Ancient Chinese guidance


Dear Artist,

Yesterday, Faith Puleston of Herdecke, Westphalia, Germany, put me onto an eleventh century Chinese landscape painters’ biographical collection from the Northern Sung periods. By a Western calendar, we’re talking 969-1279AD.

“In an era when painting was a form of meditation (and still is for many) and therefore a spiritual occupation,” wrote Faith, “the observation of instructions was probably a matter of course. What do you think about ‘The Twelve Things to Avoid in Painting'”?

To avoid is a crowded, ill-arranged composition

Far and near not clearly distinguished

Mountains without Ch’i, the pulse of life

Water with no indication of its source

Scenes lacking any places made inaccessible by nature

Paths with no indication of beginning and end

Stones and rocks with only one face

Trees with fewer than four main branches

Figures unnaturally distorted

Buildings and pavilions inappropriately placed

Atmospheric effects of mist and clearness neglected

Color applied without method

I’m guilty on all counts, Faith. Thanks for that. Apart from the formalized rigidity of it all, nothing much has changed, has it? For “stones and rocks with only one face” I’m going to suffer indefinitely in a wet Chinese dungeon. Also, I’m rather fond of “paths with no indication of beginning or end.” Aren’t you?

And what about Ch’i? I know for sure I often forget to put it into my mountains. Ch’i (generally spelled “qi”) means “energy flow.” It’s the life process that sustains living beings in many Asian belief systems. One of the earliest conceptions of Chinese thinking, it has influenced Asian medicine, meditation, feng-shui, martial arts and many Eastern and Western philosophies. When it comes to painting mountains, an artist might think of the force and spirit within the monument. In painter talk — the flow of the glacier, the lie of the snow, the tumble of rocks, the slide of the scree and the majesty of the mist all contrive an anthropomorphic power within. As a matter of fact, I’d like to talk about some of this stuff with Confucius. Being part of the often dishonoured Brotherhood and Sisterhood of Creative Folks, maybe he’ll be in the dungeon too.

Best regards,


PS: “There is a power in everything; it is the job of the artist to determine it and express it.” (Mencius, 372-289BC, follower of Confucius, 551-479BC)

Esoterica: Ill-arranged compositions are, of course, a matter of cultural norm. That being said, the spaciousness and paucity of a lot of Asian art has had an effect on Western painting, particularly the Moderns. Traditionally complex and cluttered Renaissance compositions bumbling with voluptuous pulchritude offered a mind-bending challenge to painterly technicians. In the meantime, and for the previous thousand years, bearded sages on the other side of the world followed directions and meditated with the help of a Sumi brush on rice paper. A pass through a few contemporary galleries shows many Western artists now turning East.


East meets West
by Martha Faires, Charlotte, NC, USA


“Summer Neighbor”
pastel painting
by Martha Faires

I recently read Arthur Wesley Dow’s Composition: Understanding Line, Notan, and Color, which, as the title suggests, promotes some concepts from Oriental art. When I mentioned the book to my artist son, a sculptor, he was a little wary, thinking it might stress only simplicity and ying and yang. But it was much more (no mention of such things as ying and yang or qi). Dow used a lot of design ideas from Japan to illustrate concepts from the best of oriental design without belittling more traditionally Western ideas. Having studied under the strict discipline of Chinese watercolor painting in Taiwan and loving the traditional art of my Carolina heritage, I found the book a real lift in putting the two loves together.

There are 2 comments for East meets West by Martha Faires

From: Nina Allen Freeman — Aug 26, 2009

I usually think when someone makes a comment about my painting like, Your paintings are so sad, that it says more about the viewer than it does about the painting. Everyone brings his or her own experiences to bear when looking at a painting and if your paintings make that person feel sad it is not your fault!

From: Nina Allen Freeman — Aug 26, 2009

My apologies to Martha, I intended that comment for the letter below.


Unraveling the poetry of the soul
by Georgianne Fastaia, San Francisco, CA, USA


“Barns midday”
oil painting
by Georgianne Fastaia

Recently, a mother at my daughter’s preschool said to me, “I saw your paintings. They’re so sad.”

I thought, They are of people… of course they are sad. My joys are equal only to my capacity for sorrow. In this deep well are the waters in which I swim to meet a shining and vibrating light, my constant companion through long nights. The job of the artist is to translate with conviction and clarity the inchoate longings we all feel for that which is authentic and true: to unravel the poetry of the soul.

“Like a saint’s vision of beatitude. Like the veil of things as they seem drawn back by an unseen hand. For a second you see — and seeing the secret, are the secret. For a second there is meaning! Then the hand lets the veil fall and you are alone, lost in the fog again, and you stumble on toward nowhere, for no good reason!” (Eugene O’Neill, Long Day’s Journey into Night)

There are 2 comments for Unraveling the poetry of the soul by Georgianne Fastaia

From: Darrell Baschak — Aug 25, 2009

Georgianne, your painting is extraordinary, it is apparant that you have the wherewithal to paint your inner most visions.

From: georgianne — Aug 25, 2009

ty for your comment. I fought the urge to edit myself, “I sound full of myself!” But it takes some helluvan ego to work through the nights,in solitude and cold, wearing 2 pairs of socks,flannel atop flannel, digging canvases out of freepiles, and any paint I can get my hands on. I have no training but all convictionn as I struggle to translate the deeply felt things using the language of paint: color,line,texture and form. Can the artist convey a broken heart if you get the gesture just so? The sadness one feels going home that suddenly rushes into your lungs as you pass an old barn fading into a midday sun, the air hot hot and buzzing with cicadas. my words could not more aptly tell you my life. thus i am, full.


Distortion of figures
by Kathy Legg, Lethbridge, AB, Canada

The rule about “figures unnaturally distorted” struck me as ironic, having last year viewed the thousand or so works on offer from all over Southeast Asia at a huge art show in Hong Kong. It seems the Chinese artists, especially, are currently very keen on figure distortion, especially facial distortion and enormously exaggerated emotional expression with a striking (and also ironic) coldness in the rendering. The old rules probably had some merit, if my reaction to the current offerings is anything to go by. I was intrigued.


Breaking the rules
by Dorenda Watson, Columbus, OH, USA


original painting
by Dorenda Watson

I have a belief that, when beginning the process of painting, you must learn all of the rules (and practice them diligently)… but to be successful at painting… you must then break them. I know that one of my students is ready to move on when they begin fighting me on all of the “rules” of painting that I initially teach them. It is at this point that they are ready to begin their journey as a true artist… and I must let them go without suggestion or interference and allow this growth of mind-set and independent thinking and style. How else can one stand out among the thousands upon thousands of artists that exist without this straying from the conventional?

“Rules” are just the starting point of the learning process.

There are 4 comments for Breaking the rules by Dorenda Watson

From: Linda Mallery — Aug 24, 2009

Loved your frog.

From: Russ Hogger — Aug 25, 2009

It’s funny I was thinking of submitting a comment to the effect of “breaking the rules” but I’m holiday right now and I ran out of time. Thanks for your comment, I couldn’t have said it better myself.

From: Helen Opie — Aug 26, 2009

Rules are for helping you get out of trouble after you’ve got into trouble AND don’t know why…and also successfully breaking rules means you have become aware of what you want to do as a painter. And Dorenda said it better.

From: Dorenda Crager Watson — Aug 26, 2009

Many thanks fellow artists! (Now…go have fun and break some rules!) :)


‘Qi’ in a world free of rules
by Jeffrey Hessing, Nice, France


“The West Wall”
original painting
by Jeffrey Hessing

The one thing I love most in painting is that there are no rules. Technique, by my definition, is a few simple methods to keep your painting glued to the canvas for centuries without cracking, discoloring or falling off. The other rules are general principles of picture making, composition, color harmonies etc. The wonder of it all is that for every rule there is someone who has broken it successfully and whose work is great partly for that reason.

As for “qi” if we call it “life force” it is the key to everything. It is the underlying quality which makes every masterpiece, from Rembrandt to Rothko, great. When the artist puts his “qi” into the inanimate elements of paint we see greatness.


Wisdom of Lu Ch’ai
by Charles Peck, Punta Gorda, Florida, USA


“Alan Rubin fishing”
acrylic painting
by Charles Peck

Your letter brought to mind some sayings of an old Chinese brush man that have stuck with me since I first read them. I always mention them to my private lesson Art student/clients because they have kept growing in meaning. They are sort of like that old saying “Draw like you paint, paint like you draw,” which I thought was some kind of inscrutable Art Koan when I first heard it but now seems to sum up all serious thought on actual Art production. Here are a few of Lu Ch’ai’s sayings:

“You must learn first to observe the rules faithfully; afterwards, modify them according to your intelligence and capacity. The end of all method is to seem to have no method.”

“Among those who study painting, some strive for an elaborate effect and others prefer the simple. Neither complexity in itself nor simplicity is enough.”

“Some aim to be deft, others to be laboriously careful. Neither dexterity nor conscientiousness is enough.”

“Some set great value on method, while others pride themselves on dispensing with method.”

“To be without method is deplorable, but to depend entirely on method is worse.”

(Lu Ch’ai (Wang Kai) 17th century Master of Chinese brush painting)


The How and Why of Chinese Painting
by Charlene Lau Ahier, Paris, France


charcoal drawing
by Charlene Lau Ahier

Eastern philosophy as it applies to painting can hardly be summed up, let alone judged by a list of “Twelve Things to Avoid in Painting.” The following is an excerpt from Diana Kan’s book on The How and Why of Chinese Painting, and provides an overview:

“Chinese painting is much more than meets the eye. Of course, the pictorial content of the composition can be easily read, but unless its inner and symbolic meanings are recognized, the whole painting will have been only partially seen and partially enjoyed. Underlying the apparent simplicity and harmony of the composition, and the aura of serenity, there is first of all a philosophy, one that sees a unifying pattern of life in all forms. This unity is based on the belief that the forces of nature oppose and equalize each other so that, despite fluctuation and change, there is always an overall balance and continuity…

“The consequences of these philosophical thoughts are many. The artist must express both the pervasive spirit of vitality and renewal and the eternal harmony and order implicit in nature. Therefore, the painter finds in every natural form, no matter how insignificant, a sense of loftiness and purpose; he celebrates the simplest things on earth as representing continuing life. This attitude is evidenced in all aspects of painting — choice of subject matter, simplicity of composition, and manner of execution — and it is part of the continuum of Chinese painting.

“Art in China has evolved from centuries-old beliefs and traditions. It does not exist for art’s sake alone but is an outgrowth of living. The early gentlemen painters were in fact distinguished scholars and literati, who turned to art as an adjunct to their other careers. They had the cultural background for mature, philosophical thought, and their artistic sensibilities had been heightened by long nurturing of an appreciation for beauty and harmony…

“These early poet painters were intoxicated with the immensity and harmony of the universe. It was a universe in which every natural form was kin and each individual form had the power to communicate not only its own essence (li) but that of life itself (Ch’i). To transmit this quality of life, the brush itself must be infused with spirit. ..Without the quality of Ch’i, without a sense of vitality in handling the brush, the painting will be lifeless, regardless of correct technique. The intangibles of insight and feeling are still fundamental to the artist; perfection in brushwork cannot be achieved without them.” ( Diana Kan)

As in Western painting, a certain grasp of technique or, as you say, “formalized rigidity” is required by an artist to produce artwork with any sort of merit. Perhaps it is more worthwhile to consider as guiding principles, however, the Six Canons of Chinese painting, referred to by Ms. Kan in her book:

The Six Canons

1. Ch’i-yun sheng-tung: Spiritual quality generates rhythmic vitality.

2. Ku-fa yung-pi: Use the brush to create structure (bone manner).

3. Ying-wu hsiang-hsing: To establish the form, write its likeness.

4. Sui-lei fu-ts’ai: Apply colour in accordance with nature.

5. Ching-ying wei-chi: Plan the design with each element in its proper place.

6. Ch’uan-i mo hsieh: Study by copying the old masters.

Of course, it would be difficult (and perhaps fruitless) to critique a painting based on these guidelines if it was not painted with this philosophy in mind. At the root of this philosophy is a belief that the virtues of the artist himself are transferred to the subjects he paints (if the artist considers humility in life style more desirable than self-seeking). “Whatever the form or tone, the stroke has spiritual as well as physical dimension and content. A brushstroke is the artist’s touch, the artist’s will, exercised on paper, and according to his skill and concept, the stroke will be intoxicating and life-enhancing or dull and flat.” (Diana Kan)

The Western world has always prized originality and nonconformity, but I find some of the most powerful images in the western world to be Byzantine icons, which were created in accordance with very strict rules and an abiding belief in Christian theology. The heights of artistic achievement have only ever been achieved, in my humble opinion, where there exists a higher purpose.

There are 2 comments for The How and Why of Chinese Painting by Charlene Lau Ahier

From: Eleanor Blair — Aug 24, 2009

Charlene; thank you so much for this wonderful letter!

From: Isabel — Aug 25, 2009

Thank you Charlene, glad to hear someone else can appreciate Chinese art. There is even a lot of beauty in their calligraphy. A well done single character is worth framing and hanging. Having tried know how much practice this requires.


The power of mystery
by Deby Adair, Australia


“The dancing tree”
ink and charcoal on paper
by Deby Adair

In reference to ‘Ancient Chinese guidance’… firstly, I must say that I really do love traditional Chinese Art, however, in my opinion, in this day and age the list of rules outlined in the letter might calcify, squash and rigidify the need for budding artists to learn to do their own thing, therefore stifling freedom of expression or simply creating a kind of artistic laziness.

When those rules were thought of, it was a different world; a world where form, style and order needed to conform because the purpose of art was seen as a means to soothe the senses. And, conforming would have been a way to ‘hold’ society together in a world riddled with chaos; often feudal, war-torn and difficult to control; conformity gave a sense of security.

We still live in a world of chaos, we’re still out of all sorts of control, however we understand that art can speak to us, stand up for us, educate, challenge, broaden and amaze us. We have expanded our comprehension of where art takes us. There is a place for rules and a place for tossing them aside. We are very blessed if we live in countries where we have the choice… there are still places on this planet where art is seen as a transgression against the state of the nation!

Although everything has its rules, I have to say that often what isn’t in a piece of art, is what can make it wonderful. The onlooker’s imagination can then choose to explore.

Like music and writing which are often enhanced by the ‘pause,’ what remains unpainted… can be a real treat. However it can also depend on what the piece of art needs to represent.

I too, am fond of pathways that leave me wondering. Mystery is always captivating! Not only to the onlooker, but to the artist… it’s nice to know there is choice to put the pencil or paintbrush wherever you want that day, with no one looking over your shoulder to check you haven’t digressed from all those rules.

There are 3 comments for The power of mystery by Deby Adair

From: Vicki Jones — Aug 25, 2009

Deby, your tree is magical! It certainly illustrates the mystery of which you write.

From: Karen R. Phinney — Aug 25, 2009

I think your analysis about the world of chaos and the order of the art being important, is right on……….I thought it “well said”. It makes a lot of sense, as does it to realize that we are unfettered (relatively) in our society in the breadth of art expression, and that it is also that we are more educated in appreciating art. (Well, somewhat!)

From: Deby Adair — Aug 30, 2009

Thankyou for your lovely compliment Vicki and your great feedback Karen!


The value of ‘qi’
by Lisa Chakrabarti, Los Angeles, CA, USA


“Summer waterfall”
ink and watercolour on paper, 37 x 14 inches
by Lisa Chakrabarti

Taken out of context, some of those 12 rules are stultifying. However, consider that China was (and still is) a huge bureaucracy. Chinese ink was the definitive form of painting, encompassing calligraphy as well as pictorial representation of landscapes, flowers, etc. Talented artists were revered and enormous value of appreciation associated with their ‘four treasures of the study’ (ink, paper, brush, inkstone). This extended to other ‘toys’ such as elaborate brush pots, brush washers, water droppers, ink rests, scholar’s stones, paperweights. Brush painting accoutrements enjoyed almost a cult status that survives to the present. The Chinese put rules on everything, and painting was no exception. But the painters who developed their own remarkable styles and created their own rules were the most admired, while ‘hacks’ dismissed. The overarching ‘rule’ that cannot be ignored is concerned with ‘qi’. As you mentioned, it is an element common to Asian cultures. Qi isn’t something that gets mechanically put into a painting; qi is what flows through the artist. Qi is the life/energy force that flows through everything. It is the flow itself that is most important — one certainly doesn’t want the absence of qi, or blockage of qi. Understanding and working with qi can be a lifelong endeavour.



Wondrous magic
by Patricia Peterson, New York, NY, USA


“Life study”
pastel on paper, 11 x 14 inches
by Patricia Peterson

I was shocked at how blithely you responded to this extraordinary meditative “Twelve Things to Avoid in Painting” since it set out neatly concepts you mention at times in your letters. It reminds me of my perception that over time, as noted in history, mankind has been going to hell in a hand-basket. I remember feeling this quite strongly viewing the objects in the King Tut exhibit which honored the time and materials used to create art not only easy on the eye, but the mind, heart and soul as opposed to a contemporary plastic pickled shark sold for millions to view in a museum. This is not entirely different from eating a cookie instead of oatmeal for breakfast — both do the trick but we deny the quality of how it affects us in ways we may not want to consider down the road. We burn oil or manufacture it into plastic rather than allow it to stay where it might become coal and eventually, diamonds. The advice provided is clear and addresses artists who love the potential of sharing a wonderful perception of what is remarkable in our world and life, if only with one’s self. Instead of the king, we now have the media ruling us, telling us what to consume and common to patriarchy, historically we all bow to what we are told to do without complaint, faithfully watching TV, and all that is told on a computer whether the source is clear or not. High motivations to achieve demand more of us as individuals to contemplate what we are saying and how it could be more articulately expressed and which part of others we are communicating with. A landscape can be like a photo or express an experience, feeling or a sense of peace. I would like to think this has to do with the amount of time invested in development of one’s art rather than an inability to acknowledge we are made of more than flesh and bones and that we’re passing through for a quick 70 plus years. In ancient Egypt, the average lifetime was closer to 30 years and they seemed to cram in more sensitivity and awareness of the preciousness of life, energy and magic than can be found on the remarkable existence of a screen of any size. They lived large, with concepts of their place in the universe as opposed to the flashing entertainment of a hand-held device to “know what is going on this moment” most of which is of no consequence to us personally. We all still see birds yet there is no comprehension of the cause of some birds’ changing groupings in flight and we use electricity despite not knowing how it works — isn’t that magic wondrous? Ch’i, indeed.

There is 1 comment for Wondrous magic by Patricia Peterson

From: Paul — Aug 25, 2009

Actually the vast majority of people in ancient Egypt were slaves with prospects of being starved to death or crushed under the building stones. Few were in a position to appreciate the beauties of the world. The freedom of an average American or Canadian to enjoy the life (including the flashing toys used in hospitals to save lives), enabled by oil, is something that no average person had at any time in the history of humankind. None of us would be artists or the art appreciators in ancient Egypt — we would all be slaves or enemies.




Interlocking Reflections 2

acrylic painting 36 x 36 inches
by Bonnie Kramer, Delta, BC, Canada


You may be interested to know that artists from every state in the USA, every province in Canada, and at least 115 countries worldwide have visited these pages since January 1, 2013.

That includes Josephina DiSalvo of Carlsbad, CA, USA, who wrote, ” You have given me much food for thought. I have been thinking about visiting a Buddhist Monastery.”

And also Ling Li who wrote, “Chinese art started being less rigid about thirty years ago. Look out, we are now the new innovators.”

And also Suzanne Kelley Clark who wrote, ” A good source for the Canons of Chinese art is Chinese Art by Judith and Arthur Hart Burling, Bonanza Books, 1953. (53-10705)”

And also Gretchen Markle of Metchosin, BC, Canada, who wrote, “My favourite thing to avoid is “scenes lacking any places made inaccessible by nature.” This is probably because I firmly believe that we need places that are made inaccessible to us by nature, if only to remind us that we are not lords of this earth.”


Archived Comments

Enjoy the past comments below for Ancient Chinese guidance



From: Jason Leisering — Aug 20, 2009

Being an artist that has lived in Taiwan for 2 years I have observed that many of these principles are used in teaching painting. The University art education here primarily focuses on traditional Chinese painting and not its western counterpart. However there is now a combination of traditional Chinese painting with western influence.

Another artist I know took a western painting class here and his teacher became frustrated with him because he had his own way of doing things. Most classes here are taught with a Chinese mindset. All of the students must copy the teacher in a very regimented way. All of the paintings look the same. I would almost compare it to a paint by numbers approach.

This way of learning is common through out the education system here. The students memorize, repeat, and move on. Some Taiwanese that I talk to don’t care much about art because they were forced to memorize dates of pictures throughout their education. It seems to me that because of this the joy of art has been squandered. The development of independent thinking and creative problem solving are not focused upon here. This way of learning stems from Confucianism. The teacher is always right and you never question authority.

However, the younger generation has adopted Western attitudes towards art and there is a vibrant Contemporary art scene in Taipei City and also in China. So many things are changing.

Long live independent and creative thinking.

From: Faith — Aug 21, 2009

Thanks for that, Bob!

Jason, it all sounds a bit like the Bob Ross approach. I once looked in on one of those (franchized) workshops and was horrified to see that all the participants were following instructions to the letter using the same format and paints. But….the results were by no means uniform. The more talented a student was, the better his/her results.

I suppose one could say that there’s method in every madness.

From: Faith — Aug 21, 2009

…..or madness in every method?

I tried a free interpretation of the above rules and here it is, but reached the conclusion that those contemporary authors really had it licked so please beware of the gentle satire. I’m certainly sitting in that metaphorical glasshouse and you may be too.

Avoid cluttering up your painting with anything you can think of, or anything you think you are particularly skilled at drawing/painting, or anything which will draw specific attention to your artwork (the gallery owner’s cat/koi…?) and could therefore even promote a sale. Don’t neglect the golden mean!

Avoid not having a sense of distance/perspective i.e. making things look as if they are standing on top of one another.

Avoid slapping on a mountain without thinking about what’s inside it. People who love mountains may have told you that they are holy or at the very least human and therefore have a soul (spirit)

Avoid drips, drabs or torrents of water coming from and going to nowhere in particular (even if you know their origin and destination)

Avoid making everything mundanely accessible (by ladder, rope, bike or whatever). Let nature retain some of her mystery (gets difficult if you are doing plein air on top of Mount Everest, admittedly)

Avoid roads that don’t go anywhere such as the ones – usually going round a sharp right bend – on “borrowed” Flickr photos

Avoid painting rocks and other intrinsically 3 dimensional objects like dinner plates – even a bucket has a right to its curves and science has long since proven that the earth is a sphere

Avoid improbable trees, even if you can prove they exist

Avoid improbable figures, ditto

Avoid plonking a tent, palace or cottage somewhere you would be unlikely to find one

Avoid disregarding weather conditions such as fog/mist/rising damp etc

Avoid indiscriminate use of color unless you are a Fauvist.

From: Rene Wojcik — Aug 21, 2009

Rule number 13 failed to make the list. Maybe number 13 is to be avoided as well with the Chinese. Here it is…

13. Avoid shadows. Chinese paintings, in the traditional sense, have no shadows.

From: — Aug 21, 2009

Good Afternoon Robert,

Once again a thought provoking letter – thanks…it goes great with the first cup of coffee and gives me a fine kick off in Art thinking before tackling the commission occupying my easel (a couple of specific horses belonging to my client). It brought to mind some sayings of an old Chinese brush man that have stuck with me since I first read them. I always mention them to my private lesson Art student/clients because they have kept growing in meaning as the years go by.

Sort of like that old saying “draw like you paint, paint like you draw” which I thought was some kind of inscrutable Art Koan when I first heard it but now seems to sum up all serious thought on actual Art production…for me anyway. What follows are a few of Lu Ch’ai’s sayings.

“You must learn first to observe the rules faithfully; afterwards, modify them according to your intelligence and capacity. The end of all method is to seem to have no method”.

Lu Ch’ai (Wang Kai), 17th century Master of Ch’ing Tsai T’ang, (Chinese brush painting).

“Among those who study painting, some strive for an elaborate effect and others prefer the simple. Neither complexity in itself nor simplicity is enough”.

“Some aim to be deft, others to be laboriously careful. Neither dexterity nor conscientiousness is enough”.

“Some set great value on method, wile others pride themselves on dispensing with method”.

“To be without method is deplorable, but to depend entirely on method is worse”.

Lu Ch’ai (Wang Kai)

17th century Master,

Chinese brush painting

From: J. Bruce Wilcox — Aug 21, 2009

Thank god I’m not chinese. This list specifically notes all the evils of TRADITION- so Robert- I’m right there with you. As an abstractionist- I tossed all these silly rules out long ago. My work is wondrously an enormous textile chaos merged with a constructed flat plane tessellation order. Really- where would the current world of art- and Picasso specifically- be with out him and others distorting unnaturally the human figure- and everything else too. Now don’t take me wrong- as my creation experience is 100% a meditation and my personal ch’i- including my many years as a working shamanic energy channel and healer- are right up there with the mountain’s. And yet this list just makes me want to- well- you know- puke. Oh the lengths humans will go to to establish ruts to live and paint- and often die in. KILL TRADITION. It’s boring.

From: Trilby Spekes — Aug 21, 2009

If there was no tradition, there would be nothing to spring forward out of, and all the so-called avant garde or modernist or contemporary or adventurous art would be none of the kind. It would be the tradition. Boredom is an individual personal characteristic that has little to do with work in a tradition or launching from a tradition. If we have no tradition, we have very little but a persistant insular present wherein everything dies immediately after it’s born, and art is worth no more than a single glance.

From: Tom Semmes — Aug 24, 2009

It seems that a general reaction to these rules was that they were overbearing lists that hampered creativity but my first reaction was something different. I saw them as a reminder that the world is alive so don’t paint it as if it is something dead. Things move, are 3-dimensional and have a reason for being there and the magic of creating 2-dimensional art is that you can capture all that. And though traditionally the method of teaching Chinese brush painting required the student to suppress their creativity and copy the master precisely, this method must have merit because there is no lack of human inspiration and creativity in Chinese art. Learning basic skills so carefully can actually free up the mind because at some point the artist doesn’t have to think about how to paint anymore and can let the brain and hand be free to express themselves. I think that is the point behind rules like this.

From: Becky — Aug 24, 2009

I am one of the Western artists who has turned to the East. I paint from my moving stillness of my centre. I attempt to show movement in my painting and have now begun to enter the complexities of landscapes. I have just taken a two day workshop on Chinese Landscape with Danny Chen. He teaches a contemporary style of painting. If I can evoke a feeling of peace and movement in my paintings I am content.

From: Barbara Loyd — Aug 24, 2009

Just thought you might like to know that the Philbrook Museum of Art in Tulsa, OK is putting its Asian art collection in storage to make room for more of the moderns! It is interesting to conjecture that the most populated Asian countries often produce the most austere paintings, perhaps artists seek to create a world very different from their own. My theory probably won’t hold up long, for I believe that Florence of the 15-16th centuries was a well populated metropolis, and as you mentioned, the paintings from that era are full of figures.

From: Joan Bazzel — Aug 24, 2009

well….I believe you sent a pic of a Chinese art factory not too long ago….it showed hundreds of “painters” all reproducing Vincent’s Sunflowers. Scary! I guess the real intent of these old rules was to market the product in the culture which was then familiar….and now the market panders to western tastes….and hey, just look at the popular drivel that sells! Some rather famous “artists” have made lots of money selling drivel….the eye of the beholder and all that. The academic sacrafice of art.

From: Jackie Knott — Aug 25, 2009

Reading these rules, there could be a lack of cultural understanding by our Western minds and experience. Being exposed to works of art and masters from every continent today, studying the history of a people to understand their viewpoint might be appropriate to better appreciate the concepts. I only know when I view Chinese ink landscapes I have a calming emotional reaction I don’t share seeing others. I then have to ask myself “Why is that?” Probably, these guidelines that Chinese artists use. As with all art, use what you can and discard that which doesn’t work for you. But at least understand it.



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