Painting (extract)
by Jing Hao

I have a few acres of farmland in the depth of Stream Valley, on which I worked for food. One day I climbed up to the hilltop to get a bird's-eye view and then took the trail to Big Rock to descend. The hillside was covered with moss, mist flowing between strange rocks. Then I saw many age-old pines with cracked, moss-grown bark. They are so tall, as if they are reaching for the sky. Their branches hang over the rushing current, and in it exposes their roots. I lingered until I drank in the unusual beauty of the trees. On the following day I came back with my brush. I tried to sketch them right.

In the following spring, I met an old man at Stone Drum, where we had quite an interesting conversation.

“How much do you know about painting techniques?” he asked me.

“I think you are a countryman. Can a countryman know painting too?” I surprised.

“How could you know what I cherish?” he said.

I began to feel ashamed of myself, when he continued, “Young people like you can unquestionably be successful if you are eager to learn. There are six essentials in painting, which are liveliness, pleasing quality, deliberation, scenery, brushwork and shade.”

“Isn't that painting is about what we see?” I asked. “Isn't it be fine to be loyal? How can painting be so complicated?”

“Well, painting is about how we paint,” he said. “We weigh up what we are going to paint in order to express what we think is true. We take the appearance as appearance, the essence as essence. They can't be obscured. Those who don't know the difference may be capable similar in form, but as to be true, they aren't.”

“What is to be similar in form and what is to be true?” I asked again.

“To be similar in form is to be able to have the contour right, excluding liveliness; to be true is to combine liveliness and essence. If liveliness is absent in a painting, the painting is lifeless,” he said.

Grateful for his teaching, I said, “I understand that painting is something for worthies. As a young farmer I take it only as a pastime, expecting no success. Nevertheless, I am indebted to the directions you have given.”

He added, “Don't be obsessed by desires, for which can ruin an undertaking. This is why worthies in the past took handwriting or painting to cultivate a light temperament. You seem an aspired lad, so be persistent and never give up. Here is what the six essentials mean. Liveliness, the first, means that let your hand follow your heart, and don't be misled by superficies; pleasing quality, the second, means developing forms out of their natural state, free of vulgar taste; deliberation, the third, means refining the forms by pondering; scenery, the fourth, means composing according to seasons and appearances; brushwork, the fifth, means allowing strokes flow free, while still respecting established rules; shades, lastly, means to build volumes with natural, seamless brushworks.”

Seizing the chance, I showed him a painting of mine. Then he said, “What's the help of the unusual pines if you don't knowing brush techniques? Now that I have passed on the tricks of painting to you, I might as well give you some model paintings to copy with.”

“I'd like you to be my master,” I said.

“Thanks, you can find me at Stone Drum,” he said and then left.

A few days later I made a trip to Stone Drum, but he was nowhere to be found.

Wang Hui (1632 - 1717)
Landscape after Jing Hao
ink and color wash on rice paper, 32 x 41 cm

Essays on Chinese painting

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