Tam Shek Wing

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Westerners Approaching Chinese Painting

By Tam Shek-Wing

The primary building block in Chinese painting is in the use of brush and ink. Lines and contours are much valued by Western artists, such as the paintings of Van Gogh and Picasso. Because the tools are different, the lines and contours in Western paintings differ from Chinese use of brush. The use of a brush in painting relates to Chinese calligraphy. As a result, painting is like writing. Through the use of ink the character of the artist becomes visible. Being small-minded or over-scrupulous in the presentation of black and white, and light and shadows, impacts the expression of artistic intent. A magnanimous person tends to be more at ease and forgiving. That being said, the outcome still presents a contrast of black and white, light and shadows. It communicates a realm of an artist’s emotions while painting.

The second component is what I said about the realm. A painting that truly communicates to the audience is worthy of the label “art.”  Otherwise, it is only a stockpile of imagery and form. Some may say, painting is an art of the visual. What is wrong with visual composition? This is the crux of the problem. Visual composition is not a pile-up of images. The composition is the realm where the artist is in the midst of the visual expression, this realm also reveals the artist’s state of mind, which is why it also has feelings. If it is just a pile-up, there is no point in discussing the artistic state of mind.

The two issues above allow one to transcend cultural boundaries in approaching Chinese painting.

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