Painting like writing

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This landscape (山水圖) by Gong Xian (龔賢 1619–1689) is made in the scholarly style of Chinese painting known as ‘Literati Painting’ (somewhat in opposition to professional painters), which uses clearly defined strokes as ‘building blocks’ of the painting.

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The skill lies in preparing ink and loading and handling the brush creating shapes and shading that are obtained with a single stroke of the pointed brush allowing no correction.

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The principles of this kind of painting can be compared to the handwritten Chinese characters: single stroke–shapes are articulated on the white space.

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Western scripts are a system of stroke–shapes just like the Chinese scripts.
The system is made up of elements that repeat with a discernible regularity. A script can therefore be described as a system of stroke–shapes. In certain forms of Chinese art, a picture can also be a system of stroke–shapes.

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This bamboo study (墨竹) by Wu Zhen (吳鎮 1280–1354) is an example of the use of strokes as elements for the ‘construction’ of a painting.

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The whole piece is made with variations of just a handful of different kinds of skillfully executed stroke–shapes.

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