Chinese Art


China has the world's oldest living civilization. It's
written history goes back almost 3,500 years, and the
history told by it's artifacts and artwork goes back much
farther. The oldest known works of Chinese art include
pottery and jade carvings from the time of 5000 BC.
Jade is a general term used to describe either jadeite or
nephrite, known as true jade. It's composed of several
minerals. It's smooth and rich in texture, but it's also
extremely tough. It can be off-white, or dark green, and
sometimes has a reddish tint. Authentic jade is cool and
never translucent. The philosopher Confucius described jade
perfectly when he said:
"It is soft, smooth and shining- like intelligence. It's
edges seem sharp but do not cut- like justice. It hangs
down to the ground- like humility. When struckm, it gives
clear, ringing sounds- like music. The strains in it are
not hidden and add to it's beauty- like truthfulness. It
has brightness- like heaven. It's firm substance is born of
the mountains and the waters- like the earth."
The material has been used since the Shang dynasty, which
lasted from 1766-1022 B.C. They see it as a sign of wealth
and authority and also as an object of beauty. The chinese
word for jade is yu. During the Ming dynasty, the Chinese
people thought that only green or white stones were true
jade, and the other colors were called fu yu, or false
jade. It was classified into nine different colors during
the Tsin dynasty, and has more recently been classified
into many different categories.
Jade is one of the touchest stones in the world, near the
diamond because of overlapping fibers within the stone.
Tons of pressure are needed to crush some of the larger
pieces of jade. A single cut through a one foot cube of
jade would take several weeks.
The ancient chinese people thought that jade had special
powers, and they used it in rituals and ceremonies. It was
also beleived to have medical uses, but the most common use
is for decoration. Jade is not mined in China, but China is
still considered the "home" of jade because the artists
from China have learned to carve the stone better than the
artists from any other country. The ancient artists would
stare at rough pieces of jade, and then decide what they
wanted to carve it into.
Chinese pottery is also an ancient form of art in China. It
was first created in the pre-dynastic neolithic era. Some
fragments of pottery are from 3,000 B.C. 4,000 years after
that, the porcelain from the Sung and Ming dynasty, the
most famous and beautiful porcelain in the world, was
created. Although other countries also created China, the
pottery originated in Asia. French porcelain was inspired
by the delicate white work from the Ting dynasty, and Clue
and white Dutch Delft porcelain was modeled after pottery
from the Ming dynasty.
Pottery started out as functional, but became more
ornamental as the centires continued. the themes of the
painted and carved porcelain were mostly nature scenes, but
they were also from folklore. Artrists originaly molded the
clay with their hands and set it in the sun to try.
Eventualy they began to use a potter's wheel, and they used
a glaze at the same time as the romans.
During the Tang dynasty, Chinese pottery began to develop
it's own distict style. They used the first colored glazes,
and underglaze painting. The best pottery came from the
time between the Sung dynasty and the Ming times, when the
King hired officials to work in his court strictly as
potters. When these artists made mistakes in their work
(cracks or drips), they used the mistakes to create a
picture, such as turning a crack into a tree, or a drip
into a teardrop.
Although painting was not China's first form of art, it is
probably the most important and dominating form today.
Chinese paintings have always tried to capture philosophy
as well as details. 1,400 years ago, Hsieh Ho, made six
basic laws for painting, which artists in China still
follow today. They are:
1. Paiting has to have rythem and movement, it has an
existence of its own
2. The brush should be used to establish structure in
painting in the same manner as in calligraphy
3. Observe conformity with nature and natural proportions
4. Use color appropriately
5. Live up to tradition by copying the masters
Chinese artists try to create perfect artwork because they
beleive strongly in the philosophy of painting, and many
paintings are missing objects that the artist did not think
necessary, such as the water around a fish.
Even if a chinese artist draws something that does not
exist, such as a dragon, what he creates is always done in
the style of realism, so that the finished product looks
like it could actualy be alive.
Artists try to paint from memory rather than from pictures,
and they use brushes, solidified ink, a stone slab to grind
the ink, color pigments, and paper or silk. A Chinese
painter will always hold his brush as perfectly
perpendicular to the paper as possible, and he will never
use an easel. The human figure did not appear in Chinese
art until the Han dynasty, where it was used to express
religious ideas.
The people of china write their language in the form of
calligraphy, and it has become as much of an art form as
painting or sculpting. It is not considered just
handwriting, but it has to show personality and
style.General Yueh Fei was an accomplished caligrapher. The
emperor began to suspect his loyalty, and so he turned to
calligraphy because he was hurt so deeply. The result was
his copy of the Report to the Emperor Before an Expedition,
which has become a calligraphic masterpiece.
The brush used for calligraphy in China was invented before
the fifth century B.C. and quick-absorbing paper was
invented to go along with it. The system of calligraphy is
beautiful, but works of calligraphy have to be done
perfectly, because wrong figures cannot be corrected.
When an artist writes something with calligraphy, what he
writes is not always as important as how the figures look
on paper. Sometimes they will even be unrecognizable, but
it's not considered wrong if the artist thought it would
improve the project.
For ten to fifteen years, an artist must be an apprentice
to a classic Chinese calligrapher, and then work on
developing a style of his own. There are three basic
categories in calligraphy, regular, running, and grass
tyles. Regular is elaborate, running is rapid, and grass is
a shorthand form of writing.
Over a thousand years before crafters in Rome began molding
bronze, artists in China's Shang dynasty were begining to
experiment. The works were burried and forgotten, but in
1934, dozens of inscribed bronze works were excavated at
Anyang in Honan province. The pieces of art that were
discovered were nearly perfect, and historians could not
beleive what they saw. Most of the art had been burried in
the soft banks of the Yellow river, and were perfectly
preserved. The National Palace Museum in Taipei has more
than 4,000 bronze items.


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