Comments on painting (selection)
by Shi Tao

In the beginning there are no rules. When one's naivete disperses, rules take place. What are rules based upon? ONE STROKE, the origin of the universe, the root of phenomena, the work of god, and the ability which is born with a man, and which he is unaware of. How do rules take place? Awakening from within the self, ONE STROKE grows into being, and expands into rules.

The beauty of mountains and rivers, the nature of birds and beasts, the structure of pavilions and towers - if someone doesn't get them right, it is because he is ignorant of fundamental laws and principles of ONE STROKE. A journey begins with a single step. ONE STROKE sweeps up every steps of the way to the end of the earth. A painting may consist of millions upon millions of brushstrokes, but it starts and ends with ONE STROKE. How it works is in the hands of the painter. Once he knows ONE STROKE in spite of how, he will be able to realize his ideas with confidence.

When ONE STROKE takes place, all things can be defined. Therefore, I say, “My doctrine is about one.”

Shi Tao (1642 - 1707)
Plum blossom
ink and color on rice paper, private collection

Essays on Chinese painting

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