While Chinese art can easily be appreciated by Westerns, its aesthetics are based on a very different approach. Several forces play important roles in determining how this art takes shape.
One big force is the East Asian view of nature as taking precedent over humanity. Another important driver is the belief that both all things in nature and all parts of human society should work together in harmony. There is also a view of life that is cyclical and unending in nature. Because Chinese writing is based on symbolic representations of objects, there is no real distinction between calligraphy and other types of visual display. Finally, there is the heavy use of symbols in art. These artistic expressions can take the form of anything from traditional painting to modern computer obj files.
Depicting natural settings has always played a huge part in Chinese art. Portrayals of nature have also been important in Western paintings, but in the East, objects are not focused on for their own sake. The idea is to show both how they blend together and to reveal their deeper qualities. A typical example is a series of outdoor scenes linked together, instead of a single scene shown from the artist’s viewpoint.
Because there is no separation between the human and natural realms and the forces of nature are supreme, human characters are often set to one side and are relatively small in comparison to the overall artwork.
Along with landscapes, artwork also includes many types of design patterns. Some common features are used because of their symbolic meanings. One popular design is the Asian swastika. This variety rotates in the opposite direction of that other version.
The motif is usually a symbol of good luck. Sometimes, though, since it resembles the character for the number 10,000, it can also mean long life. The image is particularly interesting in that it appears in cultures throughout the world and represents the sun in most of them. Another design is called the shou. This consists of linear geometric latticework and is used specifically as an emblem for longevity. In addition, the Buddhist-originated endless knot appears in many motifs. These and other geometric patterns are often tied together in continual lines to represent the endless cycles of nature without end. This characteristic has lent itself nicely to everything from garment hems to the edges of framed artwork to computer graphics obj files.
Written language has been in China since around 1600 B.C. when the civilization was still divided into kingdoms like Tan or Ju. Ever since the age of the Han dynasty, and long after such states as Tan had disappeared, calligraphy has been key to Chinese writing. It was believed that an individual’s skill with calligraphy showed their competence and intelligence.
This developed over time to a level of beauty that could stand alone as artwork. It’s believed that as an individual author developed their own calligraphy style, others could grasp their inner thoughts and feelings by studying their unique contributions. Also, in their culture, there’s no complete separation between the written word and other visual images as objects of beauty because the writing system consists of abstract pictures. In fact, paintings and other types of decor will often include words with the pictures. In this culture, words of poetry are both visual and literary works. From the earliest age of calligraphy, silk was often preferred as an ideal canvas for this form of expression.
To a much greater degree than Western cultures, Eastern civilizations make use of symbolism in their works. This is due to their goal of conveying messages of deeper meaning in their works. Along with landscapes and portraits, symbols are used by themselves in framed wall art. It’s thought that having such symbols in one’s home can impart whatever characteristic the image means on its owner. For prosperity, such things as carp, peonies, hens, and grain will bring it to their new owner. A peach is considered a symbol of longevity. Plum blossoms, cranes, and chrysanthemums are also thought to bestow this gift. Both bats and butterflies are symbols of happiness. The magnolia, on the other hand, is the symbol of feminine beauty.
In the Eastern aesthetic, all things in nature are thought to have a life force to them. When used in wall art or any other type of decor, the purpose is to reveal their deeper, hidden meaning. To this end, the written word is included to both enhance and expose this meaning.