Lessons of Chinese Brush Painting

Vigor. Skill. Creativity. Depth. Insightfulness.

Words you would often associate with a complicated method and process, perhaps something related to martial arts or skilled art form. All of these terms can be applied to the ancient art of Chinese brush painting, a masterful and significant art form that has carried over from Chinese culture to the Western world in a variety of ways. The ancient Zen Buddhist culture, along with masters from the Ch’ing Tsai T’ang dynasty in the XVII-century, have both contributed to the underlying philosophy of learning life’s lessons from the Chinese brush.

Painting in itself is a very soothing, creative, and mind-enhancing outlet of activity. Chinese painting is unique as it incorporates the core values of patience, skill, concentration, and fluidity in its movements. Practice and refinement are essential for growth, but they also follow a deep, philosophical pathway that can open up your mind to fresh, creative thinking.

Chinese brush painting focuses on the power of a single brushstroke; the weight of the ink, the direction of the brush, and the vigor of execution. The final product has less to do with results, as the actions focus on the process; it is in the process that your skill, intelligence, and abilities truly shine. Going through the motions is simply not enough; a student who pursues Chinese brush painting with earnestness will learn some essential skills in patience, originality, free thought, and harnessing some incredible creative power.

Wang Kai, a prominent ancient Master of the Ch’ing Tsai T’ang era deemed the following lesson to be learned from this beautiful art form:

“If you aim to dispense with method, learn method. If you aim at facility, work hard. If you aim for simplicity, master complexity.”

Complexity is everywhere in today’s world; there is chaos, friction, conflict, alongside perpetual growth, progress, and intelligent design. According to the principles of Chinese brush painting, a mind that understands complexity will easily learn the truth of simplicity. Applying this concept to your daily life, whether in meditation, free-thinking, or relaxing, can lead to amazing insights and creative energy.

Being observant, open to learning, and understanding the flow of the brush will occur over time. To begin, Chinese brush painting is composed of some very simple tools:

  • The painting brush: usually made from rabbit’s hair or sheep hair
  • Ink: calligraphy and flowing designs are accomplished with a deep glossy ink that can be painted directly onto paper or silk
  • Chinese Paper: the more natural and ‘raw’ the paper form, the more effective your masterpiece. Once your talent has developed, consider projects directly on silk. Still, your brushstrokes will show up better and last longer on paper.

Design is simplistic in nature, as it flows onto the brush painter’s canvas. Space and time may seem complex in today’s ‘modern’ world, but they are captured in their intrinsic forms on paper. The expressions of Chinese painting can be best described as a ‘suspension of the essence of things.’ You’ll find silhouettes, nuances, and ‘slights’ along each piece. This creates a flow of pictures, ideas, and key attributes of significance.

Although Chinese brush painting has been practiced for centuries in China, it is gaining significant interest in Western culture. For people looking for a fresh perspective, new creative outlet, or even just a break from an often-chaotic world, Chinese brush painting can foster some new dimensions in thinking and artistic expression. Beginners can pick up an introductory Chinese brush painting set and learn the main strokes and concepts behind technique; look to a local art school or college for a class or two to receive some effective training. Over time, you’ll be able to create some fantastic masterpieces that might encourage further exploration in this ancient art form.

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