Returning to Brushwork: A Personal Exploration

Arnold Chang

This essay was conceived, in part, as a response to a number of recent articles on Chinese painting that have appeared in various publications. 1 Although "brushwork" is mentioned in virtually every discussion of Chinese painting, the term appears in a variety of contexts, with little or no definition of the word and certainly no consensus of opinion, especially among Western scholars, as to its role or importance in judging either quality or authenticity.

 

Western art historians, such as James Cahill and Maxwell Hearn, frequently make mention of a "Chinese" view of brushwork and in doing so generally refer to C. C. Wang as the leading contemporary spokesman for the traditional Chinese point of view. As a former graduate student of Professor Cahill and a pupil of C. C. Wang since 1978--and thus a "classmate" of Mike Hearn when he studied with Wang in the 1980s--I feel competent to clarify and expand upon C. C. Wang's views so as to explain some of the subtleties of Chinese painting and to allow a more complete understanding of its complex nature. What follows, then, is the first of a series of personal observations concerning the topic of brushwork based on my art-historical studies and my years as a professional connoisseur and practicing artist.

 

In this and subsequent essays I will explore some of the technical considerations of the use of brush and ink in Chinese painting, particularly landscape, and will identify some specific visual criteria for judging the relative quality of a painted line. Through the introduction of these specific criteria, I hope to demystify the process of recognizing what traditional connoisseurs recognize as "good" and "bad" brushwork. Next I will undertake a brief discussion of the philosophical basis for and implications of the traditional view of brushwork not merely as a measure of technical skill but also as the embodiment of universal truths of  both a spiritual and moral nature. Finally I will discuss the importance of brushwork, used to determine both quality and authenticity, as the fundamental basis for traditional Chinese connoisseurship.

 

I. Towards a Definition of Brushwork2

 

Brushwork is the soul of Chinese painting and calligraphy. The Chinese binome bimo (筆墨), generally rendered in English as "brushwork," literally means "brush and ink" and refers to the basic tools of the trade of both the Chinese painter and calligrapher: a brush, consisting, since at least late Zhou times, of a core, circular in cross-section, ending in a flexible tip fashioned from animal hair attached to a bamboo shaft; and black ink, generally made from pine soot mixed with a binder and molded into a stick or pellet. When ground with water on an inkstone, the gray to black liquid substance we recognize as ink is created. In its broadest definition bimo can refer to all marks made by any kind of  brush  or drawing implement with any ink-like medium on any surface.

                      

Fig. 1 Rubbing of an inscription from a Shang dynasty bronze, 

after Zhongguo meishu quanji, shufa  zhuanke bian, vol. 1, Beijing 1987  

 

 

Fig. 2 A inscribed oxen bone used for divination, Shang dynasty,

after Zhongguo meishu quanji, shufa zhuanke bian, vol. 1, Beijing 1987, pl. 1.

 

The earliest examples of Chinese writing are the marks and signs, recognizable as early forms of Chinese characters, found on Neolithic pottery from Dawenkou. By the Shang dynasty, inscriptions were cast in bronzes (fig. 1) and characters carved on tortoise plastrons and oxen scapula--the so-called "oracle bones"--of the same period (fig. 2). These characters were incised or carved with a sharp instrument and consist of neatly composed straight, angular, or curved lines of even width aligned in orderly rows.

 

The English term "calligraphy," derived from the Greek for "beautiful writing," is used to describe all forms of writing and makes no distinction between script written with brush, pen, or stylus. The term "calligraphic," often used in a complimentary way to describe the Chinese use of line in painting, denotes a modulated line of varying width and brings to mind sinuous contours characterized by graceful movements and artistic flourishes. While later Chinese artists did indeed fully exploit the expressive potential of the flexible pointed writing brush, it is important to remember that the development of the Chinese appreciation for line is rooted in  the incised, rounded lines of the earliest Chinese writing found on oracle bones, and in bronze inscriptions. Even as the art of calligraphy evolved new script forms that increasingly employed the brush in a more flexible manner, underlying these developments was an ongoing appreciation for the even, solid, centered line epitomized by the archaic seal scripts. The deeper implications of this issue will be explored in greater detail below but it is noted here to point out the limitations of English terms such as "calligraphic" when discussing Chinese calligraphy.3

 

One of the great frustrations of writing about brushwork in English is the lack of a suitable vocabulary for describing the subtle qualities of line that have concerned Chinese artists and critics for centuries. The intimate relationship of calligraphy and painting in China is well documented and familiar to anyone with an interest in the Chinese visual arts. Calligraphy and painting share a common involvement with line and employ similar materials (ie. brush, ink, and paper or silk). It is significant that, unlike in the West, where the pen was developed for writing and the brush for painting, in China throughout history the same basic pointed, flexible brush is used for both functions (although, of course, flat bristle brushes resembling Western paint brushes have existed in China for centuries, they are used for special purposes, including mounting, and most painting has always been done with a writing brush). In modern times, even after Western-style writing instruments were introduced into China, the Chinese character bi (筆) continues to be an accepted translation for both "brush" and "pen" and no functional distinction is made between the two. As has been noted previously by many scholars, Chinese terms such as "writing a painting" (xiehua 寫畫) and "reading a painting" (duhua 讀畫) demonstrate the clear connection between calligraphy and painting. It is not surprising, then, that much of the Chinese critical and theoretical literature relating to brushwork applies to both calligraphy and painting and that the two art forms share a common vocabulary.

 

It is certainly much easier for practitioners of Chinese painting or calligraphy to communicate with one another the more subtle technical aspects, since they share a common tactile understanding of the medium but, if artists are to reach a wider audience, we must find other ways to communicate the subtleties. Attempts to bridge the gap between practicing artists and non-practicing critics and art historians usually resort to the use of analogies which are, by definition, useful but imperfect comparisons. Relying on analogies to convey such basic truths has led to predictably mixed results and partial understandings.

 

The oft-quoted comparison by C. C. Wang of brushwork to the voice of a singer is a case in point:

"Chinese brushwork is really individual, like Western color. Good brushwork is so beautiful. It can make you look at it many times. I don't have to see all of Ni Tsan's [Ni Zan's] paintings, because they're all the same (in terms of composition). But I still want to see them all. What makes me want to see them? It's just like with voice--when I hear one song, if the voice is good I want to hear another song. It's the same voice, but each time it's a little bit different: that attracts me so much. Good brushwork is just like that. Other artist's who do compositions as simple as Ni Ts'an's aren't worth looking at." 4

 

Western critics have been justifiably skeptical about the ability of Wang, or other Chinese connoisseurs, to authenticate a given Chinese painting simply on the basis of the individual artist's brushwork, as if they had the ability to read the strokes like a fingerprint or a voice print.  Cahill has gone as far as to proclaim:

"My firm conviction, after many years of doing this, is that brushwork apart from its representational value or effect is virtually useless as a criterion of authenticity--the C. C. Wang hand-of-the-artist argument, personal handwriting, etc. I mean--while the "good" (=authentic, for present purpose) painting will always be the one in which the brushstrokes, lines, etc. best perform their descriptive function."5

 

I have the privilege and honor to call each of these experts my teacher but trying to reconcile their diametrically opposed viewpoints, let alone defend them is, to say the least,  a challenge. The simple solution is to point out that both statements, taken at face value--and out of context--are equally absurd. Wang's view, if taken to the extreme, would reduce connoisseurship to graphology or handwriting analysis; Cahill's approach would eliminate the need to distinguish the brush nuances of an individual painter since all artists were simply striving for an accurate depiction of their subject matter. In fact, the two quotations each display a degree of hyperbole and both experts would admit that the subject of brushwork is far more complicated than either of these statements would indicate. Both experts, however, are sometimes guilty of attempting to apply their own specific sets of criteria--in the case of Wang, brushwork as voice, in the case of Cahill, brushwork as representation--to paintings made by a wide range of Chinese artists over a long period of time, without taking into account differences in artistic intent or historical or regional differences. Furthermore, both approaches, if applied without great diligence, can easily lead to confusing quality (a subjective assessment) with authenticity (an objective assessment).

 Arnold Chang, C.C. Wang and James Cahill, Feb. 1997

Professor Cahill has elaborated his definition of brushwork and explained his overall approach to Chinese painting connoisseurship in this and many other publications and there is no doubt that he will continue to argue persuasively for his point of view. C. C. Wang, on the other hand, continues to discuss his theories of brushwork only with his students and friends, and occasionally in the Chinese language press, but very few outside of his immediate circle have had an opportunity to discuss with him the fundamental aesthetic premises upon which his theory of  brushwork is based. In the following section, and in subsequent essays, I will present my understanding of Wang's definition of good brushwork in the hope that understanding the traditional Chinese approach to painting will be of value.

 

II. The Centered Line-Brushwork and Technique

 

The process of recognizing in a given work the hand of an individual painter is not as simple as C. C. Wang would make it seem and there is no single criterion or even a set of criteria that is equally valid for all Chinese artists of all times, but there is no doubt that the evaluation of brushwork is the traditional basis for connoisseurship of Chinese painting and calligraphy and that, when applied to the appropriate examples, it can be an extremely useful tool in assessing both quality and authenticity. To claim that brushwork is "virtually useless as a criterion of authenticity" can only be interpreted as a defensive overreaction to the equally outrageous contention, by some Chinese connoisseurs, that brushwork is the only  criterion for judging authenticity.

 

Wang's voice analogy is based on two separate assumptions: 1. That every singer has a distinct, individual voice; and 2. That there are generally accepted standards--of tone, pitch, etc.--of what constitutes a good or bad voice.

 

Focusing on the first aspect, that of individuality, without acknowledging the second aspect, a shared set of criteria for quality, can lead to a totally subjective judgment based on one's personal preference for a particular kind of song or type of singing. Wang's pronouncement of the individual greatness of Ni Zan's brushwork presumes that the viewer shares a common set of values by which to assess quality in brushwork. The individuality, per se, of Ni Zan's brushwork is not what makes him great--as it might, say, for an American artist judged by late 20th century standards--it is that he has achieved a transcendent quality within the context of the accepted traditional standards of beauty and taste.6

 

C. C. Wang has impeccable credentials as a connoisseur in the highest of Chinese traditions, and he has been a student and leading teacher of that literati brushwork tradition for more than seven decades. While we don't have to accept that his brushwork criteria are the only, or even the most valid, criteria for judging all Chinese paintings, we should recognize that he is one of today's leading authorities in understanding, conveying, and refining a theory of brushwork that has influenced many of the greatest Chinese painters and collectors alike since, according to Wang's own reckoning, Dong Yuan of the tenth century. When we explain Wang's criteria, it is not to deny other approaches to the subject--Japanese scholars of Chinese painting, for example, view brushwork in very different ways--nor can we claim that Wang represents a monolithic Chinese viewpoint (no more than Cahill represents the Western viewpoint). Nevertheless, Wang's point of view is of great value to us in that it is a distillation of a theory of art developed through hundreds years of critical analysis and examination by some of history's most sensitive and intelligent artists and critics.

 

The present essay will examine just one of C. C. Wang's basic criteria for good brushwork, zhongfeng. The term zhongfeng (中鋒), "centered tip" is frequently used  by later Chinese critics in discussions of both calligraphy and painting. While it is a term that can be interpreted in different ways, the concept of the "centered tip" is absolutely crucial to an understanding of Chinese brushwork. The term has no equivalent in English because it is essentially meaningless for both Western oil painting, which is painted largely with a flat brush, and Western calligraphy, which is written with a stiff pen. 

Fig. 3 C.C. Wang demonstrating the

       zhongfeng manner of holding the brush

 

Zhongfeng , like many Chinese art terms, is profound in its ambiguity. It may refer to the way the brush is held, the position of the tip within the stroke, or to the brushstroke itself. The most common definition refers to the manner in which a brush is held and, in this basic usage, describes a method of holding the brush in an upright position, with the tip perpendicular to the writing surface--bearing in mind that almost all Chinese painting is executed with the paper or silk laid out flat on a table (fig. 3). When the brush is held this way the tip of the brush naturally occupies the middle of the line as the calligrapher or painter begins to create a line or stroke. No matter in which direction the brush is then moved--up, down, left, right, diagonally, or in an arc--the tip of the brush within the middle of the stroke, provided that the brush continues to be held perpendicular to the painting surface. Ch'en Chih-mai, in Chinese Calligraphers and Their Art,  one of the few sources in English to discuss the term, elaborates:

"Good calligraphy begins with the ability to control, manipulate and master the brush.Yu Yu-jen [Yu Youren] was voicing a well-established principle when he told us to make full use of every hair of the tip of the brush. This is technically known as chung feng [zhongfeng], an effect achieved by holding the brush in a perfectly upright position, perpendicular to the writing surface. This will enable the hair of the brush-tip to spread out evenly in all directions. Whether a stroke is done in chung feng  [zhongfeng],or not may be tested by watching the way the ink dries on the paper. If the fringes dry first, leaving momentarily a wet streak in the middle, the brush is held in the correct position. It is generally agreed among experts that, when a manuscript done in chung feng  [zhongfeng],is held up against the light, a thin line of thick ink should be seen running in the middle of the stroke, even when the stroke turns at sharp angles or in curves. Mi Fu told us that one of the best examples of chung feng  [zhongfeng],is Su Shih's transcription of the Ch'ih Pi Fu [chibifu]. Unfortunately the effect cannot be discerned in photographic reproductions. 'The entire piece is done in chung feng' remains to this day a standard phrase of critical acclaim." 7

 

Fig. 4 Zhuanshu form of the character ou(欧), "to fight,

from a set of four hanging scrolls by Wu Changshuo

 

 It is easy to see why writing seal script, zhuanshu (篆書), in which the incised characters of ancient bronze inscriptions were translated into a brush and ink form, requires the writer to hold the brush in an upright manner, with the wrist held stiff, so that the width of each line is even (fig. 4). In order to approximate the rounded, perfectly symmetrical terminations of the strokes which would make them appear to have been incised with a stylus, the calligrapher begins by positioning the tip of the brush on the paper at a point just behind where the stroke is to begin.  Beginning with an initial movement of the brush in a direction opposite from the ultimate direction of the stroke, the writer then quickly reverses course and drags the brush through the starting point, in the proper direction of the stroke. In terminating the stroke a similar reverse in direction is employed, returning the brush tip back into the body of the stroke. Such a technique creates rounded terminations at the end of each stroke and effectively hides the sharpness of the brush-tip within the stroke itself. Although most obvious in seal script, a similar technique is used for certain strokes in other script forms and is known as "concealing the tip," cangfeng (藏鋒). Even the simple character for "one" (yi 一 ) represented by a single horizontal stroke, when written with a brush, is actually composed of a series of left-right-left micro-movements designed to hide the tip of the brush within the body of the stroke.

 

Of course, with the exception of seal script, not all strokes in every character employ the concealed-tip technique; in clerical script (lishu 隸書), and regular script (kaishu 楷書), particularly, the brush-tip is allowed to splay and strokes can terminate in sharp points, and for these styles the calligrapher's ability to vary the pressure of the brush tip against the surface of the paper, producing a modulated line, is of the utmost importance. Additionally, the brush need not be continuously held perpendicular to the table, and the wrist is free to rotate. However, as much as possible, the tip of the brush is still kept within the center of the stroke, even when it tails off to a point, and the energy of the stroke is meant to be retained within the characters. As Ch'en Chih-mai explains:

"Whether the traces of the brush-tip are hidden or exposed, the calligrapher is always obliged to see the stroke through. When we make a check mark with a pencil, we normally do the second part of it with a flip. This flip action is absolutely taboo in Chinese writing. The calligrapher must try to bring each and every stroke to its desired end without the slightest slackening in the process. To the Chinese, writing is a consistent and controlled motion throughout. Nothing casual or careless is allowed." 8

 

An important contribution to our understanding of brushwork is C. C. Wang's contention that zhongfeng,  in addition to being a description of how a brush is held, can also be a qualitative judgment, referring to the solid, rounded, or three-dimensional appearance of a brushed line, an observation that is valid for painting as well as calligraphy. In drawing, as in writing, the Chinese artist maneuvers his brush in such a way that the tip is more or less centered within the stroke, just as in calligraphy. Anyone who has attempted to learn Chinese painting or has watched a Chinese painter at work will realize that it is virtually impossible to do an entire painting with the brush held upright. That would make for a stiff shoulder and a stiff painting as well. In fact, the painter's wrist is constantly moving and the tip of the brush shifts position accordingly. The angle of the brush to the painting surface can be important, but the position of the tip of the brush relative to the painted line  is always crucial, as are other factors, such as the relative dryness of the ink, the absorbency of the paper, the amount of pressure exerted on the brush, etc. Some artists, such as the Yuan master Wu Zhen, must have held the brush in a vertical or nearly vertical manner. Others, such as Wang Meng or Huang Gongwang generally held the brush at a slight angle. Ni Zan is an extreme case because he seems to have held his brush in a very oblique manner, with the brush nearly parallel to the painting surface.

 

Fig. 5 C.C. Wang demonstrating painting with the brush held obliquely

 

C. C. Wang himself paints with the brush held obliquely, sometimes at an angle of only 30 or 40 degrees to the painting surface (fig. 5). Yet the hand and wrist are positioned in such a way that the tip of the brush remains centered in the line, no matter in which direction the lines are drawn. A fundamental measure of the painter's skill is his ability to manipulate the brush in such a way as to always maintain the tip within the center of the line. To create a beautiful line the skillful painter must also succeed in varying the pressure of the stroke, and controlling the flow of ink to the brush tip.

 

C. C.'s definition  of zhongfeng  (hinted at in Ch'en Chih-mai's first quote above) extends to the quality of the line itself, as distinct from its representational function and value.9 In discussing brushwork and its qualitative criteria, one of the most basic of which is zhongfeng, in this new, broader sense of  "centeredness," subject matter is secondary. The same basic standards should hold true for landscape, figure, and bird and flower painting.

Fig. 6 Twine (illustrating a centered line)

Fig. 7 Ribbon (illustrating an uncentered line)

A centered line will appear round, full-bodied, and three-dimensional, while a non-centered line will appear flat and without depth. For traditional connoisseurs, an understanding of the centered line is a prerequisite for excellence. To use a visual comparison: imagine a length of rope (or twine) that has been tossed up in the air and lands on the ground in a random pile. No matter how the rope has been coiled or twisted it retains its cylindrical form. Translated into a two-dimensional pattern, in a drawing or photograph, the rope will twist and turn but will always appear solid and of roughly even width (fig. 6). Imagine, instead, a length of ribbon, similarly tossed in the air and landing in a heap. In this case, the twisting and turning will create creases in the ribbon where it changes direction abruptly. When seen in a photograph or drawing the ribbon will appear flat and subject to abrupt variation in width where the ribbon folds over on itself (fig. 7). In brushwork terminology, the rope is zhongfeng, or centered, the ribbon is pianfeng (偏鋒),10 or uncentered. Simply stated, what C. C. Wang and other traditional connoisseurs refer to as a "bad" brushstroke is often a line that is uncentered, and therefore flat; what they describe as a "good" brushstroke is a line which is, among other things, centered, and therefore rounder and more three-dimensional. In actual practice the distinctions are not as obvious as they appear in this comparison. Many strokes are neither entirely ribbon-like nor rope-like; most are somewhere in between.

 

Fig. 8 Luo Mu, catalogue no. 14, detail  

Fig. 9 Luo Mu, catalogue no. 14, detail

Fig. 10 Luo Mu, catalogue no. 14, detail

A painting in the exhibition, "Evening Landscape" by Luo Mu (catalogue number ?) may serve to illustrate what I mean by a flat brushstroke (figs. 8-10). The flatness of the line is particularly evident in the rendering of the tree trunks and in the twisted contour lines that define the edges of the rocks. Three more glaring examples of flat lines and bad brushwork are details (figs. 11-13) taken from two paintings by a young artist named Zhang Hong (Arnold Chang). These landscapes were painted in the 1970s, prior to learning brushwork theory and technique from C. C. Wang. In contrast are several examples of good, centered brushwork (figs. 14-20) by different artists of the 14th to 20th centuries.

 

Fig. 11 Zhang Hong(Arnold Chang),landscape, detail   

Fig 12 Zhang Hong (Arnold Chang), landscape, detail 

Fig 13 Zhang Hong (Arnold Chang),landscape, detail

 

Fig 14 Ni Zan, Landscape, detail

Fig 15 Yuanji, Narcissus, Bamboo, and Rock, detail

Fig. 16 Yuanji, Landscapes for Wu Chengxia, detail

 

Shifting my understanding of the term zhongfeng from a definition of a technique of brushwielding to a basic measure of the quality of line was a major breakthrough in my education as a connoisseur and a painter. The simple ability to differentiate between a centered and a flat line was the key that opened the door to comprehending the traditional view of brushwork. As a painter a belief in the primacy of the centered line has allowed me to avoid artistic pitfalls that have beset others and has challenged me by keeping this millenia-long standard always in my consciousness

Fig. 17 Wang Yuanqi, landscapes, detail    

Fig. 18 Yuanji, Landscapes for Wu Chengxia

Fig 19 Xu Gu, Three Friends of Winter, 1894, detail

Fig. 20 Wu Hufan, Landscape After Ni Zan, detail

The general principles of brushwork apply, to a greater or lesser extent, to all Chinese painters, in that they all are concerned with the use of brush and ink. C. C. Wang's brushwork criteria, especially his explanation of the centered line, is most useful in identifying and extremely helpful in assessing, in terms of relative quality and authenticity, the work of many of those artists who are considered great by traditional Chinese standards, including Zhao Mengfu, the Four Yuan masters, Shen Zhou, Wen Zhengming, Dong Qichang, Wang Hui, and Wang Yuanqi. The reason is obvious: those artists who adhered to these standards became the orthodoxy who, in turn, approved only of those artists sharing their own particular views. The theory is broad enough, however, to include painters as diverse as Yuanji, Bada Shanren, Xugu, and Qi Baishi. It is also one of the keys used by Wang in distinguishing between a genuine Ma Yuan and a Ming copy. The limitation of the principle of the centered line as a measure of good brushwork is demonstrated by the number of fine and important artists, including whole schools--such as the Zhe School, the Yangzhou eccentrics, and almost all 20th century artists--who are damned because they were not overly concerned with brushwork in this sense or pursued different standards of quality.  Nevertheless, the persistence of a consistent aesthetic theory based on the principle of the centered line, a lineage extending over a period of one thousand years, from Dong Yuan to Wu Hufan, and encompassing a wide range of styles and subjects, is truly significant.11

 

There is no magic formula for authenticating Chinese paintings. Even for those artists whose works seem to adhere most closely to C. C. Wang's brushwork criteria,  the principle of the centered line, by itself, is not enough to make any determinations about a given work. Other factors, including compositional structure, subject matter, format, and descriptive function, may all be important, as well as external factors such as provenance, seals and colophons. On the other hand, an understanding of orthodox brushwork technique and aesthetic can also be useful in judging the works of the majority of Chinese painters, whose artistic lineage is outside of the narrow but influential world of the literati masters, because in learning to pay attention to details and appreciate the subtler points of  brushmanship embodied by the orthodox painters, one's eye becomes finely tuned enough to detect the subtle individual wrist movements and changes in pressure that are present in the work of Chinese painters of all schools and periods.

 

The principle of the centered line is only the first, and most basic criterion for assessing quality in brushwork. Additional criteria and other topics relating to brushwork and connoisseurship will be discussed in subsequent issues of the Kaikodo Journal.

 

 

 

1.  See "The Tu Chin Correspondence, 1994-95," a series of letters exchanged among James Cahill, Richard Barnhart, Maxwell Hearn, Steven Little, and Charles Mason concerning Chinese painting connoisseurship and methodology, in Kaikodo Journal V, 1997, pp. 8-45; and Maxwell Hearn's statement on C. C. Wang and brushwork quoted by Barbara Pollack in "Buying to Learn, Collector-Scholar C. C. Wang, 90, Bridges East and West, Past and Present," in Artnews, October 1997, pp. 142-145.

2.  The title of this section is borrowed from an unpublished manuscript written by Joan Stanley-Baker which, when I read it in 1979, was tentatively titled "Definition of Brushwork-Oriented Criteria in Chinese Literati Aesthetics." Based on a series of in-depth interviews conducted with C. C. Wang between 1971 and 1978, the manuscript was a great help in understanding Wang's approach to connoisseurship when I began my own training with him in 1978. A Chinese version of the discussions, translated by Wang Mei-ch'i, was published as "Huayulu" inNational Palace Museum Monthly of Art, nos. 13 and 15-29, 1984-5. I did not consult the Chinese version or reread the original manuscript in preparation for this essay, but I am deeply indebted to Joan's pioneering effort and for her guidance and support over the years. I look forward to her forthcoming book, C. C. Wang: Master of An Age, which will incorporate the original English discussions. See Old Masters Repainted, Hong Kong University Press, 1995, p. xx, note 1, and p.14, note 24.

3. Another such term frequently used in describing and artist's style of brushwork is "expressive," which can be misleading because the term is subject to different interpretations based on broader cultural values. What a Western critic finds expressive, a Chinese artist might consider unrefined, vulgar, or downright rude.

4. Jerome Silbergeld, Mind Landscapes: the Painting of C. C. Wang, University of Washington Press, 1987, p. 42.

5. Kaikodo Journal V, p. 8.

6.  Ni Zan is the exemplar of the literati taste and to a great extent his brushwork defined the standards by which all later artists in this lineage are judged.

7. Ch'en Chih-mai, Chinese Calligraphers and Their Art, Melbourne University Press, London and New York, 1966, p. 189.

8. Ibid, p.190.

9. These values are by no means mutually exclusive. In may be argued that the greatest Chinese painters were those who satisfied the standards of good brushwork and simultaneously succeeded by depicting forms in a convincing representational manner. Prior to the 20th century, Chinese painting never became completely abstract. Although the abstract character of brushwork is appreciated and admired, brushwork is always linked to subject matter and is, in that sense, functional. In the final analysis, the brushwork as voice versus the brushwork as representation argument is one of emphasis or degree, not one of absolutes. It is for this reason that Wang and Cahill agree upon attributions far more often than they disagree.

10.  Pianfeng, like its antonym zhongfeng, is ambiguous, referring sometimes to the manner in which the brush is held, ie. at an angle as opposed to perpendicular to the painting surface, and sometimes to a line in which the brush tip is not centered. In common usage pianfengis a synonym for cefeng  (側鋒), inclined tip. In Wang's personal lexicon, however,cefeng  refers only to the way the brush is held, whilepianfeng is a qualitative term, referring to the non-centered, flat brushstroke. He frequently describes lines as"cefeng er bu pianfeng"meaning "centered strokes created with the brush held aslant."

11. A painting ascribed to Dong Yuan of the 10th century has been at the center of a recent controversy which has brought the issue of Chinese painting connoisseurship well into public awareness. The Riverbank,  formerly in the C. C. Wang Collection, is one of a group of paintings promised as a gift to the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The authenticity of this painting has been questioned by James Cahill, who believes the work to be a 20th century forgery. Several articles have recently appeared in Chinese and English language publications expressing a range of expert opinions, most arguing for a date between the 10th and 12th centuries. It can be noted here that the age of the painting is of great personal importance to Wang because it is a key monument in the brush lineage to which he himself lays claim as both artist and connoisseur. Not only does his reputation as a collector depend on the antiquity of the painting but the historical foundation of his theory of brushwork-oriented connoisseurship will be brought into question if the work might in fact be a 20th century forgery.

 

 

Fig. 1: Rubbing of an inscription from a Zhou dynasty bronze, after Zhongguo meishu quanji, shufa zhuanke bian, vol. 1, Beijing 1987, p. 8.

Fig. 2: A inscribed oxen bone used for divination, Shang dynasty, after Zhongguo meishu quanji, shufa zhuanke bian, vol. 1, Beijing 1987, pl. 18.

Fig. 3: C. C. Wang demonstrating the zhongfeng manner of holding the brush.

Fig, 4: Zhuanshu form of the character ou (毆), "to fight," from a set of four hanging scrolls by Wu Changshuo (1844-1927), private collection.

Fig. 5: C. C. Wang demonstrating painting with the brush held obliquely.

Fig. 6: Twine (illustrating a centered line).

Fig. 7: Ribbon (illustrating an uncentered line).

Fig. 8: Luo Mu, catalogue no. , detail.

Fig. 9: Luo Mu, catalogue no. , detail.

Fig. 10: Luo Mu, catalogue no. , detail.

Fig. 11: Zhang Hong (Arnold Chang), Landscape, detail.

Fig. 12: Zhang Hong (Arnold Chang), Landscape, detail.

Fig. 13: Zhang Hong (Arnold Chang), Landscape, detail.

Fig. 14: Ni Zan , Landscape, detail.

Fig. 15: Yuanji, Narcissus, Bamboo, and Rock, detail.

Fig. 16: Yuanji, Landscapes Painted for the Daoist Yu, detail.

Fig. 17: Wang Yuanqi, Landscape, detail.

Fig. 18: Yuanji, Landscapes Painted for the Daoist Yu, detail.

Fig. 19: Xugu, Three Friends of Winter, 1894, detail.

Fig. 20: Wu Hufan, Landscape After Ni Zan, detail.