Principles and Philosophy of Composition in Chinese Painting

Discussion in 'Minox' started by mtc photography, Aug 16, 1999.

  1. <p> In most photography forums or discussion group, including this one , 99% of the content is about equipment. These are certainly
    important issues. But the topic of composition and methods are far
    more interesting. <p> Equipments are only means to an end.

    <p> There are many good books on photographic composition.
    I many discuss a few key topics in "Composition" and other threads.
    <p> However
    there is very little references on the web about composition from
    oriental viewpoint. I think
    it may be of interest to present a glimpse here.<p>
    Over thousands of years, Chinese painting has accumulated an immense amount of theory and principles of composition. <p> Photography as a medium is very different from painting. But many basic philosopy and
    principles are a good reference to draw upon from which to cultivate
    a personal style.
  2. The Six Principles of Painting of Xie He (Hsieh Ho)

    The founding father of Chinese painting principles was Xie He of The Six Dynasties. After the warring "Three Kingdoms" came brief stable period of West Zin and East Zin. Art flourished, and so was the the principle of painting.
    Xie He's " The Six Principles of Painting" in his article "A Record about the Quality of Ancient Paintings" is a classic of Chinese aesthetics about painting.
    Xie He considered "Chi Yun Shen Dong" as the primary goal of painting.
    "Chi" is the omnipotent foundation of all existence in ancient Chinese philosophy, in modern terms it is equivalent to "Energy".
    We know the universe is made of of energy in various forms, even matter is a form of energy(E=M*C*C)
    This "Chi" runs in universe to form the stars and heavenly bodies, in runs in human body, and need to be tuned up from time to time by excercising "Chi gong" -- a kind of meditation to circulate the 'Chi'.
    In painting, 'Chi' is energy, force, momentum.
    "Yun" is rhymth.
    In ancient China, many great painters were also great poets. One prime example was Wang Wei of Tang Dynasty, his paintings were considered embodiment of poetry, and his poems contained paintings.
    Classical Chinese peoms are highly rhymetic in rime and intonation.
    The arrangement of objects and the placement of bright and dark, dense and sparse, far and near, fullness and empty space must be full of 'yun' like melodious manifest of energy.
    'Shen' is life, lively, and 'dong' is movement. Great Chinese painters stress the importance to capture 'life'. There was a story that a famous painter seldom drew eyes of dragon, and when asked why his dragon was eyeless, he took out his brush and put dots on the sockets, the dragon suddenly leaped out of the mural and flew to the sky.
    Monk Shi Tao painted his trees like warriors dancing, standing, looking towards the sky or facing the ground as if has life of its own.

    Further reading
  3. Wang Wei of Tang Dynasty

    Wang Wei wrote: "A painting shall contain poetry, and a poem shall contain painting"
  4. Composition = Management of Position and Arrangement of Forces

    There are some common elements between Oriental practice and Western composition. But each has its own characteristics.
    In Chinese painting history, composition methodoly evolved rather early. One of Hsieh Ho's "Six Canons of Painting" was "Gin yin wei zhi". ie "management of position" which in modern parlance is about composition.
    Another painter wrote about "Setting up Formation and Arrangement of Forces", borrowing the well developed formation method in ancient military strategists such as Lu Wang( Zhou Dynasty), Sun Tze and Kung Ming( Three Kingdoms)
    This attention to positioning not only influenced the painting but also left its marks in Chinese architecture and Feng Sui.

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