Understanding traditional Chinese painting

In China, not man but nature was the symbol of the universe. Traditional Chinese painting represented not so much the outward appearance of nature, but the essence and relationships of things in nature.

In the monumental landscapes, man seems insignificant within the vastness, grandeur and infinity of nature. Many plants were painted in the monochrome ink as symbols of human qualities, virtues and morals. In doing such paintings, the
artist expresses his conception of the human nature and conditions. The vigorous discipline of such ink paintings is also a vehicle for the cultivation of such human virtues and spirit.

When painting animals, flowers and birds, the art is to capture the small and intimate delights of nature with its ever-changing moods and activities.

A Chinese painter respects his medium, which is recognized as having a dynamic quality of its own. The unpredictability of the brush and wet ink (or watercolors) on soft, absorbent paper gives this medium an almost magical quality that he learns to be in partnership with but not to dominate completely.

The basis of representation in Chinese painting is the UNALTERED SINGLE BRUSH STROKE. Brush painting is a direct and sensitive technique most suitable for expressing the artist’s perceptions and understanding of nature. Brushstrokes are recognized as having a beauty of their own, apart from their role in representing an object. The painter must therefore seek to apply brushstrokes that are purposeful in abstracting the essential spirit of nature, while maintaining the beauty and integrity of such brushstroke.

— Shantien (Tom) Chow