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The Discipline Of Chinese Painting: An Internal Reflection Of Life & Art

1552 words - 6 pages

When one comes into contact with a Chinese painting, the style is almost instantly recognizable. The attention to detail, craftsmanship, and vast depictions of elaborate landscapes appear to pay homage to mother earth in an attempt to reach a state of eternal balance with nature and life. Before this equilibrium could be achieved, one must attain internal discipline. This was required before one began mastering their brushwork in Chinese culture. In Mai Mai Sze’s “The Way of Chinese Painting,” 1959, New York: Vintage Books, Random House, Sze discusses the philosophy known as Daoism/Tao, or “the way.” Before one became a skilled painter, one trained in the personal disciplines of poetry, art, calligraphy, and internal reflection/achievement. Only after reaching this internal state of tranquility between brushstrokes and idea (ie. symbolism) could one begin the next journey to achieve a state of overall harmony/balance between life and nature. Throughout the centuries the concept of Tao remained relatively constant, though political judgment such as Confucius brought forth the idea of philosophy as a separate entity between religious ideals. This was in contrast with the traditional principle, which consisted of religion as the focal point of life. The idea of balance between nature and man is abstract, encompassing thoughts of a heaven and earth interweaved through mathematics. Sze presents several viewpoints: that of the yin and yang, de, li, and “the way” (Tao). Chinese values teach a way of living and bringing ideas together. This involves deep focus from an early age, concentrating on calligraphy and discipline, which transfers over through careful precision in the execution of brushwork to represent ideas (ie. the depiction of the human figure). Artists can utilize the Chinese/Daoism model even today: through personal-discipline, education in the lessons of poetry, art, and calligraphy one can achieve a state of internal reflection and gain a better understanding of humans “greater purpose” in nature.
Mai Mai Sze presents a logical methodology breaking down the often-misunderstood complexity of Daoism. Sze describes tao “in the simplest sense…path” (The Way of Chinese Painting, 17). Continued, “Step-by-step progress requires care and deliberation and, by extension, careful and deliberate conduct or behavior from an inner motivation.” This journey was not something one could accomplish overnight; instead it is understood as a way of living out ones life to the fullest. This journey was not only into one’s own mind, but also into what surrounds them. Including tools, control of the medium was a necessity, just as restrain over the sensitivity of the brush was needed when writing Chinese characters. A minor error in a character could change the entire meaning of the symbol. Symbols are often associated with Chinese culture. From the calendar year to writing, Chinese symbolism is utilized significantly. One symbol often recognized by the...

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