Did you know that Ethiopians use a calendar that’s different from that used by Americans? I found this out last night, while having coffee with a new friend who’s originally from Ethiopia. It’s surprising how easily we can forget that cultures can vary so much and simply stay comfortable in our own local realities. This conversation was an eye-opener for me and encouragement to continue to learn about the people of the world, beyond our own borders. One of the reasons that I (and many of you, I’m sure) am attracted to art is because it transcends misunderstandings–there are no language barriers, no preconceptions, no judgment. That being said, it’s also rewarding to be aware of symbolic meanings in artwork that represents specific cultures.
It seems fitting, then, to tell you about Lian Quan Zhen’s newest book, Chinese Landscape Painting: Techniques for Watercolor. In addition to providing step-by-step exercises for painting in watercolor, Lian shares the background (no pun intended) of painting the landscape in the Chinese style, going into the history and describing five dominant styles.
One of the first questions that came to my mind as I browsed this book was, what’s the difference between landscape painting as I know it and Chinese landscape painting? Apparently I’m not the only one who’s asked, because Lian thoughtfully included a chapter on Western painting vs. traditional Chinese painting. I thought this was so interesting that I decided to share the excerpt below.
Joe Miller, founder of Cheap Joe’s Art Stuff, had kind things to say about Lian: “There are occasions in life when we are in the presence of someone for the first time and we just know we are meeting someone very special … The ability to communicate and weave together Eastern and Western art and philosophy like a fine tapestry is just one of the many talents of Lian.”
What a beautiful thing to say! I often have the experience of meeting someone and making an immediate connection, all differences aside, whether we’re from the same town or only the same planet. Learning new techniques such as those found in Chinese Landscape Painting can expand your mind as well as your talent.
Yours in art,
Western Painting Vs. Traditional Chinese Painting: An excerpt from Chinese Landscape Painting by Lian Quan Zhen.
There are many differences between Chinese and Western painting other than mediums and ink. (Click here to Tweet this!)
Difference 1: Philosophy
Chinese artists use their imaginations to paint expressive interpretations of nature, staying true to the Taoist philosophy of achieving harmony with nature. Western artists rely on shapes, colors, lights, and shadows to convey a scene. Chinese painting uses the power of suggestion to capture the essence of objects, while traditional Western painting relies on the meticulous depiction of the object’s forms.
Difference 2: Perspective
Chinese artists imagine themselves flying over mountains like birds to observe landscapes, creating a moving perspective. The goal is to invite the viewer to wander over and through the landscape. In contrast, Western landscape paintings usually have one-, two-, or three-point perspectives that attempt to accurately depict a scene as it might be captured in a photograph.
Difference 3: Stroke Techniques
Chinese artists use simplified, minimal brushstrokes to delineate subjects as they see and feel them. Western artists render objects according to light source to depict an object’s surface, using more technical brushstrokes.
Difference 4: Leaving the Whites
Chinese landscape paintings usually have a lot of unpainted areas while Western landscapes sometimes do not leave whites. To Chinese painters, unpainted areas are as significant as painted ones. White space is valued to allow the painting to breathe and to enable the audience to use their imaginations to interpret the scene.
Difference 5: The Power of Suggestion
Chinese artists rely on the power of suggestion to depict night and rain scenes. A night or rain scene would be the same as a daytime scene, simply adding a moon or umbrella to distinguish the scene. Western artists attempt to capture the night scene as dark, using glittering lights to suggest stars, moons and night lights, and similarly, using water in action to depict rain.