The Qinghuai River in Nanjing is a great place to go to watch modern artists demonstrate their calligraphy skills through painting. The painterly aspect of calligraphy is no coincidence as the two skills evolved together, albeit at the onset, calligraphy was revered more as a skill, while painting was seen as a craft. However, Chinese calligraphy paintings later developed into an artwork sought out the world over for its style, techniques and unique qualities.
Many Chinese painters only use black ink for their work, negating the use of color to focus attention on light, shadow and the interplay of fine detail within the areas where those two meet. One can compare it to black and white photography where the soul of the image seems to radiate out, instead of being hidden behind an obtrusive color palate. The consistency of the ink varies from thick to thin and even to a completely diluted wash when the artist wants to cover larger areas to create depth.
The brush itself can lay heavy amounts of ink or very delicate wispy lines for fine detail. An artist loads his brush and stabs at the paper, releasing the ink in a controlled flow by the amount of pressure applied or by the turn of his wrist. How the artist stands and moves his arms and fingers mimic the more calculated positioning of tai chi.
While Western art is dominated by oil painting, an art that requires weeks or even months for an artist to complete a relatively small image, Chinese painting seems quick by comparison. Yet Chinese painting requires perfection of movement and skill to create a quality piece. Once the artist sets out to paint, time is already against him as the ink will bleed across the paper, or if applied too heavily, it will lose all shading and become a solid black spot. A Chinese ink painting cannot merely sit while the artist waits for inspiration.
A Chinese ink painting can also be viewed as a manner of philosophical discourse between the viewer and artist, where the artist aims for a release of emotions through choice of imagery. Animals represent characteristics of a person. Landscapes convey man’s role in society and respect for ideas more powerful than one’s self. This discourse is most evident when several master painters get together to create a single painting. With little discussion beforehand, artists will each contribute their own ideas during the painting process to render the final piece.