Triadic Cello In Chinese Music 中國音樂裡的三和弦大提琴

Letter to Mr. 陳樹熙 of the Taipei Symphony Orchestra 2008/09.05 – never answered

Dear Mr. Chen,

I address you as conductor of the Taipei Symphony Orchestra as you had so kindly invited me to do after the White Snake performance last Sunday where, by the way, the very jazzy drumming was a most pleasant addition to the otherwise too noisy and repetitious music. The extravagant production was to my mind rather overdone in non-essentials, losing the elegance of sparseness that has usually distinguished traditional Chinese opera productions.

This letter is about importing ‘cellists to “modernize” traditional Chinese music events. It is a disaster to hear the ‘cello doing arpeggios琶音in a triadic三和音 framework to music that is not harmonic和音式 but modal調式的.

I think each of the cellists I’d heard must have had only Western music training and is ignorant of non-harmonic world such as modal Chinese music.

Sadly, it seems that no one in the Chinese groups has trained them to read the traditional gongchi 宮尺notation of Chinese music. And none of the cellists I’d heard has shown the slightest sensitivity to modalities.

On the contrary, each has tried to twist the music of Kunqu崑曲, Nanguan南管, Beiguan北管 or Jingxi京戲into harmonic music和音式節奏 by obtrusively embellishing what they must consider finales or codas結尾, in outrageous flourishes of gliding or even using descending pizzicati 撥奏曲in dominant sevenths七和音. This is because they impose a harmonic西洋和聲音樂式的 resolution in tonic triads三和音. (Resolution “由不諧和音轉變為諧和音”是17世紀以來西方音樂的主柱)

In recent years that I have listened to various forms of Chinese operas I have been driven to distraction each time by the mindless cellists making obtrusive sounds like a “continuo” (巴洛克時期提供連續低音的大提琴), seeking resolution via entirely inappropriate notes like descending in si-la-so-fa-mi, ending a sixth below the last note of the voice. (NB, in endings, the last note sung is rarely really a “tonic do” in its Chinese mode but often a re or la wafting upward in reflex fashion from the more emphatic end note of do-re— or so-la—–.)
But ending a sixth below and setting up the virtual harmonics of a major triad in our ears is completely fallacious! It is reprehensible, even punishable! How can listeners have tolerated the intolerable so silently? Even the musicians themselves?

In all Chinese operatic forms a phrase is never ended in a big post-Bach harmonic triad in a bang, but a mellifluous modal, floating note with a delicious “left-over silence” 餘韻 reverberating in the air long after the last note has died down. Much as Chinese landscape hand scrolls, where islands end in spits over the waters on the left bathed in gentle wash, and the painting continues reverberating for a few inches in quiet breathing space – at least 4 bars worth in music! Never in solid triadic bangs!

Once during a Kunqu performance I nearly rose to shout “Kill the Cello!” Afterwards I approached the leader who said “Nowadays everyone believes we should add deeper sounds to make our music more compatible with the times.”

That is like saying, “Let’s put some heavy-weight chocolate ice cream into our酸辣湯 to make it more cosmopolitan or modern!” What nonsense is this??

Do these musicians only have voices, but not ears? May listeners with ears here seek a voice?

A perplexed and distressed fan
Joan Stanley-Baker

徐小虎 Joan Stanley-Baker MLitt DPhil Oxon
牛津大學博士 中國文化大學 駐校藝術家
11191台北市 士林區陽明山大亨路六巷15號
Artist in Residence, Chinese Culture University
Emeritus Professor, Tainan National University of the Arts
#15, Lane 6 DaHeng Road,Yangmingshan,
Shilin, Taipei 11191 ROC
T +8862 2861 6873 C +886(0)928370357

Only the Unbounded Mind is Infinite
for Once We Draw a Line
We Split our World Forever

Physiology and Anatomy of Chinese Calligraphy

The Physiology and Anatomy of Chinese Calligraphy

Joan Stanley-Baker

Sacred Communication

Since earliest times when humanity began to socialize in tribes for survival in a changeable environment, people became deeply sensitive to the pervasive influences of seen and unseen energies around them, from celestial bodies to meteorological forces of wind, rain and thunder, to spiritual powers of animals and plants. These appeared to possess different qualities and were perceived variously around the world as deities, spirits, daemons, goblins, essences, angels, tribal progenitors or familial ancestors. Early peoples sought from them protection, and devised ways to propitiate, to please them with kinetic rites of dancing, with aural liturgy of chanting, loud blowing on conch shells, striking stone chimes and drums, and with visual offerings of powerful forms, floral arrangements, colourful and often mimetic paintings, etc. They also offered culinary celebrations in carefully prepared feasts, culminating with the libation of living blood drawn from animal or human sacrifices. With each offering of thanks and praise, there were petitions or entreaties concerning the welfare of the tribe, and the oracles would be interpreted by tribe members especially trained for the task.

The Chinese, practical to the end, or from the start, early devised writing for divine communication to ensure their appeals and queries to ancestral spirits were understood exactly, without mistake. Even more to the point, the written word guaranteed a correct “reading” of the answer. In fact, the script as developed in China embodies all three aspects of sacred offering, being a combination of aural, visual and kinetic energies. In its synthetic nature it is unique among writing systems of the world. And as vehicle for divine communication, writing has since its inception occupied a special place in the Chinese psyche.

Since the beginning it was practiced as a sacred art. Ancient mythical kings, heavenly rulers, and ancestral spirits spoke, and continue to speak to the living through calligraphy. As talisman to attract good influences, as charm to protect against evil effects, to nurture wealth and health, calligraphy in various forms continues to this day to be pasted on doors, lintels, worn on the person, carried in the purse, or burnt in trans-worldly offerings. Children are still taught never to sit or step on the written word for respect of the life force contained in the configurations.

Physiology or Dynamic Principles in Time

As hand-written compared to printed script, Chinese calligraphy communicates on yet another, unique level which is psycho-visceral. Many would call it spiritual. For in “reading” a work of calligraphy, aside from lexicographic considerations and the multiple associations engendered by the “message” itself, there is another, more vital channel of communication from artist to viewer that transcends the image or verbal message. This is where the viewer partakes in the original creative process and experiences the very act of the calligrapher’s “ink-dance” in its choreography as well as performance.

Unlike a painting where the viewer may in the mind’s eye roam in and out of the landscape, portrait, or still life at will, a work of calligraphy traditionally begins with the first stroke usually found in the top right corner, and proceeds downward in vertical fashion, with new columns forming to the left. In a knowledgeable reading, the viewer can feel the calligrapher’s every charge of the brush, and replay the wrist- or arm-movement as the brush draws across the writing surface in attenuation, twists around its tip-hairs to create a substantial dot, sinks into itself and backtracks for a more powerful forward thrust, or leaps across the empty gap to land at some strategic angle to begin the next stroke, hook, or new character. We feel the calligrapher’s wrist-weight and poise throughout. For every hesitation, and each nervous twitch of the least finger, a confident, leisurely drawing out, or animated brushing, of a stroke is left – non-correctable – as an ink trace on the writing surface and is readily translated as part of the viewer’s own visceral experience. Such intimate sensation of the artist’s minutest reflexes is like feeling the pulse, hearing the breathing, or sensing the xinyin or “heart-print” of the artist during the creative act.

What we seek in Chinese calligraphy is therefore not merely formal beauty in a composition of a series of interrelated configurations in space, but the palpable, living energy of the process of creation where we follow interconnected brush-actions as they move in time. The entire work, like a “score”, can be “heard” as music (or seen as dance) in real time. We “replay” the music (or reconstruct the choreography), replete with all the dynamic marks familiar to musicians whether legato, staccato, crescendo, diminuendo, rallentando, accelerando, sostenuto, or expression marks like allegro, cantabile, andante, maestoso, or con fuoco. Whereas dynamic marks in a music score are “instructions” to the performer, in Chinese calligraphy the performer is at the same time the creator, and we re-experience the creation and its performance afresh each time. The “dynamic marks” are viscerally felt, and can be deduced by a seasoned viewer. Thus rather than a score it may be more correct to liken a piece of Chinese calligraphy to a record or CD where the music can be played back with each viewing.

Calligraphy as a Visceral Experience

To the Chinese, calligraphy is the physical imprint of the action of inscribing one or a series of Chinese characters. The Chinese script itself has evolved over millennia without interruption and has acquired in the process a rich and complex inter layering of significance and values. This is because of its visual rather than its aural structure. In this sense we may understand the Chinese script to symbolize Chinese civilization itself. And, as inscribed by the calligrapher who transforms inspiration and energy into mass and form, calligraphy symbolizes the quintessence of that civilization.

It is the purest expression of qi or inner energy, and as such, it shares many features with the revitalizing art of Taiji’s qigong or energy calisthenics now being practiced by an ever-growing number of people around the world. For energy is universal in the literal sense of the word, coursing through particular, and controllable channels within the human anatomy, while drawing from the energy that is charging the universe. Ancient connoisseurs admired the energy-flow in calligraphy and felt recharged when “drinking in” an admired piece, in what can only be term a psycho-physiological or visceral manner, as if receiving a dose of qi-infusion from a gongfu master. And, like Taiji practitioners, calligraphers focus attention and energy inward when working for excellence, as powerful effects may be obtained only from a focussed, centred, one-pointed mind. Moreover, it must then flow unimpeded through the shoulder, arm, wrist and relaxed fingers to manipulate the Taiji-sword or the calligraphy brush – as if it were part of the mind. Any mental distraction would cause the muscles to shift, recoil or contract and disturb the transfer of energy into matter, of inspiration into form.

This essential life-process is accessible to all who cultivate inner centredness. It transcends personality notions of good and evil. The ancients were wont to say that one could glean a person’s character in his calligraphy, and point to that of the traitorous Northern Song master Cai Xiang as example of one that never reached the pinnacle of his art because of character flaws. But this is not due so much to moral failings, perhaps, as it may reflect differences in the depth of concentration, the totality of commitment and mental poise during the act of writing, (as in Taiji gongfu), and one may cite the universally admired calligraphy of Dong Qichang, who was in life less-than-admired as a man and bitterly despised as a landlord.

Anatomy: or Graphic and Historical Ingredients

Symbolic Function

The visual impact of Chinese script has always been to engender a potent sense of cognition and recognition. Reading, in its communicative function, is of course the same worldwide. But when written in Chinese, the character for each word emerges in a unique architectonic structure with its own particular combination of structural elements. Each character is a unique image with its unmistakable appearance and wholeness. The script is not primarily aural or phonetic, but a combination of pictographs and ideographs that may (or may not) be combined with elements hinting at a phonal value. It is foremost an image, and as such, of itself a visual symbol. In this sense, encountering a familiar word written in Chinese is more like that of seeing a photograph of someone we know, whereas the same word encountered in a non-Chinese, or phonetic language, is like hearing the sound of that person’s name. Here then, the impact of the Chinese script may be seen to be almost magical.

Thus images of words with auspicious meanings have become beloved ornaments in most homes. Common favourites include graphs for social desiderata like “Wealth”, “Nobility”, “Promotion”, “Longevity”; for nature’s benefaction like water (engendered by the supernatural Dragon) and air (represented by the majestic Tiger); or deified historical personages like the tempestuous but forthright martial hero Lord Guangong, or, in the celestial realm, names from the multiracial pantheon most popular among which are Buddha Amitabha Omitofuo, and the all-merciful deity Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara Guanshiyin pusa, among others. These propitious invocations, once written as characters, take on the penetrating reach of spiritual X-rays. For even more than an external “physical likeness”, they probe the essence of the specific energy invoked.

Structural Principles in Space

Visual elements of Chinese writing mutually balance each other in weight and thrust, and, as evolved into the modern printed form, all characters manage to fit within the same spatial unit, whether consisting of one, two, or thirty-six strokes, as in one, (hu)man, or stuffed nose {editor: nang- last character in the dictionary – unless you find a more complex one!} respectively. Some of the most basic words remain pictographs whose their present foursquare form had evolved from more descriptive ancient origins. “Sun” was a {hand-write these} circle (often) with a dot in the centre; “moon” a crescent with two dots inside; while “bright”, not surprisingly, was built of a combination of the two. “Water” was an {hand-written} S-shaped curve of three parallel lines with the outer ones broken, while “stream” sprang from a similar curvature, but with {ditto} three solid lines, etc..

When looking at an unknown character, the reader instantly perceives a herbal connotation from the “grass radical” (as in xiao, a herb and a proper name); a bamboo-related plant or woven object from its “bamboo radical” (as in its homophone xiao, a vertical bamboo flute); a ritual concept or object from its “ritual” or “altar” radical (as in xia, with a he element to the right, where he means joined together, and the complete character means the combined ritual offering celebrated once every three years with the entire multi-family clan gathered together). Emotional states are composed often with an “upright heart radical” {shuxinpang}, and intellectual concepts a “prone heart” {the heart radical writ in full at the bottom of the character} or “verbal” {yanzipang} radical. Social situations or interactions have usually an “upright human” radical, and animals of the canine family, thus bestial actions, feature a “canine radical”. Compared to a phonetic script, clearly, the visual charge of the Chinese script meets the reader on many more and richly varied levels.

Evolution of Medium and Form: A Symbiotic Relationship

The history of Chinese calligraphy begins with X-, V- and I-shaped lines traced with a pointed brush, in ink, along the rims of Neolithic pottery during the mid-fourth millennium BCE, but their “reading” is still being debated. Some time into the Bronze Age around the mid-second millennium BCE two script-styles appeared simultaneously even though both were ritual in function. Characters of the so-called Oracle-Bone or Divination Script were composed of thin and fairly even lines etched into brushed traces on animal bone material such as scapulae of oxen or carapaces of tortoises.{Editor, want to insert a couple of clear examples? For these and the following “scripts”? Using that character, written in that style, or selecting anything from the NIGENSHA series…}. The original brush-writing appears to have used cinnabar red, an expensive pigment reserved almost exclusively for royal, or ritual functions. But the divination had to be etched into the bone because the reverse side would be indented with evenly-spaced holes which, when subjected to intense heat over a fire, would crack in various directions, linking hole to hole, producing the ancestral “reply” as carved on the obverse side, and which should thus remain legible through the heating. Related in character-configuration but far more opulent in its undulating stroke-widths is the highly pictorial script found inscribed in intaglio (hollow form) on the inside ancient bronze vessels.

The reason for this divergence becomes clear when we examine the respective materials and implements used in their execution. Divination-bone characters are made with a sharp knife carving onto fibrous surfaces prone to splitting. They therefore tend to be “twig-writing” with fairly straight lines incised throughout. On the other hand, bronze inscriptions are the result of casting from pottery moulds, where first a rounded stylus was used to engrave character-forms onto malleable clay still in the leather-hard state. Here it is easy, and natural, for the blunt instrument to turn on itself and create richly rounded indentations in the clay. These markings were made on the observe moulds from which clay core-moulds were to be cast, core-moulds which would during the bronze-casting process be placed on the inside of the combined piece-mould arrangement, to decorate the inside of the final bronze vessel’s lid or body. Core-moulds bear the markings on the outside, in relief form, like present-day relief or “red-character” seals. Finally, through the reverse transfer process of casting, the graceful fully rounded markings emerge in intaglio (or hollow) form on the inside of the bronze vessel’s lid, or on the bottom inside the body. Proliferating in later stages, bronze inscriptions became increasingly longer texts.

As increasing numbers of words came to be used, replacing the clan insignia with historical accounts of clannish exploits, the need arose for adequate spacing of the words. Vertical columns became de rigeur, with increasing need for uniformity of character-size. Thus complex characters with their various protuberances like antlers and grasses began to “fold” or curve inward, creating a remarkable appearance unique to Chinese script. This was called the Greater Seal or dazhuan script. In time the doubled-up curves grew in length and grace, evolving their own majestic if labyrinthine beauty. Well over a millennium later toward the end of the third century BCE, with the first unification and formation of empire, the Lesser Seal script was ordained. This marks one of the earliest recorded examples of political control of the arts, where the First Emperor Qin shihuangdi ordered an empire-wide unification – and simplification of all units of measure, transportation and communication, including chariot axles and the script.

When the versatile bamboo was discovered as a convenient medium for writing, its segments were cut into strips of equal length, lined in parallel and string-bound at the two ends, forming long horizontal surfaces that could be stored in rolled-up form as scrolls. Here the scribe worked his characters within the widths of each bamboo strip, and the notion of “column” was naturally reinforced. Brushwork was limited horizontally but had ample room for creative expansion lengthwise. Indeed, we find the rich black ink graphs on bamboo and wood strips often graced with long “tails” that trail downward forming a bulge mid-stroke, and a point at the end. The scribe is thoroughly savouring the pleasure of drawing his wrist down the length of the slip exerting added weight to press down on the brush-belly causing the swell, and, as the wrist lifts off into the air, for the brush to resume its former pointed stance. Thus was born the so-called “clerical” or li script found in such plenitude on bamboo-scroll and wood-strip documents unearthed from distant corners of the empire’s once vast realm.

With the state expanding and its bureaucracy burgeoning, hapless scribes began to feel stressed by their mountainous workload. In doing their “paper-work” they began to save time by reducing the number of lift-offs of the wrist between strokes or characters, where the wrist usually rises to gain purchase for the next clean attack. This reduction of upward movement caused the brush-stroke to double back on itself, leaving loop-like ink traces of the wrist-motions originally performed mid-air. These came to be called linking strokes, as they linked consecutive strokes, also successive characters, resulting in a fairly cursive appearance. Thus was born the cursive script style, caoshu (often erroneously translated as “grass” script). In developing the cursive manner, many intermediate strokes were eliminated, radically reducing the structural elements of many characters. This became in time so hard to read that officials wrote protests “against cursive script” (fei caoshu) complaining that such scribbles had become idiosyncratic, mostly incomprehensible, and must be outlawed.

A more moderate mode, the “running” or xingshu script, emerged that retained most of the basic strokes while retaining some linking strokes to add continuity and fluidity to the flow. This trend seems to have coincided with the invention of paper around the first century CE, a splendid, fibrous and absorbent medium, unrestricted as to size or shape, being as long and as wide as the frame for the pulp-straining sieve allowed. The new “elbow-room” once more encouraged side-way expansion in stroke-formation. Although silk had long been used for writing in ink, cinnabar or black lacquer, its prodigious costs precluded extensive use. Paper, easily produced with bark, bamboo or rag pulp, quickly became a popular medium, replacing the bamboo-scroll form of bound strips. Here finally, was born the formal or regular script, the kaishu.

Brush-stiffness and Stroke-form

The Chinese brush-tip seems to have been shaped since the earliest Neolithic times to end in a point rather than lying flat along one plane. This allowed from the beginning the play of undulating widths within strokes or lines created by changes in wrist-pressure. The earliest brushes excavated so far already had tufts of hair bound tightly at the thick end, and were affixed to a rod or hollow tube by more string. The hair-tips were thin and short. The resulting strokes similarly, were short, and without too much variation in stroke-widths.

As the tips became longer, sometimes also fatter, brush-strokes began to show greater variety. When calligraphy as an art attained the pinnacle of Chinese reverence as the highest art form around the fourth century CE, brushtip furs comprised mostly of weasel hair, a relatively tough fibre with a strong bounce which the Chinese call “hard” or “stiff”. A major aspect of the expertise and astounding grace of the calligraphy ascribed at the time to the “Sage of Calligraphy” Wang Xizhi was the ability to create a softly pliant, sinuous but substantial “feel”, “touch” or bichu with such tough hairs.

In time the tips came to made of mixed hairs, including the softer hairs of goat. The mixed-fur tip allowed for easier formation of resilient strokes and graceful curves. Toward the latter part of the second millennium CE, calligraphers of the Qing dynasty took pride in the reverse ability to produce a fairly upright and firm feel with brushes made entirely of the white, soft goat hairs. There was especially in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries CE a major revival of interest in various ancient script styles, including Bronze Inscriptions, and a major calligraphy renascence swept across the realm.

Calligraphy Today

Artists nowadays use a mixture of brushes, from the scribe’s traditional weasel hair, to full-blown large tips of goat, rabbit hair, and an assortment of other animal hairs, all singly plucked and bound into various hair-mixtures and shapes. The four masters in the present exhibition have access to all the materials and traditions that Qing calligraphers had. And they are each heir to the richly associative visual tradition of the Chinese script. This is aside from the two-millennia history of Chinese calligraphy itself, with its many masters and script-style exponents.

But unlike the past, calligraphy today is no longer the basic vessel for communication. For the last century with the introduction of pencils, fountain pens, ball-point pens, eventually the typewriter and computer, let alone telephone and internet, verbal communication has relied virtually entirely on these, more “modern” means. Even most shop-signs, large and obtrusive in typical Chinese fashion, are mostly formed with characters off-set from a ready palette of commercial computer-generated “type-faces”.

But for New Years and ritual celebrations where spiritual needs predominate, hand-inscribed banners and scrolls once more flourish in the streets. In Japan more than in China, calligraphy as an art of hand-transmitted energy, continues to hold sway and many artists make a good living creating calligraphy as visually distinctive names for buildings, as decoration on folding screens, sliding doors, fabric hangings on shop fronts, writ-large on vases, plates, even personal attire including purses and scarves. Children continue to take calligraphy classes after school even as violin and ballet lessons have become common extra-curricular obsessions. But in Chinese society calligraphy has become more reserved, less utilitarian, elevating itself to a “fine art.” And as such, it has become even more exclusively a social commodity for cultural one-upmanship. This is in keeping with tradition, since painting, poetry and calligraphy had been “The Three Perfections” among the ancient elite, scholar-statesmen all, who themselves wielded the brush and were more than competent in turning out a good-looking manuscript. But among non-Chinese who love art for the aesthetic experience, Chinese calligraphy as it evolves more and more towards abstraction, is becoming ever more accessible.

We may well ask, then, with calligraphy a less common sight, but with literacy far greater than in the past, do we need to “understand” calligraphy to appreciate it? This is certainly no more the case than in music. The greatest idealist (literati) painter since the Qing, Wang Jiqian (C.C. Wang), and recently himself become a calligrapher extraordinaire, likes to discuss brushwork in terms of music.

Brushwork is like a voice. The painting is like the story which provides the narrative, the message. Those who don’t understand go to the Opera in order to “watch” the battles and the love scenes. But those who know, the aficionados, go with their eyes closed, to hear the singer and follow the voice. We go to “listen” to Mei Lanfang, not to “watch” acrobatics.

Clearly this form of appreciation had its origins in calligraphy, long before it was transferred to the “reading” of paintings. In calligraphy, the ancient Chinese read every nuance in the same way they enjoyed music, following the life-flow as the energy moved, now large now small, now high now low, twisting, swelling, leaping and settling. Herein lies the abstract, but palpable thrill of enjoying Chinese brush art. It has to do with the life force itself, and nothing could be more pure, and at the same time more universal, than the art of calligraphy.

For this reason one need not be conversant with the anatomy of Chinese writing or be able to decipher characters and understand the message. Rather, one need only to “listen” to the brushwork as it moves through time by following its progress in space, and reliving the artist’s creative act. It is like savouring the singing of an opera sung in a different tongue.

Let us consider the Four Masters of the Late-Twentieth Century we have here, for example. Coming from vastly different backgrounds and developing their art in contrasting environments, they have all arrived at a common point of no return in the evolution of their ancient art: they have transcended the utilitarian function of calligraphy and have given full play to its associative, pictorial and compositional potential.

In their own ways, they each explore the rich legacy of their tradition, playing on the meaning of particular words, the visual structure of particular characters, the double-meaning produced by certain imagery. This aspect is relatively new to Chinese calligraphy where tradition has focussed on evocation of certain Tang and Song masters or of more ancient script-styles like bronze inscriptions. Our four artists have China’s long cultural memory at their disposal but individually, and as a “phase” in the history of the art, they are opening up new horizons. Some explore the significance of isolated words as we see here in the works of Wang Fangyu and Tseng Yuho, or they lump the whole into one image – without sacrificing those essential qualities of excellence traditionally demanded of good brushwork, as a superlative “voice”.

On this point, on the criteria for brushwork-excellence, there has been remarkable consensus throughout the two millennia of empire. It is all the more remarkable because no one actually “explained” these criteria in verbal form as essays, poems or colophons, till the very late Qing dynasty when a Manchu artist like Tangdai discussed the problem. But when we check back on preceding times, though styles and contents change, we see that these essential criteria for excellence have remained constant. Tangdai wrote:

The principles of brushwielding (yongbi) reside in control by the heart/mind of the wrist-movements. There must be suppleness within firmness. One must be able to release and withdraw [energy in the brushstrokes] and not be ruled by the brush. Brushwork must be centered, zhongfeng. By zhongfeng I do not mean holding the brush upright. Feng is the tip of the brush: if [mostly] the tip is used [in a centered manner], then touching the [paper] surface, the resulting brushwork will be lively, rounded and mixed, yuanhun, and not dead, wooden, ban. On the other hand, using only the belly of the brush, [with the brush held aslant], the resulting brushwork will be either sharp like carving, or flat. To achieve a powerful expression merely by means of slanted brushwielding will result in [undesirable] angles and corners…

- Tangdai (pupil of Wang Yuanqi), in Huishi fawei (Suggestions on Painting) 1716.

What Tangdai points to is a sense of inner balance, and an inner reserve that does not “show off” with overt gesticulations. Rather, good strokes are drawn as it were will full breath but where little air is actually used, leaving most “in reserve”, etc. These criteria in fact are identical to those for good singing or dancing, where anything resembling “falling off-centre” does not make the audience nervous, but they can remain calm in the knowledge that everything is in the artist’s more-than-adequate control. A dramatic example of the “pure voice” quality of brushwork is C. C. Wang’s 93090817 which bursts with excitement as the brush (moving from the top right corner) begins the piece with a thumping attack of thick, black ink drawn downwards to the right where immediately -piano subito, – it softens and loops ribbon-like to the left and, whispering upward in a northeasterly diagonal like a muted violin, flips the tip back, pulling downward with more weight for the vertical. Here, taking a breath during the soft lower loop with the brush-hairs turned out, the brush dashes tempestuously left toward 7-o’clock past the original left-edge of the space, only to fly back with equal speed and urgency in a huge, scratchy oval that gathers momentum for the next attack – on the left-hand radical of the second character. The breathing, panting, and swishing animation of this work continues unabated to the end. Yet on closer look we see that all strokes are formed with deliberation, carrying each a full measure of weight and inner balance. “Good” calligraphy may look hurried or even frenzied, but in fact is always executed with inner poise and assurance. In 94052618 Wang achieves the visceral effect of the fabled Autobiography inscribed in “raving cursive” ascribed to the Tang monk Huaisu, using only a cheap felt-pointed marker pen. And in 950227 he lets flying furious swirls, forgetting even any formal evocation of Chinese writing, keeping only its primary criteria for brushwork-excellence. With bald daring, he further “colours” the loops and spaces so as to fill the entire space with “positive” significance, leaving no “leftover space”.

Like a gyroscope, excellence in brushwork resides in this inner centredness and assured balance regardless of the apparent “rpm” or axle tilt. This is what the knowing eye searches for, in exactly the same manner as the connoisseur listens to a singer, demanding that the voice be full yet reserved, rounded and not rasping, and no matter how soft a whisper for the finale, that the ending be never deplete of energy or out of “air”.

All four masters delve into the realm of creative play with structural components of the script, rearranging their inter-relationship and ratio with a boldness not previously witnessed in this tradition-bound art form. That is, they play with the history of Chinese calligraphy, evoking the ancient script-styles spawn in different media, now all on paper, using a soft pliant brush, but they also take far greater liberties with the rearrangement of parts. Tseng Yuho, like C. C. Wang, in certain pieces gives vent to sheer indulgence in “superlative singing” and runs pure melismas as it were, of the brush over the paper, without bothering to write any “words” at all.

And like C. C. Wang, Tseng Yuho has long been a consummate master of painting. From large screens to delicate frames, her work has always shimmered like jewels glowing in a poet’s garden. Yet in calligraphy her energy resounds with the power of a mountain and she proves herself a formidable master of this venerable art as well. Brought up in Peking, she had studied privately with Prince Pujin and thus learned the insider’s perspective of imperial art and taste, and the brushwork arts formed part of her earliest experience in appreciation as well as in performance. Her early calligraphy includes metres-long multi-columned scrolls with characters of enormous size, a feat difficult to sustain over any long stretch. After moving to Hawaii she saw first-hand the widely experimental modes of American art, and indirectly witnessed the birth of Abstract Expressionism. With characteristic curiosity,she lost no time in reconsidering her own choices in painting. However, from the start, she chose her own directions, creating her own innovations, not so much in order to please the critics, but to please her own emerging and broadening discernment of beauty. Her creativity gradually evolved into two remarkably separate spheres, where in calligraphy she provides as it were the yang hoariness to complement the ephemeral yin lyricism of her painting.

Wang Fangyu takes pleasure in redistributing the value and relative function of character-parts with specific reference to their respective meaning, as well as the meaning of the word as a whole. Most startling is his “design” for the two characters Baishi (white stone), where the two characters overlap and the whole resembles one large white rock, with a starkness evocative of a Mondrian. He enjoys combining two rods into one form, or separating a single character into two. In huanmeng (Illusory – or chimerical – Dream), Wang creates a labyrinth on the outside, tucking the “dream” inside the right-hand space like a startled Munch face with open mouth, screaming in muffled silence. Or he would pull a phoenix apart into its components wind (above), and bird below. Wang has long been fascinated by the 17-century royalist painter-calligrapher monk Bada shanren, as well as a knowledgeable collector and connoisseur of his works. The upward-staring and attenuated form of the bird-graph pays homage to the bristling energy of the Qing master’s eccentric works. And in his 1980 Turtle he infuses the character for this long-lived animal with hoary antiquity using tough, slow, even strokes in parallel, while jokingly evoking a Western mood by structuring the graph with an apparent one-point perspective, diminishing in size toward the right.

Wang Fangyu’s whimsical renditions are surely enjoyable in their own right, but the pleasure doubles with character-recognition since his work is alive with verbal and visual puns.

Youngest among them by nearly two generations, and a product of Taiwan culture, Grace Tung Yang-tze after a brief early spate in painting has been single-mindedly pursuing the challenges of calligraphy. In artistically conservative Taiwan, Tung is virtually the only one to “depart” from tradition, and to imbue the art with new vitality. Local critics, with little reference to the “world outside” of Taiwan, uniformly mention her “difference” and “newness”. In her work, unlike Wang Fangyu and Tseng Yuho, she avoids playing on a word’s associative image, but seeks resolutely to meet the challenges of each particular group of characters on purely formal terms, thus making of her calligraphy, like C. C. Wang’s, an abstract art like music without words, an opera without a story.

In this sense Grace Tung and C. C. Wang share the sheer delight in spirit-resonance with the ancient masters whose calligraphy was admired purely on visual terms without regard to “content”. Tung loves the play of textures created with different densities of ink, often allowing the brush hairs to splay as they move, creating the impression of wind-like speed; the play of light and dark when varying the water-content in each charge of the brush; and the abstract compositional possibilities for different groups of ancient sayings. Here, like C. C. Wang, she merely uses the “text” as a pretext for brushplay and, living in Taiwan among a mostly Chinese audience, her works have had to communicate as literature. For with her history-conscious audience and she cannot, as Tseng Yuho or C. C. Wang, indulge in the wordless delight of pure calligraphic brushplay. Nevertheless, in spite of, and through, her legible constructions and innovative character-size ratios and com-positions, the appreciation of vitality and energy is a central feature of her work.

At we peek across the threshold into the third millennium since cultural unification, we find in these four calligraphers a common voice that echoes the consciousness of our times. Threatened with planetary disasters, people the world over are beginning to bring to the surface humanity’s ancient understanding and appreciation of energy. Of energy as the source of life. All matter, all mass or form, is a physical manifestation of invisible energy. And here, in transcending verbal communication, these four masters share with us, in their distinct ways, their experience – and the universality – of this energy.



Ancient masterpieces ranged in “content” from the more formal dedicatory inscriptions for particular shrines, palaces and studios, to letters mourning a death in the family, and informal personal notes accompanying a gift of mandarin oranges, or complaining of a stomach ache.

See the modern evocation of this form in Tseng Yuho’s 1996 work in which the moon with splayed legs seems to bounce the sun on its head like a playful seal balancing a ball on its nose.

Note the seething waters in lang (wave) character in Tseng Yuho’s 1992 work, and the play of interactive spirals in the right-hand radical evoking rolling turbulence.

See Tseng Yuho’s work Marsh showing many stalks of “grass” rising from shallow water.

Here we can see that the bottom element, identical in both words, produces the sound, xiao, but the “radical” on top, leads us to the meaning – here arrived at aurally rather than visually.

Here with altar and joined, clearly, both elements contribute to the meaning while neither provides the phonetic value. Purists will argue that the he element is pronounced xia when combined with a “water radical” as well. But this argues for one or the other of these mutation xia characters having followed the phonetic-shift of the other. But this argument still leaves the original sound-change unexplained.

Consider Wang Fangyu’s Si (Thinking) where the heart is stretched out comfortably at the bottom to enfold or encompass the “field” element above.

In her 1996 work Tseng Yuho gives us three examples of the seal script in the character shou (longevity).

Wang Jiqian has been long (if reluctantly) acknowledged as a leading collector-connoisseur of Chinese painting. Since he himself is the product of the Dong Qichang-Wang Yuanqi-Dai Xi- Wu Hufan tradition of Orthodox wenrenhua, I sought to cajole, if not coerce detailed and concrete explanation from him of this mystique, and to demystify this central aspect of Chinese art, one which has for decades kept Western scholars at bay. Fortunate circumstances enabled me to conduct a series of intensive interviews over seven years (1971-78) resulting in an extensive dialogue which has since appeared in Chinese translation as Huayulu (National Palace Museum Monthly of Art, nos, 13 and 15-29, 1984-5). The original English version, which should be entitled What Everyone Wants to Know About Chinese Painting but Never Dared. Ask, due to its question-answer format, has to-date failed to gain acceptance for publication.

Anatomy and Physiology of Chinese Painting and the Pathology of Connoisseurship

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.’

Qi-Energy in Chinese Calligraphy

Qi-Energy in Chinese Calligraphy
©2010Joan Stanley-Baker徐小虎

This paper discusses qi as energy, its invisible deployment in various forms of martial arts, and its more visible manifestation in calligraphy.

Transformation is a universal constant whose interactive nature had been apprehended probably by the Neolithic period when divination was developed as vehicle for communication between man and cosmic forces. The ancient Chinese devised an “Oracle Bone” style script where questions were engraved as ideographs, cascading in vertical columns. From the beginning, Chinese script was right-hand based, moving in response to earthly gravity with strokes leading one to the next in configuration and it was in a steady downward movement that the “writing” of ideas flowed down in columns, differing in basic momentum from writing that moved laterally across the writing surface. The motion of drawing the hand from the column top “downward” and closer to the body, repeated anew with each column, replicates in a way basic movements in qi-deployment calisthenics daoyin 導引that in turn echo the dynamics experienced in breathing in and out as the breath expands downward and expires upward along the torso. It may have been such apprehension of external and internal movements in energy, together with transformations observed in natural phenomena that had so physically informed Chinese writing, it would seem, since its genesis.

By significant coincidence, the brush used during the Neolithic to paint on pottery, and later to inscribe divination texts prior to engraving, was constructed with a pointed tip, essentially like the brush used to this day. Here longer hairs envelop a shorter core so the outer hairs gather to form a pliant and pointed tip, releasing visual possibilities unfeasible with a hard stylus. With the pliant and pointed tip, stroke- formation gained infinite varieties, capable of changing widths, becoming angular or rounded, long or short during any movement, and being pointed or blunt at the stroke’s end. Brush movement resembles in ways the varieties in human breathing and, on a more subtle plane, echoes various processes in the inner deployment of qi-energy, most notably in singing where, like Chinese brushwork, the voice can be rounded or sharp, full or raspy, mellifluous with many curves or majestic in long slow phrases. It can be ℃ in percussive strokes, or legato in continuous unbroken lines. In short all the musical indicators can be seen in Chinese calligraphy. And in singing, as in calligraphy, it is not mere air that is deployed, but qi-energy generated in the diaphragm.
To this day many confuse this energy-qi with mere breathing. But the distinction between the two forms of qi, one external and heaven-made or qi as cloud or air that once inside the human body involves expiration huqi呼氣、and inspiration xiqi 吸氣 , takes place mainly in the lungs and windpipes.
There were gradual shifts in the configuration of the ideograph for qi, reflecting changing apprehension of its nature and function. The earliest ideograph for qi was simply three horizontal strokes referring to clouds.

By the first millennium BCE during the Western Zhou period (1066-771 BCE ), the bottom stroke bent downward at the end, forming what eventually came to be taken as an enclosure. In the Warring States Period (475 – 221 BCE), the fire element appeared inside this enclosure, possibly referring to the heat that can be generated when deploying qi as energy. And by the early Western Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 24CE), a new character for qi appeared that changed the ideograph for cloud above into ji 旡 meaning intestinal gas but more probably used as it may then have been, a homophone for qi, and reconfiguring the fire (huo 火) beneath into its more streamlined particle form of four dots; Thus we have qi now as a combination of ji and huo “gas + fire ” 炁 – that has continued to be used more specifically when referring to qi as man-produced energy. On the other hand, the ideograph for natural, heaven-made qi, i.e. the pulmonary and meteorological natural air continued in its simplest form气, and the most modern form, filled with the rice (mi米) element 氣, has come to mean both air and man-made qi to this day.
Of all the ancient cultures cognizant of the uses of bodily energy in consonance with the universe, those of India and China have remained essentially unbroken over the millennia and have managed to retain from deep antiquity elements of the most primal deployment of the internal forces where they have been passed on in uninterrupted transmission of practices and experiences from generation to generation. On the most subtle level this same energy is apprehended in different forms as contemplation, as meditation, as divine revelation, as enlightenment or as consciousness.
By the 3rd to 2nd centuries BCE the Chinese systematized their understanding of invisible phenomena including the coursing of energy in the body, identification of certain meridians (jingluo 經絡) along which qi “followed the flow of breath and led the flow of blood,” where breathing, qi-energy, and blood-flow functioned in this order in psycho-physiological callisthenic activities called daoyin 導引 (precursor to the more modern term xingqi行氣、or qigong氣功). But since all this pervasive qi 炁 has not yet been quantified or published as science, it remains little understood in the West and continues to be avoided as superstition by many otherwise educated Chinese as superstition. However qi is a most familiar concept in Chinese culture and thrives in anecdotes, perhaps I should introduce some here.
When at the Needham Institute in Cambridge I asked Joseph Needham (1900-1995) when he would compile the “First Book” in his monumental series Science and Civilization in China, which should be on qi-energy – source of all life, thus of science or civilization… He laughed, “I will do that as soon as you give me the measurements of this qi. Does it have weight, form, speed or direction? Give me the measurements and I’ll start on your book.”
On a different occasion at National Taiwan University, I asked our taijiquan太極拳 teacher, Master Chen Qukuan陳取寬, why martial art films never showed people doing Taijiquan. He said, “Because using taiji energy there is nothing to see. You kill your opponent with no visible movement.” I did not believe this and suggested he try his lethal force on me, without its full potency so I could survive to describe it. Then, after much hesitation, Master Chen thrust his thumb into my side at the waist twisting it once, and walked away. Feeling nothing, I laughed. But not for long. For after a few minutes my heart began to pound vehemently. The others looked on in alarm, saying my face was turning beet red; I felt perspiration beginning to ooze profusely from all my pores. That was the more obvious part. On the subtler side, I began to feel from the spot where Chen had inserted his thumb, what felt distinctly like a “physical object” the dimension of that thumb, moving slowly but powerfully, twisting inside my body. It was gradually but steadily moving upward from the starting point, pushing aside visceral organs in its path as it wound its way spiraling irresistibly, turn by turn – towards my heart! Ah! I realized, if it had been a bit faster and more intense, that thumb’s qi would have reached and punctured my cardio-ventricles! “There! I feel it, I feel it!” I shouted with glee.
On that same night in a sparring of wooden swords, the tip of Master Chen’s sword accidently lightly grazed the hand of one of the sparring pupils. It instantly caused on burn on the back of his hand, so severe that others sent him immediately if quietly to hospital. The sword tip however had no signs of burn. This is because it had functioned as conduit of Chen’s qi energy, and not its target. Master Chen later said, “Too bad I didn’t know he’d got hurt. With another use of qi I could have neutralized the burn.”
Yes, Joseph Needham! Qi does manifest as mass, weight, direction and velocity! Yes, even heat (fire)! But how to measure these? This problem challenged many faculty of the Psychology Department at Taida in those years (1980-82) when researchers were trying hard to find proper instruments to measure qi. They were working together with an enthusiastic visiting scholar from New York, Professor Li Ching-tse李清澤who came to Taiwan, like myself, to fathom the nature and feel of qi in its different manifestations, in qigong, sword-dance, calligraphy, singing, etc.
We have learned that when wielding the pointed pliant fur-tipped brush or when wielding the sword whist deploying qi, the brush and sword become extensions of the body, serving as external conduits of the wielder’s qi-energy. But precisely how this happens has not been described in modern literature, and our understanding of these phenomena, when untrained, remains unclear.

This is not so, however, in calligraphy. Chinese texts from the late first century of the modern era offer descriptions of dynamic life forces living in the cursive script (at the time inscribed in vertical columns onto bamboo and wooden slips subsequently bound with strings into scrolls). The first surviving text on the vibrancy of Chinese calligraphy praises the abbreviated cursive script with reduced stroke-counts and fine links made without lifting the brushtip between strokes. This is the Caoshushi草書勢 Dynamics of the Cursive Script by Eastern Han scribe Cui Yuan崔瑗(78~143 CE). A plea for simplification of the official writing required of public servants and scribes, Cao condemns wasting time writing out complex character-configurations of the then formal script (the clerical lishu 隸書), speaking lyrically on the life and beauty generated in cursive configurations. In part he says,
In appearance, bowing down or arching up, (the cursive script) exudes deportment and dynamics. Neither perfectly round nor regulation square, pressing toward the left and lifting at the right, it appears to tilt, like a beast raising a paw or a bird hunched up before taking flight. It is like a startled hare, just about to flee but not yet run. Some black dots resemble strung pearls, the strokes are finished but fine ink traces link them. Lofty ideals, long pent up, produce gloom and despair but once released, create strange and marvelous sights, like the fearful and tremulous shudders when approaching the deep and profound, or gazing from a very high place when facing dangers all ‘round. And the sideways dot sticks close to the body, like a praying mantis hugging a branch. When a stroke is completed and its energy withdrawn, there will remain entwining ink filaments. Some resemble toxic vapours released from mountain peaks traveling along the rifts. Some resemble a serpent crawling into its cave with its head thrust deep inside and its tail still hanging out. Gazing at them from afar, their devastating power resembles tumultuous foaming waves crashing against shore cliffs. Examined from up close, not a stroke can be moved (without destroying the essential structure and beauty). Their miraculous nature is most subtle.

Metaphors in this text all refer to vibrant, bristling life-forms, of immanent motion, of animals in recoiled momentum(shi勢)just prior to the pounce. The tensile strength of the brush stroke is experienced in its fully living three-dimensionality, much like our inner strength as when considering the serpent’s tail hanging from the cliff-hole, coming to a point but full of energy and life and readiness to strike. It is not a “brush stroke” but embodied energy with inner strength and suppleness. In short, brushwork to early scribes was imbued with dynamism and energy no different from that felt within the body coursing along the meridians and elsewhere when deploying qi in calisthenics when qi is generated in myriad forms and directions, to fulfill diverse functions. Even though surviving as the earliest text, Cao Yuan’s short document is mature and graphic in its description of the vibrant and dynamic power of calligraphy and, indeed, all subsequent writings on the Chinese script-forms are in one form or another an echo of this hymn to cursive writing.
In martial art meetings we can see the effects of qi when an attacker’s physical force is returned, and sometimes increased, by the taiji practitioner who transforms it into qi-power. The latter exerts very little movement. All we see is his seemingly immobile stance – for he has “rooted” himself, through his qi, to the ground and thus made himself immovable like a heavy tree. The Taiji practitioner takes the attacker’s powerful punch (produced by bodily, that is muscular, force) by yielding his own torso in the direction of the punch, going with the thrust and reducing its impact on his body. Filled as it is with qi his body is rooted to the earth like a mountain, at the same time, he transfers the attacker’s momentums to the other side of his body which he may then lean into the attacker, or from which he may gently throw out a soft hand onto the attacker, forcing the latter to tumble backward several steps. It is true that we cannot see the qi energy flow the way we can see the muscular punches fly out from shoulder to fist to the opposite’s body, but we can only see the effects of qi deployment, as when the attacker falls back from the immobile taiji master. In calligraphy, we may experience the brush strokes as traces of energy flowing, at different rates and angles in time, and from these brush traces we re-experience the weight of the writer’s wrist, the speed of the draw, his thrusts, pauses, extensions, hesitations and finishes the way we read skid marks on the road and re-visualize the nature and intensity of the car accident.
Calligraphy (and similarly Chinese painting) comprises traces of the brush as it moves along the (wood, silk or paper) surface. It can be viewed like skid marks, traces of movements that clearly indicate their energy (weight, intensity, direction, speed as well as pauses) during the movement of the vehicle. More than the skid marks tell us about the state of mind of the driver whilst driving his car, calligraphy reveals the state of composure and concentration of the artist during the execution of the various strokes in his characters, columns and compositions. It is for this reason that calligraphy is the most intimate, the most naked revelation of an artist’s psycho-physiological or spiritual state. This is the reason the ancient Chinese used to say that a person’s entire true character is revealed in his calligraphy.
We can see how the aging Shen Zhou (1427-1509), for example, even in his sixties, remained completely diffident when wielding the brush in writing his calligraphy, how he enjoyed drawing down the brush in long strokes to the lower left (doing pie撇strokes) or lower right (in the na捺strokes), how unwilling he was to end such strokes and lift up his brush. His genuine works in calligraphy would thus be marred by the unevenness caused by these over-extended sidelong swipes, slowly and lovingly relished. This is rather like some singers who enjoy the ringing energy that charges their whole being when singing a high note, and would linger there releasing their qi in vibrant sound, far longer than the music had indicated. Or when we enter the world of genuine calligraphy by the Yuan master Wu Zhen (1280-1354), we sink into the rich, deep stillness that draws the unctuous dark ink downward through the silk or paper as if down onto the earth. Here the brush energy is directed inward, downward in weighty, fully charged strokes that at the same time recoil from the surface, yielding to the expanding space that envelopes the whole. The pace is much slower, the wrist far more weighted, and the focus converges within, the energy is centered inward, neilian內斂.
These characteristics pertain to the individual artists, but some of them I believe reflect the general movement of their respective times, informed by the gradual but continual transformation that art historians call period style. The transformations manifesting in the structure of the tools, the paper, ink, brush and artworks, revealing the emergent spirit of each phase in cultural evolution, all respond in synch to this constant, this eternal Transformation. In this light we may re-view a famous calligraphy scroll ascribed to the Tang dynasty monk Huai Su 懷素 (725~785) , ostensibly his autobiography. But here the brushwork is glib and superficial, gliding without friction over the paper surface in speedy circular right-hand turns in an energy deployment entirely at odds with ink traces found on Tang, Song or even Yuan calligraphy and painting. For these are in comparison notably more heavy and ponderous, even as we find them on excavated pottery. Here may be an indication of a gradual transformation in calligraphy of qi wielding as reflected in the brush traces, and by studying the interrelationship we may in time uncover the methodology for dating calligraphy works.
Tracing the evolution and transformation of qi deployment as manifested in various cultural art forms through the ages like taijiquan, qigong, sword dancing, calligraphy, qin–playing or singing, has not yet become subject of wider popular research, but should prove immensely rewarding toward our deeper understanding of art as part of the cosmos in transformation.

The text survives in the biography of 4th century official Wei Heng衛恒(220~291), which can be found in juan 44 of the History of Tsin or Jinshu《晉書》in the Official Histories. The original text reads: : 書契之興,始自頡皇;寫彼鳥跡,以定文章。爰暨末葉,典籍彌繁。時之多僻,政之多權。官事荒蕪,其墨翰;惟多佐隸,舊字是刪。草書之法,蓋又簡略;應時諭指,用於卒迫。兼功並用,愛日省力;純儉之變,豈必古式。觀其法象,俯仰有儀;方不中矩,圓不副規。抑左揚右,望之若欹。獸跂鳥跱,志在飛移;狡兔暴駭,將奔未馳。或點,狀似連珠,絕而不離。畜怒怫鬱,放逸生奇。或淩邃惴栗,若據高臨危。旁點邪附,似螳螂而抱枝。絕筆收勢,餘綖糾結。若山峰施毒,看隙緣巇;騰蛇赴穴,頭沒尾垂。是故遠而望之,漼焉若注岸奔涯;就而察之,一畫不可移。幾微要妙,臨衛恒事從宜。略舉大較,仿佛若斯。

A Glimpse of the Divine 敬中谷芙二子

For Nakaya Fujiko

Beauty’s but a glimpse
of the Divine
that sparks our very being
though oft in hiding

Art is Beauty
with or free of form
It lifts the soul
to heights inspiring

True art is experience
that lightens the heart
No series of objects
that weigh down a cart

A full life flows ever
illumined in beauty
to light the world within

The void life holds still
expensive collections
to dazzle those without


Joan Stanley-Baker
18 December 2009

書畫斷代鑑定重建 國立臺南藝大 藝術史與藝術評論研究所碩士論文


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