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Leave white space for Chinese painting——About Mr. Zeng Mi and his literati paintings

In 1921, Chen Shizeng called out for literati paintings: "Paintings are things, they are spiritual, thinkers, and active."


At that time, the New Culture Movement was still in its infancy, and Kang Youwei, Hu Shi, Chen Duxiu, etc. had written articles advocating the "extinction" and "revolution" of Chinese paintings, especially literati paintings. This is the reaction of modern people in the face of the all-around impact of Western modern culture, but some people have long realized the possible disastrous consequences of this impact, so various fields have launched campaigns to safeguard Chinese culture. In the field of painting, in addition to Chen Shizeng, Huang Jie, Huang Binhong, Deng Shi and others launched the "Guo Quintessence Journal", proposing the "rejuvenation of ancient studies" and practicing the innovation of literati painting; another example is Xu Beihong, who excavated historical stories and used oil painting techniques to revive the stories of Chinese characters Painting creation; Another example is Yuyuan calligraphy and painting, which "is an aid in preserving the quintessence of the country". Scholars such as Fei Zheng Qing summed up the development of Chinese culture and system in the 20th century, and put forward the historical research theory of the "Western Impact-China Response".In reality, the Impact-Response theory had affected 100 years of Chinese artists, be it they chose to accept, reject or avoid it, it is difficult to ignore the impact of modernization on traditional Chinese painting. In the field of history, the shock-response theory has been criticized as Eurocentrism; in the field of art, many artists have also put forward their own thinking and practiced it in their creations, and Zeng Mi is one of them.


The world pays attention to artists, and generally only pays attention to the works of artists, but the thoughts on art beyond works are often ignored. Chinese literati painters are not shy about expressing their thoughts on art and have even formed a long-standing tradition. Famous ones such as Guo Xi's "Linquan Gaozhi", Huang Gongwang's "Xie Shanshui Jue", Dong Qichang's "Hua Chan Shi Shui Bi", Yun Shouping "Nantian Painting Postscript" and so on, Zeng Mi's "Zeng Mi's Art Notes". After the Cultural Revolution, there have been several debates or movements in the Chinese art world, such as Star Painting Exhibition, "Formal Beauty", "Brush and Ink Equal to Zero", the 1985 New Wave, "Chinese painting has come to an end", and New Literati Painting.

, the anxiety of transforming Chinese art is even worse than that of the May 4th,1919 period. At the beginning of this pictorial-style note, Zeng Mi said that this book is mainly a "scratch on paper" after the 1985 New Wave, and clearly expressed his artistic standpoint: "I firmly believe that Chinese civilization pays attention to the excellence of character and learning tradition".


Zeng Mi's belief is not superstition, but a firm belief that has become more solid after learning and comparing Western classical and modern art styles and theories. For example, the first chapter of the notes, "Visual Perception and Aesthetic Sensation", is obviously a response to Rudolf Arnheim and Gombrich's art psychology theory, but within the text, Zeng Mi pays more attention to sensation: "Perception it is different from feelings. Perception is the premise of feelings and feelings are a comprehensive mental state after the participation of association and imagination, using the experiences and impressions of our memory." "Any revolution of art or the appearance of a master starts with the revolution of feelings." Zeng Mi said: "The great masters regard brush and ink Chinese painting as a technique, and the mediocre people regard brush and ink Chinese painting as their objective." "Traditional brush and ink Chinese painting will become more spirited amidst scolding." Regarding form, "the driving force behind the evolution of art is the sense of form. But the sense of form is not the goal, it just to provides the opportunities for the expression of new thoughts and feelings." Comparing Chinese and Western paintings, Zeng Mi naturally had a deeper understanding.


"Western painting pursues many things as their goals, while Chinese painting is only a technique and a process", but he can still see the common ground between China and the West. "Color masters Monet and Seurat, purified the traditional color expression formula, to make it deeper, stronger in thought, and more perfect in character. Masters of traditional Chinese painting Pan Tianshou and Xu Gu also purified the traditional expressive method - the brush line (bone method). What I can't stand the most is the invasion of philosophy into art criticism. "The most disgusting and saddest thing is that some critics use philosophy to put a beautiful halo on them. It has led to all kinds of modern art styles. It turns elegant painting art into "playful Art", doesn't need skills, doesn't need learning, its just gimmicks. Because you can find a well-matched explanation in the dictionary of modern philosophy". Zeng Mi has a clear understanding of the formulas in Chinese painting. "Although the old formulas are only the basic expression methods, they are important rules for learning Chinese landscape painting, and they are the unavoidable path to it." The composition effect is guided by the force created by the formulas and was proved in the actual creation". Of course, what Zeng Mi values most is the artist's taste, self-cultivation, and realm. "If one does not stand on a high ground, one will not be elegant or ancient."



风俗淳
Fiqure 1《 Feng Su Chun 》

Only by reading Zeng Mi's works can we appreciate their loftiness of them. For example, Zeng Mi's tree is extremely simplified, it looks rough and messy, but it is full of rhythm. Zheng Banqiao has a saying: "Trim away the tediousness and leave thin, draw when you are born and when you are matured" Zeng Mi's works reveal his proficiency and purity in the traditional tree and stone cracking method, but he does the opposite in actual creation, forgetting how many times the technique that I have been familiar with for ten years has abstracted, emotionalized, and personified the formulas of Chinese painting, showing the heart to the greatest extent. In a typical picture of Qing Dynasty literati (Figure 1) "Feng Su Chun", Zeng Mi wrote: "Our Chinese folk customs are mellow and simple, and I don't care about brush and ink. I use abstract style to draw overall spirits of art, like the outer surface." The spirit of the unfinished inscription and the strength of style is marked by the mountains, trees, and rocks below.




天边独树高原
Figure 2 《 Lone Tree at the Sky Plateau 》

In the current composition of a tree created by Zeng Mi, a tree is either luxuriant or bare, with only one tree standing in the foreground of the picture, and behind it are land, rivers, mountains, smoke clouds, and the human world. Complexity does not seem to stand alone in the world, but it is there, and the world behind it is more treacherous and fascinating. For example, in "Lone Tree at the Sky Plateau" drawn in 1998 (Figure 2), if you don't read the inscriptions, it is difficult to guess the specific content of the painting, and after reading the inscriptions, it is even more difficult to imagine that it is on a plateau with grassland and distant mountains as the main landscape. Why did A long, non-upright pole appear and impresses the artist? This long pole breaks the stability of the whole picture, combined with the effect of ink and wash, it shows the vastness of the world in a short distance.





早春
Figure 2 《 Early Spring 》

In "Early Spring" (Figure 2), painted in 1987, there are no plum blossoms in the painting but a tree with swaying green branches and leaves stands in the foreground of the painting, leaning to the right. I guess it is a common willow tree in the West Lake. Compared with (Figure 2) "Lone Tree at the Sky Plateau", the scenery behind the tree is relatively concrete, and the fluttering white-walled tile-roofed houses are also mixed with the mountain scenery, making the tree in the foreground the main object of expression, jumping green tree with the hidden brush strokes that bring the branches alive.




山路幽静
Figure 4 《 Quiet Mountain Road 》
Figure 5 《 Going Alone in a Secluded Mountain 》

"Road" is a very special theme in Zeng Mi's paintings. The roads in Zeng Mi's paintings usually meander upwards, and there are few horizontal roads; they are not eye-catching, and are hidden among trees and rocks; A thatched hut near the peak, surrounded by dense forests; climbers are often not in the painting, but looking out of the painting at the ordinary mountain road that tests determination and endurance, such as (Figure 4) "Quiet Mountain Road". In another work (Figure 5) "Going Alone in a Secluded Mountain", a cape-capped old man appears at the foot of the road at the foot of the mountain, occupying only a small corner,


showing humility. He looks up at the mountain road but shows no fear. Zeng Mi left the signature in front of old men, perhaps the climber was the painter himself.














远山映塔
Figure 6 《 Distant Mountains Reflecting the Pagoda 》

Compared with the tiled houses hidden among the mountains, trees, and rocks, the most eye-catching buildings in Zeng Mi's paintings are pagodas, which may be related to the Baochu Pagoda, Leifeng Pagoda, North Peak Pagoda, and South Peak Pagoda surrounding the West Lake. The last three pagodas collapsed in the Qing Dynasty and the Republic of China respectively, but left behind the name of the Ten Scenes of West Lake, which will be imagined by future generations. I guess (Figure 6) "Distant Mountains Reflecting the Pagoda" depicts the Baochu Pagoda that still stands on Baoshi Mountain. In the distance are the mountains south of the West Lake. This composition of one water and two banks originated from Ni Zan, but compared with Ni Zan's bleakness, Zeng Mi's water and mountains are full of vitality and dynamics. They are not carved with many brushstrokes, are agile and fast, and have abundant water, including those that appear in traditional Chinese paintings. Fewer pagodas are also built with freehand brushstrokes to capture their spirit. The inscription on the water surface is a copy of Shi Tao's theory of three manipulations, which is Shi Tao's comprehensive summary of the relationship between brush and ink. According to Qiao Xun's interpretation: "The whiskers of the brush are full of inertia driven by free force, while the ink is full of potential for change. In other words, when the power of the brush meets the potential of the ink, the adjustment of the brush and the change of the ink become the most spectacular scene.” It can be imagined that Zeng Mi was feeling the power of brush and ink when painting this landscape of West Lake.





是心是佛
Figure 7 《 It's the Heart is the Buddha 》

The other pagoda (Figure 7) "It's the Heart is the Buddha" has the feeling of a collage. The main outline is drawn with a thick brush stroke, and a little light ink renders the curvature of the pagoda body. It seems that the top of the tower is gone, and three sections of walls and tile eaves are used to divide a certain layer behind it.

Second, the farthest is the bamboo forest. The most interesting thing is the inscriptions and postscripts. Except for the inscription on the far left, the other four paragraphs of inscriptions and postscripts do not follow the general rules of inscriptions and postscripts of literati paintings. There is a saying adapted from "Dream of Red Mansions", "The fake is true and the true is also false, the Tao is ruthless and there is love", and also there is a couplet by Master Hongyi "Today I know that our heart is a Buddha, my predecessor does not see me as a monk" makes the picture full of broken relationships under the unified black and white tones of ink and wash. This kind of breaking is restrained and unobtrusive, which needs to be discovered by the viewer.


白塔
Figure 8 《White Tower 》

There is also a painting of a pagoda (Figure 8). "White Tower" which is not in black and white. The tower is used as a breaking factor to run through the three lands in the painting. The first one is slightly darker and the last one is light ink. A piece of land at the center is light red, the trees are swaying left and right, and the canopy is rendered in light cyan. The whole painting presents a leisurely and lazy feeling.








来去匆匆
Figure 9 《 Come and Go 》

The animals in Zeng Mi's paintings seem to have acquired the same status as humans. Animals in ancient Chinese paintings are either ferocious beasts in nature, vassals serving people, or at most symbols of human spiritual worship figuring. In Zeng Mi's paintings, animals often exist as independent entities in the world. For example (Figure 9) the running animal in "Come and Go" is not a running horse commonly seen in Chinese paintings, but its a dog. Its running is not for the purpose of projecting the strength and high spirits that people want, but purely for happiness. The painter simplifies the image of the dog but uses the clear colors of the ground and trees to express his love for the dog.


高原风情
Figure 10《 Amorous feelings in the plateau 》


The same is true for (Figure 10)"Amorous feelings in the plateau". A yak stands under a dead tree and looks at the distant mountains. It seems to be the image of "sitting and watching the clouds rise" in Song paintings. To show the connection between humans and the yak, the horn is purposely drawn non-symmetrically. In that location, humans are replaced with animals, can they think? How do they see the world? The painter breaks through the shackles of anthropocentrism, showing a broader dimension of thought.





陆游诗意图
Figure 11 《 Lu You's Poetry 》

In Zeng Mi's landscape paintings, few people appear, and even if they appear, they are very small, humbly looking up or walking in a certain corner. But there are occasional exceptions (Figure 11) "Lu You's Poetry Intention", an old man in a long robe stands on a boulder with his hands behind his back, looking up at the blue water surface, which reminds people of Cao Cao's poem "Looking from Jieshi Mountain in the east, you can see the vast sea", It also reminds people of Friedrich's romantic masterpiece "Wanderer above the Sea of Fog". Zeng Mi transcribed Lu You's poems on the painting, "After the song, the sea moves the color, and the poem changes the appearance forever", which shows that people are the well-deserved protagonists in the painting, and perhaps they are their own substitutions.







观鸟图
Figure 12 《Watching Bird 》

The people in Zeng Mi's paintings are interesting people that he observed. In (Figure 12)"Watching Bird", the six people in the painting are all wearing mandarin jackets, which are not typical modern clothes. The three people in the middle are the most eye-catching.


One of them kept his hand inside his pocket, while another cross his hand and the last one kept his hand behind. they were there chatting the outline is not very clear, but the happy atmosphere is palpable.






熙熙攘攘贡香去
Figure 13 《 Tribute Incenses 》

There is also a similar work "Tribute Incenses" (Figure 13), which depicts the scene of people scrambling for incense sticks during the Chinese New Year. In the picture, people hold incense sticks and carry Buddhist bags on their shoulders, and enter the gate of the temple from two roads, forming a visual focus. The pure color of the yellow wall of the temple at the top of the screen contrasts with the dense crowd below, and the vegetation is quickly formed, which also exaggerates the warm atmosphere





Zeng Mi's figure paintings break away from the system of literati paintings. In addition to absorbing the folk style represented by Qi Baishi in modern times, he also learns from modern works that have entered the narrative of Chinese art history. For example, when copying the T-shaped silk painting of the Mawangdui Han Tomb, there are a few rough strokes, roughly following the upper and lower structure of the silk painting, but the charm is complete; for example, copying the pottery figurines of the Shandong Provincial Museum, the structure is self-assembled, showing the transcendence of the stone portraits of the Han Dynasty. This can be seen in Zeng Mi's figure paintings.


Contemporary people criticize literati paintings and often have a point of view. The soil for the survival of literati no longer exists. If there are no literati in the world, can there be literati painting? Nowadays, most of the painters who paint literati paintings make a living by painting and working in academies or other art institutions, and Zeng Mi is no exception. However, by removing the superficial shell once used to define literati painting and grasping the essence, we can find that Zeng Mi is worthy of the great tradition of literati painting. Chen Shizeng also said in "The Value of Literati Painting": "The elements of literati painting are the first character, the second knowledge, the third talent, and the fourth thought." Innovation, repeatedly emphasizing the value of self-cultivation in painting, is also committed to conveying his thoughts and talents in his works, striving for the unity of nature and man. The unity of nature and man is present in every aspect of Mr. Zeng Mi, perhaps as he was keen on white attire in his later years, and Zeng Mi paints in order to leave a little white space for Chinese painting and the world.


Written By Ma Xuhao, translated by Jack Chen


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