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Arts of the Far East

 This is article is part of the
Art history series.
Pre-historic art
 Arts of the ancient world
 European art history
 Islamic art history
 Arts of the Far East
 Contemporary art

Table of contents
1 Chinese Art History
2 Japanese Art History

Chinese Art History

Tang and Song Dynasties

In ancient Imperial China, painting and calligraphy were the most highly appreciated arts in court circles and were produced almost exclusively by amateurs, aristocrats and scholar-officials who alone had the leisure to perfect the technique and sensibility necessary for great brushwork. Calligraphy was thought to be the highest and purest form of painting. The implements were the brush pen, made of animal hair, and black inks made from pine soot and animal glue. Writing as well as painting, was done on silk. But after the invention of paper in the 1st century, silk was gradually replaced by the new and cheaper material. Original writings by famous calligraphers have been greatly valued throughout China's history and are mounted on scrolls and hung on walls in the same way that paintings are.

Painting in the traditional style involved essentially the same techniques as calligraphy and is done with a brush dipped in black or colored ink; oils were not used. As with calligraphy, the most popular materials on which paintings are made are paper and silk. The finished work is then mounted on scrolls, which can be hung or rolled up. Traditional painting also is done in albums and on walls, lacquerwork, and other media.

Beginning in the Tang dynasty (A.D. 618-907), the primary subject matter of painting was the landscape, known as shanshui (mountain-water) painting. In these landscapes, usually monochromatic and sparse, the purpose was not to reproduce exactly the appearance of nature but rather to grasp an emotion or atmosphere so as to catch the "rhythm" of nature. During the Song dynasty (960-1279), landscapes of more subtle expression appeared; immeasurable distances were conveyed through the use of blurred outlines, mountain contours disappearing into the mist, and impressionistic treatment of natural phenomena. Emphasis was placed on the spiritual qualities of the painting and on the ability of the artist to reveal the inner harmony of man and nature, as perceived according to Taoist and Buddhist concepts.

Yuan and Ming Dynasties

Following the invasion of China under Genghis Khan at the start of the 13th century, the Mongol Yuan Dynasty was established in China, openining up its arts and culture to a degree of outside influence. Undery the reign of Kublai Khan, a rich cultural diversity developed, with ideas and art flowing between the European, Islamic, and Chinese portions of the empire. The major cultural achievements were the development of drama and the novel and the increased use of the written vernacular. The extensive cultural interchange between China and the outside world led to changes in painting. Beginning in the 13th century, there developed a tradition of painting simple subjects--a branch with fruit, a few flowers, or one or two horses.

The arts continued to flourish after the expulsion of the Yuan dyansty in the 14th century. Under the new Ming dynasty (1368-1644), Chinese culture bloomed. Narrative painting, with a wider color range and a much busier composition than the Song painting, was immensely popular during the time. The porcelain industry expanded rapidly and fine Chinese porcelain acquired the reputation that it holds today. In addition, the first books illustrated with colored woodcuts appeared. As the techniques of color printing were perfected, illustrated manuals on the art of painting began to be published. Jieziyuan Huazhuan (Manual of the Mustard Seed Garden), a five-volume work first published in 1679, has been in use as a technical textbook for artists and students ever since.

The Cultural Revolution

Beginning with the New Culture Movement, Chinese artists started to adopt Western techniques. It also was during this time that oil painting was introduced to China.

In the early years of the People's Republic of China, artists were encouraged to employ socialist realism. Some Soviet Union socialist realism was imported without modification, and painters were assigned subjects and expected to mass-produce paintings. This regimen was considerably relaxed in 1953, and after the Hundred Flowers Campaign of 1956-1957, traditional Chinese painting experienced a significant revival. Along with these developments in professional art circles, there was a proliferation of peasant art depicting everyday life in the rural areas on wall murals and in open-air painting exhibitions.

During the Cultural Revolution, art schools were closed, and publication of art journals and major art exhibitions ceased. Nevertheless, amateur art continued to flourish throughout this period.

Following the Cultural Revolution, art schools and professional organizations were reinstated. Exchanges were set up with groups of foreign artists, and Chinese artists began to experiment with new subjects and techniques. Chinese artists have become a contributing force to contemporary art.

Japanese Art History

See also: Chinese art