Discussion on painting
by Wang Wei

Yan Yanzhi said in his letter, “Handwriting is a matter of skill, but painting should be as illustrative as Image illustrates Book of Changes.” Well, I think otherwise.

When speak of painting, what we are looking for is nothing but the pictorial form and expression. Even ancients didn't make use of painting to demarcate the boundary of a city, to indicate the direction to an island, to mark the location of a mound, or to map the course of a river. Painting is based on form; what gives form the life is an indwelling spirit; what captures the spirit is the mind. Without spirit a painting is lifeless. Besides, from a fixed spot we miss all there is to see. Thereupon, the painter reaches far and wide for inspiration, depicting the unmeasurable universe with a brush of mere hand span. By taking magnificent Mount Song as the highest peak, immortal Mount Fangzhang as the surrounding hills, square Mount Hua as the foreground, and hillocks elsewhere as the background, a painter's landscape is full of vitality, and joy begins to appear. When movement is realized, life and spirit take place. Finally buildings, boats, carts, dogs, horses, birds or fishes are added accordingly as embellishment. This is how a painting is created.

Seeing autumn clouds the soul rises and flies; responding to spring breeze many a thought rolls along. Isn't it that such an experience outshines the joy we find in melodious carols and precious jade stones? Utterly different from diagrams such as those in Classic of Mountains and Seas, painting is meant to be vivid, so vivid that we can feel the wind blowing through verdant wood and hear the gurgles of rapids running through the uneven stones. What an experience! Divine guidance must have been involved besides artistic skill. This is how painting entertains.

Landscape, 1709
Wang Zhirui
ink on rice paper, 52 x 79 cm

Essays on Chinese painting

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