The history of Chinese art is more consistent, and even more persistent, than the art of Egypt. It is, however, something more than national. It begins about the thirtieth century B.C. and continues, with periods of darkness and uncertainty, right down to the present century. No other country in the world can display such a wealth of artistic activity, and no other country, all things considered, has anything to equal the highest attainments of this art.
Chinese technique is amazingly simple: it involves the knowledge of the use of one brush and one color—but that brush used with such delicacy and that color exploited with such subtlety, that only years of arduous training can produce anything approaching mastery. As is well known, the Chinese normally write with a brush, and a brush is as familiar to them as a pen or pencil is to us. The first fact to realize about Chinese painting is that it is an extension of Chinese handwriting. The whole quality of beauty, for the Chinese, can inhere in a beautifully written character. And if a man can write well, it follows that he can paint well. All Chinese painting of the classical periods is linear, and the lines which constitute its essential form are judged, appreciated and enjoyed, as written lines.
Throughout its history, then, Chinese art conceives nature as animated by an immanent force, and the object of the artists is to put themselves in communion with this force, and then to convey its quality to the spectator.
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the most distinctive variations are due to religious influences, to Buddhism and Confucianism. No doubt, as always, these religions gave a tremendous impetus to artistic activities of all kinds. But they also did a lot of harm – Buddhism by its insistence on a dogmatic symbolism, always a bad element in art; and Confucianism by its doctrine of ancestor worship, which was interpreted in art as crude traditionalism, requiring the strict imitation of ancestral art. But in spite of these limitations, perhaps in some sense because of them, Chinese art maintains its vitality, reaching its highest development in the Song period, a period which corresponds roughly in time, and even more strikingly in mannerism, with the early Gothic period in Europe.
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