密簇葉間，有籬笆、土牆環繞的莊園宅第與庭院。
形態特徵分析 New Features in Morphology: Interrelationships Rationalised
For the art historian, motifs and morphology are different aspects of investigation. Similar motifs appear in Chinese painting throughout its history: mountains, streams, trees, people and buildings. How these forms or motifs relate to each other – constitutes the morphological study that has proven unrivalled in dating art works, especially Chinese paintings that more than any other society tend to ‘follow the ancients’ and, as we see here, have in each age encouraged the major industry of forgery-production. Here we line up four sections of horizontal prints comprising landscape and figures.
For Song period landscape composition. structure and morphology, the Korean Mizangquan carved in the late tenth century (高麗成宗十年 991 CE) sutra Bizangquan 祕藏詮 – Secondc row left) together with the Liao dynasty sutra illustration 《遼藏/契丹藏》遼重熙七年(北宋景佑五年1038 CE, right, second row) provide ideally illustrate mediaeval perception that characterise structure and morphology of the early late10th-11th-century on the one hand, and those of the eighteenth century (below) on the other. The Korean and Liao works show a subjective approach to spatial extension into the background that has continued from Tang practice, where mountains even when rather tall, are depicted as viewer from the foreground, and especially in the Liao work, emphasis on ‘principal subjects’ makes them ‘larger than life’ – as here in the foreground worshippers standing, rather outsized, in the ‘rough’ waters.
In contrast, the woodcut from the Sackler Collection from the Bizangquan allegedly from a block dated to 1108 ( far right) 傳1108年木刻佛經插圖《秘藏詮》 , shows eighteenth century perception in its largely rational scale, where recession into depth is logical and consistent, and where mountains as they recede toward the farthest background are seen from a high vantage point and gradually diminishing in size along the way – but always pellucid even in the farthest distance, like the two copper engravings of the 1760s depicting Hongli’s martial exploits. In Qing rendering, although man-made structures are emphasised, as the thatched huts in the Bizangquan illustration, or the fortified stone structures in Hongli’s battlegrounds, the relationship of buildings to their contexts are clearly far more ‘rational’.
Unlike Song morphology, motifs become decorative in the eighteenth, and are distributed throughout the painting surface with the artistic intention to increase visual pleasure with carpet-like decorative spacing, regardless of subject matter. This is true of Buddhist as well as martial images, it would seem, and characterise this age.
In brushwork, major changes characterise the eighteenth century. Outlines become refined, and modelling of rocky surfaces with their hard, jagged texture is done in equally ‘refined’ and uniform linearity.
In contrast to the three Qing works, ‘brushwork’ even in the carved block of the Liao reflects painting of the time and the carved ‘strokes’ are more ‘realistically’ rendered, much as such rough surfaces were done in the eighth-century. Note the changing width of the strokes in the foreground wave curls, the mixed angular protrusions that model the central rocky mountain both along its vertical plane, and built up in front of it and to its right to suggest craggy ledges. These have entirely disappeared in the Qing Sutra example where instead a series of L- or 4-shaped lines represent the stony ledge beneath the three-story building between the two other thatched structures. (In other examples of craggy rocks we shall see elsewhere, they are ‘refined’ to become meaningless L-shaped gestures. The disappearance of the axe stroke, the avoidance(?) of visual references to rough surfaces suggest that perhaps Qing Court aesthetics found them harsh or ‘unsightly’ remnants from the downgraded ‘Northern School’ Tradition?)
New Features in Morphology: Reduction, Schematisation and Proliferation
In eighteenth century painting, forms are reduced in type and simplified in structure. Rather than empirically-based texture modelling cunfa [皴法」for volume and surface roughage, artists now assume viewer-familiarity with subtleties of Chinese landscape painting. Tis can be seen (moving right from top left) in a mid-Qing handscroll for the Qianlong emperor describing aboriginal life in Taiwan, in a Hongli (Qianlong) battle copper engraving, in a snow landscape ascribed to Ming dynasty Master Wen Zhengming, and (below) in a Festivities scroll ascribed to 17th century painter Wu Bin, to Yuan master Qian Xuan, (further down), to Sui dynasty master Zhen Ziqian, yet another Qian Xuan handscroll, and Northern Song master Li Gonglin. In a dramatic move toward the decorative and evocative, and in keeping with Baroque tendencies prevailing in Palace objects like Europe-introduced clocks, Chinese painted ceramics, metals, lacquerware and textiles as well as painting also moves toward dramatic reduction and symmetrical arrangement of motif-types achieving in all a pleasing, harmonious, balanced and decorative effect. Not surprisingly, this is accompanied with a dramatic reduction in brushwork types, affecting the rendering of motifs which as a result become ‘cloned’.
A good example of this development are the symmetrical triangles that now appear as mountain forms. They indicate a new tendency toward brushwork linearity, here displayed in repeated echelons, as in the eighteenth-century anonymous work depicting Aboriginal life in Taiwan and the copper engraving of one of Hongli’s battles. The device is deployed with special effectiveness in coloured decorative painting – affecting most of all the ‘ancient’ works in the ‘Tang’ or fugu 復古 mode. And this is most apparent in forgeries done in blue-and-green paintings with fine-lined contours bearing ancient authorships like Qian Xuan ( b.1235, jinshi 進士1260-64) here seen in two spurious but attractive examples: Wang Xizhi Admiring Geese, and Homecoming from Office 傳錢選 歸去來圖卷). We see this practiced also in a landscape scroll ascribed to Wang Shen (ca. 1048 – ca. 1103) Yingshantu 傳王詵 瀛山圖, and in a lovely work ascribed to Zhan Ziqian (c.591-618), Spring Outing 傳展子虔 春遊圖 , and in an attractive album ascribed to Ming master Wu Bin 吳彬 (fl. 1568-1627) called Annual Festivities: Escaping Summer Heat 傳吳彬 歲華紀勝圖冊- 避暑. All the spurious works, like genuine works of the Qing, are founded on easily repeated simple formulae that when grouped in echelons produce a pleasing harmonious effect, without structural complications to tire the weary imperial eye.
Another hallmark is the high-angled grand perspective that takes in whole temple compounds, hermitages or villas, spread wide amidst mountains. The brushwork of the contour outlines, although on the whole even and unchanging in width, do repeat themselves in a sensuous manner displaying elegant ‘gestures’ 「姿態」in the execution of a single attenuated draw. This subtle tendency reveals a self-conscious self-display that had resulted perhaps from the overwhelming adoration of Yuan literati brushwork by Ming painters in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. We see this even in the engravings and prints, where the loss of descriptive function of contour lines are clearly evident. A good contrast of this shift in artistic intention is seen in the two Buddhist illustrations, one found in a Liao (980-1012) site, the other in the Fogg Museum purporting an improbable Song date that we have just seen.
Structure and morphology of the new ‘antiques’ tally with Court productions of the time. In effect we may consider the possibility that the blue-and-green style we have regarded as the artistic pinnacle of the Sui-Tang period, may in fact not have emerged till a millennium later. That is, we may posit that the Qing painting industry literally ‘invented’ this Sui-Tang style, based on glimpses of that style as it had been ‘refined’ over the centuries, in particular the in the late-Ming echoes of Wen Zhengming attributions in myriad elegant garden settings and courtly gatherings.
Highlighted in this selection is the regularised, virtually even spacing of the outlines. Morphological significance is given, not to the volume of each mountain, but to the elegant parallel brushwork in attenuated, languid lines that echo each other across gentle stretches of pale colours. That is, a subtly expressive, almost emotive quality in decorative brushwork has become the artistic intention. In such outlines they are further adorned with over-sized black ‘moss dots’ 苔點 that, in the eighteenth century, are often even further embellished with a bright mineral green centre.
Now blue-green mountain ranges are pacified, submissive, decorous like handmaidens. They are not distant, impenetrable, offering difficulties as did their Tang and Song forebears, as in this eighth-century Dunhuang image. The rolling hills do not form regimented symmetrical echelons, the artistic intention is to indicate distances between mountains by means of the ochre shading beneath each, separating it from the one in front. Trees, ornamental as they are for an expression of springtime, are not disposed at equidistant points as in the Yuanmingyuan engraving or the forged antique paintings. Technical stress is not on linear brushwork, but on the shading that differs from range to range for a sense of volume, and distance. The same general function and purpose continue in Japan into the thirteenth century, in a handscroll depicting the life of Monk Honen where the layers, albeit decorative, are built up of repeated applications of wash, graduating in tonal intensity for descriptive purposes. Not until the Qing do outlines become so obvious, so self-conscious and ‘alluring’.
The same brushwork-and-surface relation prevails on silk or paper. Except for monochrome works, colours in general are softly brushed onto clean surfaces that permit a characteristic transparency. Tonal shifts are typically gradual and colouring covers the entire surface, as in oil painting. Brushwork is notable for its elegant and elegiac movements that repeat themselves as do the motifs, in characteristic linear series or motif clusters. This elegant courtly manner was transferred to antique green-and-blue style painting that, on the one hand evolved from (genuine) narrative painting of the late Ming where compositions increasingly resembled ‘book illustrations’, expertly showing interior details, in concert with the rising popular genre of the novel and romance. On the other hand, however, it developed an ‘antique’ style then much in demand, and perfectly suited the ambience of the times as we see in the forged antiques selected here ascribed to legendary Masters of the Sui, Tang, Song, Yuan and Ming dynasties. For the more ancient works, the choice and disposition of motifs necessarily underwent modification for an effect of distance and mystery to eighteenth-century eyes, albeit leaving telltale residues of current fashion.
上雲藝術中心2008.12.27 – 2009.03.15
紅火泥湯 望大海流著 涼著
緊緊地撫抱著樹木 花草 混亂為一
一層再一層的墨吻 黑上焦 焦上漆
混亂中 原來細細的裂縫 扯開了
露出了心裡最深處 那無限 永恆的白 無底的傷痕
Musing Planet: Li Ancheng Inkwash Painting Exhibition
Soaring Cloud Art Center 2008.12.27 – 2009.03.15
7 Fl, 11 Dayong Road, Yancheng District, Kaohsiung
by Joan Stanley-Baker (28 Dec. 2009)
Universal energy informs all beings and all things
Once I and Thou merge, Love and life are born
Love radiates all of the lover
onto the beloved
losing its self
as the beloved is transformed
into new life absorbing the lover
like magma roiling from the bowels of the earth
spewing up roaring flowers of fire
pouring down over the night hill, half asleep half startled
incandescent flushing lava rushing seaward red cooling
scribing a new landscape of black rocks and pumice stones
or white clouds swollen in their passage
floating gently toward the peak and abruptly
caught by the mountain’s cavernous fire descend
embracing the trees their branches and leaves
rocks and grasses all mixed into one
never again to be parted
as wafting clouds disappear
the new mountain top
breathes deep with black and white sparkles
and so in his painting, Li Ancheng
pours himself entirely into brush ink water and paper
with ink of charcoal, paper of fibres
bamboo brush large and small of various hairs
each one of them drunk on clear fresh water
Ancheng grips the brush
love grips Ancheng
as the universe grips love
the brushtip bursts with dark ink, the seeping water
plunging down into the half sleeping half startled paper
passionately embracing, caressing various zones in wordless love
spewing bursts of ink flowers into the skies
layer on layer of ink kissing jet black on black,
out of chaos the thin white seam bursts
from the depth of the heart
freeing the infinite scar
of eternal white
releasing agony that has no words
a life force without bounds
我們可以參考不同時代的歐洲、甚至於希臘作者在撰寫關於銅器時代的克里特島(Crete)之「迷諾」(Minos)王朝文化所傳達的不同訊息，在看此等訊息與二十世紀英國考古對所挖掘出來的時在的情況。再來檢驗依賴著文獻而詮釋出土文物，這種「學術方法」之不妥。來看最近的訊息，參考大英辭典Encyclopaedia Britannica, 讀者會發現此迷諾王是被描寫為Knossos城堡的殘酷霸王。 他
─ 於是命雅典建築師 Daedalus及其兒子 Icarus 為這猛獸蓋造一個迷宮Labyrinth
─ 後來因為雅典王子Theseus 前往克諾蒐斯(Knossos),殺死了猛獸、救回了雅典市的自主權
─ 古代（即神話時代的）希臘王Theseus 之敵
─ 如同當代（紀元前5世紀）波斯之霸君Darius 於紀元前488 及 480年進行海攻雅典之戰
迷諾王曾掌握著海洋上的霸權 (thalassocracy) （如同當代波斯王所欲）
- 有一個偉大之城市 Knossos
- 每九年與父Zeus會議審定公正的政策 
〔圖〕迷諾文化象牙雕? – 兩愛人（筆者拍照於Heraklion博物館）
在此我們也可以提出藝術史學者與純歷史學者之不同。因為前者（應）依靠實物證據來做分析來形容某一個時代、地區或人物，他們的「故事」很可能與後者只依靠「文獻」而研究出來的「史事」有差異。這是因為藝術史學者能從容器的造型和裝飾對其時代、社會、人情都會找出一些線索。我們只要比較迷諾時代和商朝的容器， 就可以看到前者的繪圖完全配配合了陶器的外型的事實，它左右不對稱、繪圖自由，卻達到整個構圖的內在平衡，所表達的氣氛是自在、和平與善良。 後者不然：把器型分成上下四層，各以不同的母題來布置，圖面分成重要、次要、邊界等不同價值的層次，又以嚴謹的左右對稱、可充滿威脅性的饕餮來呈現物主的權威，明顯地反射著一個不平等、多階級層次的暴君機制，與銅器時代克里特島的開朗文明截然不同。
即使一百年前大英帝國的考古家堅持他們挖掘的是迷宮暴君的宮殿，從以上的實物來看的話，很多現代考古學者很難應證大英辭典Encyclopaedia Britannica典或歷史家Thucydides「文獻」中所埋伏的謠言。但如果極小心地從河馬名子下經過數百年編輯者增減後的Illiad 與Odyssey去篩選出可能與真實有關的句子， 又大量地檢驗發掘的實物，我們還可以獲得點滴的訊索。這也是為什麼在中國文獻的世界，版本學是那麼一個不可忽略的大門檻！
文字能充分地叙述二手、三手「概念」，但不能取代一手「體會」與一手「經驗」。因此心靈的感通經驗都以直接的方式來表達：音樂、舞蹈、繪畫和塑形的「左腦」世界所形成的「無言詩」。  直接啟動聽覺、視覺、感覺來體會啟發共同感知的一手心靈經驗。這些元素被文明社會歸納成「宗教」與「藝術」，也就是本次研討會所立基的考古學與藝術史之所在。考古出土墓葬品與公私收藏中的傳世品既是我們研究的對象，同時也是精神世界與自然現象的交流經驗幷且最形而上却最具體的精神表現。
 “There is a fair and fruitful island in mid-ocean called Crete; it is thickly peopled and there are nine cities in it: the people speak many different languages which overlap one another, for there are Achaeans, brave Eteocretans, Dorians of three-fold race, and noble Pelasgi. There is a great town there, Cnossus, where Minos reigned who every nine years had a conference with Jove himself.” Homer (紀元前8世紀)，The Odyssey, Book XIX, trans. Samuel Butler. 註：英譯者還是用時代較近羅馬人的拉丁文稱呼Jove，而與原來希臘文的名字Zeus已表現（太長的文化）距離。
Joan Stanley-Baker. The Transmission of Chinese Idealist Painting to Japan: Notes on the Early Phase (1661-1799). University of Michigan Occasional Papers in Japanese Studies 21, Ann Arbor, (1992). ISBN 0-939512-49-1.
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The Anatomy and Physiology of Chinese Painting
And the Pathology of Connoisseurship
Sainsbury Conference on Chinese Painting
At the University of East Anglia
Norwich, UK 12-14 September 1994
Dedicated to Sir Ernst Gombrich, Keynote Speaker
The essay delves into the basic ingredients and living elements that form a piece of art. Beginning with the physical ingredients of brush-constructions, we proceed to the act of brushwielding, and finally enter the state of creation where a Master’s work becomes inimitable and unique.
* * *
Physical Parameters: The Anatomy of Chinese Painting
The time has come to review what has concerned many of us for years, and some of us for decades, in the wider context of World Art. One of the first adjustments we make when talking about Chinese painting as specialists is to don the spectacles of history. We plunge at once into an abyss of antiquity to cite the Neolithic Yellow River dweller who first fashioned the pointed painting brush out of animal hairs. A critical juncture in the evolution of this eastern branch of painting is that the tufts of hair were so gathered as to form a pointed-tip. This brush can and did create linear decorations on earthen vessels that show internal undulations in the line. Some of these lines form endings in clear sharp points, confirming that the ancestral brush was not too different from the implement used in China today. It was not, for example, like the stiff flat brush used for Western oil painting, nor even close to the nondescript watercolour brush with its languishing furs lacking in resilience or a firm point, that is better suited for washes than for sinewy brush strokes.
The Chinese fur-tipped brush, from the start, had a built-in resilience and bounce that gave rise to varieties of artistic expression. This, since the earliest examples, has been the backbone of Chinese painting and calligraphy and, as such, has had an inestimable effect on the entire evolution of Chinese painting down the millennia.
The red, black and white earthen pigments used for colouring the vessels can find parallels in other early cultures. But the Yellow River Dweller’s choice of burnt soot for black ink, and vermilion for red was indigenous and characteristic. The two colours assumed primal significance and since the Xia and certainly the Shang dynasties have become deeply rooted in the Chinese consciousness.
The colour red has special significance not only for the Chinese, of course. But in China, to this day, it has continued to exert a primary significance over nearly six millennia. It seems that red held some sacred if not magical function, at least in the highly structured social context of Shang society. Red was used to write the words of the oracle for divination, for supernatural (if quite frequent) communication with divine ancestors. The pointed-tipped fur brush was dipped in vermilion (a costly mineral containing mercuric sulfide), and the noumenal characters were inscribed with reverence (this can be seen by the fact that the draw of the brush was slow and deliberate). Little by little, the powerful words of augury took form, and a divining question was phrased. Once inscribed in vermilion, and propitiatory spirits having been invoked in the writing, the energized pieces were handed over to the carver who incised the characters with a sharp instrument, etching each stroke deeply into the bony substance for the final trial by fire.
Sacred Attributes of Vermilion in Antiquity
Why was expensive vermilion used for what may be considered only the “underwriting” of these documents?
Red continued to be endowed with significance in writing down through the Warring States period when treaties were inked in vermilion. In fact, throughout history red is used to mark auspicious or remarkable passages within written texts. The Seal of State as well as the personal seal were always impressed in red paste. Here again, this sort of quasi-magical writing – in the invocation of one’s Name – would twist and curve within a red border, in red – or in reverse on a red “ground”.
On the other hand, this colour is never used in connection with death or sorrow (during mourning periods, significantly, seals are impressed not in red but in black) – unless the deceased had enjoyed mountainous longevity past age eighty. Then he or she would have lived a long enough life for everyone to be grateful and happy. Such funerals may be framed as joyful occasions celebrating the triumph of life. And red is often be used.
We may conclude that red was in some way associated with blood, symbol of life. Blood courses only in a living body, and ceases to flow upon death. We can surmise that red had been associated with life, with the living, life force that renders something or someone alive.
To those officiating at Chinese rituals, the divine ancestors or heavenly spirits have always been very much alive, imbued with a palpable presence, a force that is para-physical. To rouse their attention, therefore, the supplicant had to impart an equally vital sense of life. Hence red banners, red writing. Hence firecrackers.
Animation in Chinese Brushwork
This brings us back to the writing brush. Its substantial resilience and its pointed tip enable this simple tool to produce, using different wrist-pressures and by wielding the brush-stem at different angles, all manner of brushstrokes. A single vertical or horizontal stroke can appear to breathe with such unique dynamics, – dynamics that translated into a Western cultural context recall the melisma in a vocalise, – that the trained Chinese eye actually perceives life in it.
In other words, whether it is in the colour, or in the form, a peculiarly Chinese requirement for a piece of calligraphy or painting to be perceived as a work of art, is that it speak of life, and transmits to the viewer a sense of being alive. This is the single criterion that is valued by the Chinese as excellent or desirable, in all forms of art. There are other desiderata that vary depending on the period and, within each period, on the viewer. But the presence of motivating life is sine qua non.
One last ingredient is the painting surface. This material has over five millennia evolved from (slip-painted) earthenware to (lacquer-decorated) wood, to (relief-decorated) cast bronze, (inlay-decorated) bronze, to (pigment-painted) silk and, (ink-inscribed) bamboo slips and wooden tablets, (linear and relief impressed) brick and, early in the first century CE, (ink-inscribed) mulberry bark paper. In each instance the symbiosis of writing or painting implement and surface material so conditioned the product that the appearance of the resulting art forms, painting or calligraphy, underwent radical change with each change of surface material. Yet we can detect throughout this period that essentially rather primitive instinct which continues unabated to imbue the work with life. In an almost magical fashion, the work tends to function as a talisman that has been enlivened by this life-evoking red, spiritually-potent writing, or with ritually-charged images that breathe with life that, – significantly, – transmit to the viewer the same apprehension of vitality, the sense of life coursing through the veins. The viewer experiences a spiritual or energy-transfusion, as it were, and the process of viewing acquires a temporal and psycho-physiological significance that may be lacking in post-primitive and pre-modern Western art.
Anatomically or physically, therefore, we have the implements, the images, and the brush-traces themselves.
The Physiology of Chinese Brushwork
We may also consider the brush arts of China in terms of physiology. If we dip into texts surviving from after the first century CE, we find that from the outset, discourses on calligraphy (and two to three centuries later on painting) refer to these arts in anatomical terms. They attribute to calligraphy veritable physical attributes including gu (bone), sui (marrow), jing (sinew), xue (blood), rou (flesh), mai (pulse), etc. This lexicon established an anatomical basis for Chinese perception of calligraphy and, by implication, a physiological framework for its application. These are the categories by which the strokes, curves, dots and dashes are re-viewed in calligraphy. They are subject to interpretation in organic, anatomical metaphor where the bone-structure of the character, the marrow of its implied or expressed temperament, the energy-tension of its sinew, the coursing of its blood, the resilience of its flesh, and the dynamics of its pulsation, are aspects that involve the viewer in the process of creation itself. By implication the viewer, too, must himself or herself be a member of the writing elite who practices Chinese writing, is experienced in brushwielding and familiar with the amazing transformative power of the pointed brush as it interacts with various surfaces.
It is clear that without a priori understanding of Chinese painting and calligraphy in terms of anatomy and, by implication, physiology, we may miss the essence of China’s ancient and living brush arts.
Moving from taxonomy to function or physiology (thence to quality), we have feng (wind or air), qi (pneuma, prana or breath-energy), yun (resonance, reverberation), shengdong (living and moving), bianhua (change and transformation), leigan (empathy), and the like. These terms come from a sixth-century text that focusses on the magic of painting, the Guhua pinlu (Evaluation of Ancient Painting). Figurative painting at that, where the spiritual presence and energy of the sitter was invoked by means of living brushwork.1_
The Six Laws of Chinese Painting
The central (and most discussed) passages of this brief text are the first two Guidelines, quintessential formulation heading the famous Six Guidelines (liufa). 2_ they are: 1. qiyun shengdong, living dynamism of energy (or life-motion) in empathetic resonance, and 2. gufa yongbi, brushwielding along [organic] principles of bone structure. These guidelines for quality-assessment are not only by comparison less tangible, less concrete than the ensuing guidelines, they function in essence as sole criteria which in China imbue a brushed artwork with value. Loftiness of expression resides in these life-factors: dynamic, psychic resonance or empathy that is channelled to the viewer.
The craft of achieving formal resemblance on the other hand has always been of lesser importance, and comes under headings hardly unfamiliar to Western readers:
3. yingwu xiangxing, formal representation in accordance with the subject.
4. suilei fucai application of colours in accordance with the category.
5. jingying weizhi management and placement [of elements] in accordance with plans.
6. chuanyi moxie copy [good paintings] for transference.
Painting in China, like calligraphy, is perceived (and experienced) as process of becoming. This approach differs fundamentally from a perception of calligraphy or painting as plain image or fait accompli. In the West the Word was with God and the Word was God where the Word, a nominal concept, is equated with God, also a nominal concept, in transference of two relatively completed phenomena requiring no time. It is an instantaneous and eternal equation. But in China the Word, as it were, is becoming God – and we, in watching the transfiguration, partake in the transferring and transforming process through a sort of visceral empathy. Significantly we too, by partaking in this temporal process, become God. We too are imbued with that life force generated by the artist in the process of creation. Unlike Western painting that we view as a completed statement from the outside, as detached observers, viewing a Chinese painting we replay its creation and become party to its evolutionary process. Here too the equation is instantaneous and eternal. But it involves time, experienced as eternity in perpetual transformation, in an eternity that is dynamic.
What we perceive and experience, in a Chinese frame of mind therefore, is a complex of psycho-physiological dynamics. But to the untrained eye, these dynamics may remain undetected and unsuspected.3_
Here I speak of an eye-mind that has been conditioned for centuries by an internalized psycho-physiological exploration of the movements of pneuma, prana or qi. Such movements are generated by the gentlest, subtlest flowing processes within the mind, and they can be initiated by the slightest exercise of will (what the modern Chinese call yinian.) Tremendous internal coursing of energy is summoned by this yinian, but it can also be triggered by the act of watching Chinese calligraphy or painting. The viewer participates, along with the artist, in the creative act and, as it were, paints the picture all over again. At the same time, he enjoys it as a completed work and enters the fluid, ever-shifting space to which the image alludes, and takes an imaginary journey tracing each brush-trace from inception to conclusion, from first to last stroke. Such journeys or empathetic participation were grounded two thousand years ago largely in figurative painting, especially portraiture that brought out the internal spirit or essence of the sitter. Around the 8-9th centuries focus began to shift toward more cosmic concerns where seasons are evoked, acting upon particular terrains, when artist and viewer join in participating in Nature’s creation of landscapes of different types, responding to different meteorological conditions.
A visual experience of such brushwielding creates in the experienced Chinese viewer a resonance that lingers long after the viewing. For in such this type of empathetic, creative viewing, the viewer experiences living qualities.
Let us step back from pat definitions, from idioms we have memorized and repeat without thinking, like qiyun shengdong – and imagine as visitors from outer space might imagine, what the Chinese of fourteen-hundred years ago were trying to encapsulate in this expression.
If asked what we might cite as conditions for greatness in painting, we might imagine the most important thing is to represent a three-dimensional world on a two-dimensional surface, and we might set the principal concern as yingwu xiangxing – formal representation in accordance with the subject. Yet this guideline in China was ranked third of six criteria. We would then ask, “What were the first two conditions, and why were they so important as to be ranked above physical resemblance?”
Spiritual Dimensions Beyond Visual Stimuli
Here we touch on the quintessence of Chinese aesthetics: which may be defined as “identification with living universal forces”. More than resemblance to any thing, it requires that the spirit or essence of the thing be recreated, as if alive. A special condition is that the life force be manifested by qi – personal or cosmic energy (micro and macro). This primary ingredient, qi, an invisible quantity, had long since transcended corporeality – yet reigns as the chief criterion for paintings the impact of which is transmitted through the optical/visual process of seeing. Qi is recognized in China as the causa vivendi, the reason nature’s is alive.4_ Clearly, qi in such a context cannot resemble the chaotic motion of debris flying in a typhoon. Rather, it must be a sequential, serial or pulsating manifestation of an eternally self-transforming energy whose sub-units interrelate to each other in a harmonic, rhythmic fashion.
Thus, in the second character of the first criterion we encounter the qualitative condition, yun. Wave-like energy that must be in empathetic resonance, where one set of reverberations in the universe will cause another to resonate in sympathy, in something resembling Kepplerian Weltharmonik.
So we have on the one hand the raw material of life itself in the form of energy and, on the other hand, this energy’s deployment as manifested in orderly, natural harmony, that is, engendering a sense of order. To put it in reverse, which is the Chinese phrasing, the “ordered series of dynamic life energies must be alive and imbued with motion.”
Put together, qi-yun, individual and cosmic energy that is resonant in harmony, is altogether quite a handful. It seems reasonable to suggest that such criteria can arise only in a highly civilized, complex culture that has enjoyed continued reassessment and confirmation of its values uninterrupted over millennia.
Thus we have a precariously balanced primary condition for qualitative supremacy in which the generative and the conditional are paired, where the dynamism of raw forces are tempered with the seasoned resonance of sympathetic, empathetic or harmonic vibrations.
Particle and Wave or The Chineseness of Chinese Painting
let us isolate the attributes that make a painting Chinese. Indeed, a central concern among twentieth-century Chinese artists has been the definition of “Chinese painting” for our day. Artists are preoccupied with reception of their works in the eyes of an ever wider, ever more modern and ever more international audience. By late twentieth century, it is no longer surprising to learn that one’s work has appeared in journals of far distant lands and is being discussed by strangers in unknown tongues. Many painters now feel that their work should be not only contemporary, but also recognizably Chinese.
These twin concerns reflect the cultural paranoia of developing nations which feel somehow ‘behind the times’, either as if self-worth could be quantified by GNP, or as if intrinsic value depended on stylistic considerations. What matters today to both artist and art-dealer is the image of Chinese art in the eyes of the “more advanced, more developed” cultures such as America or Western Europe.
Reacting to Western industrial hegemony, Asian cultures with relatively long histories like China and Japan have revealed their characteristic differences: while Japan rushed pall mall to assert her ‘modernity’ by hiding her ‘Japaneseness’ in her more publicized arts, Chinese artists took pains to ensure their cultural heritage be largely manifest in their art.
The definition of Chinese painting engendered bitter controversies among these artists, centering on medium and image. They insisted that failure to use traditional media or failure to produce recognizably Chinese images rendered a painting non-Chinese. They would attack an opponent for being un-Chinese because he painted with oils or acrylics on canvas or board. On the other hand, it was equally easy to put one down as antediluvian for painting images resembling traditional landscapes.
In thus defining – and confining – Chineseness, both schools commit the proverbial folly of focussing on externals like “pelt and fodder”5_, missing the inner essence.
For it is this internal life that sheds light on the nature of the artwork, its ethnic roots, and its values. But they can only be gleaned through the work. They transcend and permeate it, but they do not reside on the surface in the medium or even in its image.
Take for example, the works of the Jesuit Giuseppe Castiglione (Lang Shining 1688-1766), painter for the Qianlong emperor of flowers, trees, animals in landscape done with Chinese materials and executed in Chinese court style. Yet in fact, these paintings do not ‘feel’ Chinese. Why should this be so? Painting is the direct expression of an individual’s response to living which, like singing, writing, love-making or cooking, reflect the imprint of his consciousness, and from Castiglione’s paintings we detect no Chinese consciousness.
Why do we know without lab-testing its ingredients or appearance that what we are eating is Chinese food, for example? We recognize it as Chinese even if the ingredients are foreign. Like potatoes, tomatoes or sweet corn (all natives of America). For it is how the artist or chef deals with the materials, what values he assigns to them, and not the materials themselves, and even less their image, which determine the nature of the end product. Sweet corn boiled and served on the cob is typical American fare while stir-fried in its under-developed state with mixed vegetables, or floating its mature kernels in a clear broth with ‘egg-drop’, makes it Chinese.
In painting, how do we find that Chineseness? In painting, as in food, it is not the medium or subject, but the way of seeing, that conditions how an artist’s perception becomes re-presented or expressed in the artwork. And Chinese painting of the past millennia collectively points to a perception of the world that is generated by the notion of change: where change or transformation has been the single universal constant. This change or transformation is in essence immaterial and fluid. Western painting has tended toward faithful representation of the present moment and of the immutable, and appears by comparison corporeal. This was especially marked in the half millennium from the Renaissance up to the late nineteenth century.
To Chinese eyes much of Western painting has the effect of still-life. To them, the notion of learning portraiture by drawing after plaster casts would be as anathema as learning about the human body by dissecting a corpse. Studying musculature through autopsies cannot be more alien from the Chinese consciousness since the Chinese have never been interested in corporeality as such, but have always striven to capture and transmit the vitality and particularity of spirit of the subject (or the landscape, or the fruit or flower). To the Chinese, anatomy has been necessary merely to activate the physiology, but has hardly been of interest in itself.
In close parallel is medicine where in China the study, accumulated knowledge and understanding of diagnostics and treatment are founded on invisible, systemic energies that course through the body in the context of cosmic energies. In contrast, Western medicine is founded on the investigation of individual and separately understood organs. To computer buffs, it is the difference between operating systems that unite the whole and individual data folders that differ from each other in content and function. China’s most ancient text, the Yijing (Book of Changes), reflects a perceptual consciousness of the universe and its principles whose constant is continual transformation, yi. It is not surprising, therefore, that expression of this consciousness informs Chinese painting regardless of material, subject matter, period or style. The single constant is that the work reflects a transformation in energy that is apprehended by the viewer in an experiential manner, transcending image or material.
Knowledgeable Chinese viewers re-experience the artistic process. In superior works this span of creative, generative time of being and becoming is perceived and experienced as transformation, as dynamic, shengdong movement. James Cahill once made the acute observation that Chinese painting is a performing art. This is entirely true, as the Chinese viewer replays the creative process of the artist, from beginning to finish, as in a piece of calligraphy which is read and replayed as dynamic wrist/brush energy-deployment in time and space.
Western painting by comparison appears more focussed, like individual frames in a movie, re-presenting a specific moment caught in a particular slice of time, – but not occupying time. These two modes of perception are two sides of the same coin, one residing in energy and the other in matter. They parallel the twin perceptions of light, one as wave, the other as particle. The Chinese perception, as wave, is concerned more with energy; the Western perception, as particle or matter, may be concerned more with formal content. Matter and energy are, of course, two aspects of the same thing and interchangeable. They appear to us as distinct phenomena because of the difference in the manifestation and our perceptual faculties. When manifested as energy, we can feel it and be conscious of it changing us – but we cannot see it. It is motion that is dynamic. As matter, it is still but has form; we see it and feel it. In this light, when Chinese artists want to paint a landscape, they are not interested so much in rendering the likeness of a specific place in a particular moment in time, as they are in capturing particular dynamics of a season acting upon a certain type of terrain. They wish to present meteorological transformations where cosmic forces – energy – are perceived, and re-presented, as living forces or energy that can affect natural elements like mountains and streams – matter – and where the latter are seen to respond to these transformative influences. Matter in Chinese painting undergoes constant change as a result of the circulation of the energies. Thus while Western viewers complain that Chinese landscapes have no proper perspective, they often fail to see that this is because in experiencing a Chinese landscape we move in our mind’s eyes through the various vistas. The shifts in foci are part and parcel of the ever-shifting vantage point of the roving spirit.
On a microcosmic plane, man as both subject and viewer, is able to move within this interchange between energy and matter, to travel in it and become part of it. In this way man becomes unified with the Way or Dao. The experience is fluid. Our mind, our psychic and spiritual energies, and those of the universe, come together in this psycho-physiological experience of reading a Chinese landscape painting.
The Pathology of Connoisseurship
Identifying (with) the Artist’s Heart-Print or DNA
We enter the landscape and tune our spirit-energy to that resonating in the painting. The result is a process of harmony in rhythms that transcend words or visual images. In this process, matter is changed into energy: our consciousness of corporeality is momentarily suspended and channelled into energy. The same process takes place in us when we become absorbed (or lost) in music, in loving, in meditation, in prayer, etc. We occupy time, and we lose our sense of our finite self and become transformed in communion – in union with experience that has no boundaries.
As the centuries passed, the foundation from which this stress on living motion was perceived underwent several changes in focal point. In the Han dynasty early in the history of empire, focus was on portraiture, on didactic figurative work. Energy was perceived in the subject, especially in the dotting of the pupil. By the Tang dynasty, as portrait reached its apogee, a more philosophical need swung the subject to landscape, and cosmic forces were portrayed, and their energies described in the most minute and moving ways. By the Mongol Yuan dynasty, the focus filtered down to the smallest physical ingredient: that is, in the brushwork itself. External form came to serve as foil for one’s superior brushwork, which was scrutinized at close range as if reading a love letter. And here every nuance of the artist’s wrist – as it were the author’s breathing – came to be reflected on the increasingly sensitive painting surface: the paper that became more and more absorbent with each succeeding century.
And here I would speak of the DNA – or the artist’s “heart print” – xinyin – that inimitable manner of his brushwielding which distinguishes his work from that of all others. From the fourteenth-century onwards, compositions have come to bear increasing resemblance to each other as increasing numbers of later artists worked “in the manner” of progressively fewer ancient masters. As compositional schemata are reduced and simplified, increasing stressed is laid on individual yongbi (or wrist-dance) characteristic of particular Old Masters. And instantly the imitators, especially forgers, stand out in glaring light. For they are not like the best of later painters, copying with love and reverence, or creating variations of, a well-loved ancient composition which activity while largely passive, is kindled by the spirit of love and appreciation that imbues the work with however little, a sense of lie. Instead, forgers merely seek to identify that aspect of an Old Master’s brushwork, to memorize his favoured brush-motif, cunfa, and fill huge areas of his spurious painting with this “hallmark brushwork” so that people will readily identify it, and mistake his production for an ancient masterpiece.
Inimitable Qualities of Individual Old Masters
While it is feasible to imitate outer aspects such as the costume or choreography (medium or image) of a celebrated artist, it is impossible to imitate his or her involuntary characteristics such as breathing, heartbeat – or brushwielding.
From the fourteenth-century on, Chinese painting has been about painting of Old Masters. One sought to reduce their brush-mode to certain typical, readily identifiable manners, and to make variations on them. To take James Cahill’s analogy one step further, later Chinese painting is a “performance art that seeks to create variations on an Old Master’s well-known themes. And here it becomes not too difficult to distinguish those artists who can under such circumstances imbue their work with life, from those who merely perform their set pieces by rote. Thus, for later Chinese painting, it is those very few who had the gift of impromptu – like the great jazz musicians of our day – who become the great originals, while the rest survived as also-rans – or as forgers.
I believe that it is only through this psycho-physiological immediacy and such empathetic reading that we can truly enter the world of Chinese painting as the best of Chinese artists and connoisseurs have been creating and experiencing it. And by keeping our eyes chaste (in the sense that Krishnamurti would have it, unsullied by preconceived notions) that we can identify in later Chinese painting the Master from the forger.
1_ on the living quality of portraiture, we may refer to contemporary practices in certain Indian Ashrams where statues or photographs are through chanting and other rituals brought to life. Unlike the living subject, the living portrait is imbued with a living presence, which can be remarkably powerful. Once linked to the power and the presence of the portrait, the devotee (and sometimes-unsuspecting visitors) is brought face to face with the consciousness and universal power of the subject, usually a highly enlightened being. In this case the devotees have imbued the image with the living energy associated with a particular master (the sitter), energy reinforced by the collective devotion of the gathered monks trained in this type of ceremony.
2_ The Six Guidelines are found in Guhua pinlu (Classification of Ancient Painters) which has been associated for over a millennium with the Southern Qi artist Xie He (active early sixth century). It is a typical reference on standards excellence in the creation (and in the appraisal) of painting, written as much for painters as for the elucidation of collectors.
3_ The Six Guidelines are found in Guhua pinlu (Classification of Ancient Painters) which has been associated for over a millennium with the Southern Qi artist Xie He (active early sixth century). It is a typical reference on standards excellence in the creation (and in the appraisal) of painting, written as much for painters as for the elucidation of collectors.
4_ Chinese recognition of this invisible generative force and acknowledgment of its value above all else, may have had a history of a millennium, and can be found in the early Han text Liezi.
One day Duke Mu of Qin (r.659-621 BC) said to (the famous horse appraiser Sun Yang, zi) Bolo, “You are getting on in years. Do you have descendants [trained in the techniques of horse-appraisal] who can be dispatched to identify the fleetest horse in the realm for us?” Bolo replied, “Ordinary good horses can be identified by their looks, sinews and bone structure, and by their behaviour and posture. But the best horses under heaven are swift and fleeting in their appearance and disappearance, sometimes seeming as though non-existent, and sometimes as if lost. In this way they transcend the ordinary worldly dust and leave no traces. Your humble servant’s descendants are all of the lower order of connoisseurs and can identify merely the ordinary class of good horse; but they are unable to find the best horses under heaven. [However,] there is a man who has been helping me carry kindling wood named Jiufang Gao whose ability in horse-appraisal is not inferior to mine. Would that your liege give him an interview.”
Duke Mu summoned Jiufang Gao and duly sent him off to find the (fleetest) mount. Three months later Gao returned and said, “The horse has been found. It is in Shaqiu (southeast of Pingxiang Prefecture in present day Hebei.” Duke Mu said, “What type of horse is it?” Came the reply, “A yellow mare.” Retainers were dispatched to capture it. The fabled horse turned out to be a piebald stallion. Duke Mu was incensed and summoned Bolo, saying, “You were mistaken! The man you recommended as a connoisseur of horses cannot even distinguish a horse’s colour and gender, how could he possibly know how to appraise horses?” Bolo heaved a long sigh and said; “That Jiufang Gao has reached such a stage in his appraising of horses shows that he has surpassed your servant more than ten thousand times! What Gao studies is the spirit of Nature: he can grasp its fine inherent essence, and overlooks its gross external manifestations. He deeply penetrates the spirit, but forgets external bodily form. He looks at what he should look at, and does not look at what he need not; he sees what he should see, and does not see what he need not see. Such horse-appraising as Gao’s far surpasses mere horse-appraising.” When the horse arrived, it was indeed the fleetest under heaven.
5_ The Northern Song genius, Su Shi (1037-1101), decried modes of perception common to untutored critics who judged paintings by their formal appearances. In his day, the spontaneous kind of painting by scholars was considered ideally created and was viewed in the intuitive, direct experiential way of Jiufang Gao looking straight into a horse’s essential qualities of speed and endurance, forgetting external form. These are the spiritual qualities, qualities that transcend form, physical appearance, and certainly details of gender, all trivia of external ‘reality.’