Paintings through the ages (Extract)
Zhang Yanyuan

Xie He said that there are six principles in painting, which are lively response, forceful brushstroke, fidelity to the object, conformity to coloring, proper composition, and understanding of tradition. He held that seldom someone rounded the whole up.

Seeing painting a matter of deeper interest than mere physical likeness, ancients likely modified forms on purpose for a particular expression. Such a profundity is difficult for the man in the street to understand. This is why my dear fellow painters miss expression even if they catch likeness. If only they had known that expression includes likeness. Paintings from remote ages are succinct, light and refined, such as those by Gu Kaizhi. Paintings from middle ages are meticulous, delicate and flowery, such as those by Zhan Ziqian. Modern day paintings are brilliant and comprehensive. Contemporary paintings are mad and aimless, which we see everywhere.

Gu Junzhi of Southern Dynasty once built a hanging pavilion as his studio. To avoid bing disturbed he put the ladder away once he was in. He worked only in clear and bright weather, never taking the brush on gloomy days. In sharp contrast, the present day painters mix ink with poor taste and blend paint with filth. What a pity! Painters were nobles, hermits and men of eminent goodness from time immemorial, whose creation was adored then and whose name is widely read today. Painting is not the thing that alleyway philistine can do.

Essays on Chinese painting

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