In Guilin, we went to the Academy of Painting and Calligraphy.
We received a short lecture on Chinese inks, ink stones, & painting.
The Master painter started training his student at age 6. The student
is now 27 years old. He is "almost" ready to graduate. His future may
be as an art instructor or a private artist. Unfortunately, artists
don't make much money, according to the Master.
The Academy has exhibits of famous and up-and-coming artists. We asked
where the Master's works were. He said, "All sold." So, we bought the
student's work for 300 yuan.
The student is adding watered down ink to the bamboo. Chinese
ink's intensity depends on the amount of water - very much like water
color. The ink itself is made of soot held together with pine resin. It
is pressed into molds. Water is added to an ink stone and the ink stick
is rubbed on the stone until the desired thickness is achieved.
Typically, rice paper is used for the painting. Rice paper does not
allow for any corrections. What you paint is what you paint.
After the painting is completed, the artist adds some
description. This can be a poem or an explanatory note. In this case,
the note says something like "Bamboo along the Li River." Not very
The Master is discussing how a really good artist produces
fluid lines quickly using various strengths of ink. He discusses how
depth is achieved by "fading."
Then, a chop signature is added, sometimes two.
Proud artist. This is a most traditional style of painting.
In Beijing, we went to the History Museum next to Tiananmen Square. It
was closed, but two art students were having an exhibit to raise money
for their school. Of course, we went to see their work. It is somewhat
different from traditional Chinese calligraphy and painting.
This young woman did water colors of flowers. The one we
bought is the top left lotus flower. We bought it because lotus flowers
are all over China, and they were blooming while we were there. Her
work is very delicate and beautiful. I have NO idea where we will put
thi, but, typically, Chinese scrolls are not hung permanently. They are
unrolled only to be savored, then rolled up and put away.
The young man is pointing to 2 watercolors he produced, top
left. We bought the fish because they look just like our pond fish.
He also did these calligraphic characters. These are quite
"modern" in that the tops of the characters are animals pertaining to
the zodiac, as well as to "thoughts" evoked by the characters
themselves. They were rather innovative.
On the whole, the works we saw in this studio were not earthshattering
in terms of originality. They were competent in execution, very pretty,
but, somehow, there was no "message." We thought, maybe this was
because they were student works. Many were simply "variations" on a
theme one sees everywhere with respect to Chinese works.
Some were quite realistic; others were "pretty" - pictures of flowers
or landscapes. No political messages; no budding Jackson Pollock's; no
Jasper John's. There were no old Chinese just idealized beautiful
Chinese women. Hard to explain what I mean. The art work was lovely,
but not exciting, and, to my Western eyes, rather shallow.