What is meant by “Embody “Qi” in painting the horse ‘’
The definition of “Qi” in Chinese dictionary is ‘air’ or gas in nature.
“Painting a horse by pumping air into it?”
“I have never heard that before. Does it mean someone paints a horse in anger?” someone asks.
When speaking of “Qi”, we would automatically think of the Chinese “Qi Gong”, an ancient health sport which has been practiced for hundreds of decades.
Certainly the “Qi” quoted in my article does not define “Qi” as the air or mist in the atmosphere .
The definition of “Qi” in Chinese Qi Gong
“Qi” is one of essential elements forming the human body and maintaining the daily activities of life. Hence, the functions and activities of a human’s internal organs are activated by “Qi”. The definition of “Qi” in “Qi Gong” seems to be similar to the definition of “Zhen Qi” in traditional Chinese Medication that is, both “Qi” are not referring to the air in nature.
According to the ancient Chinese Medical records, “Qi” is the ordinary energy of human life which is latent in a human inner body with a continuous circulation. It is said that “Qi” is able to be released out of one’s body to cure others. Referring to the observation on the physical anatomy, the human inner body comprises an incredible “Sub-energy” which can prolong human’s life if its co-ordination receives proper training. “Qi Gong” is a distinctive health sport which is executed based on the growth and rhythm of life. It revitalizes human’s energy and refines the activities of internal organs besides recovering from illnesses.
The definition of “Qi” in Taoism
From the point of view of Taoism, the aesthetic philosophy of Taoism Grand Master “Lao Zi” does not emphasize the term of “Beauty” but the integrated relationships of “Tao”, “Qi” and “Xiang”.
According to the explanation of “Lao Zi”, “Tao” is the beginning of nature in a whole ,and the “Wu”(Object)and “Qing” i.e. “Qi”(Flow of inner energy).The liveliness of all creatures in the world including Man is entirely relying on “Tao” or “Qi” while “Xiang” is never separated from “Tao” and “Qi”.” The “Xiang”( Imagery)will lose its liveliness and become meaningless if it is apart from “Tao” and “Qi”. Hence, the aesthetic appreciation is only considered complete and comprehensive if the aesthetic object to be appreciated reflects the “Qi” (Flow of inner energy)but not its “Xiang”(Imagery) alone.
“Qi” from my point of view in painting
Based on the above underlined main points, let’s look at these main points from another angle as below:
“Qi” latent in the human body, circulating itself, has become the artist’s ordinary energy of life. And at the same time “Qi” is also able to release out of the artist’s inner body through brushes and other mediums of painting. This, to an extent, indicates that artist has an incredible “Sub-energy” latent in his inner body to be embodied in his paintings.
For instances, the horse, as a creature in nature, is formed by “Xiang” (Imagery) and “Qi’ (Flow of inner energy) too. Therefore the artist should reveal the “Qi’ of the horse while capturing its imagery. In other words, the real spirit of the horse is not able to be captured unless the reflection of “Qi” and “Xiang” are successfully shown in one’s the painting.
Based on the above inferences, the “Qi’ of the horse displayed in the painting is a result of that the “Qi” released from the artist’s body blended with his aesthetic impression and the summary of the imagery of the horse through his brushworks.
Thus there are two realities in Chinese Freestyle painting ( Xie Yi Hua) as follows:
1) The simpler the structure of the subject is ,the easier the “Qi” is released out by the artist. On the other hand, the more complex the structure of the subject is, the more difficult the “Qi” is brought out into the artwork.
2) The more abstract the subject is, such as landscape or floral, the more directly the artist can express the “Qi”. On the other hand, the more figurative or realistic the subject is, such as human figures and or animals, the more obstacles the artist has to confront in expressing the “Qi”. As a result the “Qi” conveyed is much weaker in his paintings.
These two conclusions are based on my 20 –year-teaching experiences and long observation of my students’ progress in learning Chinese ink painting.
This conclusion is also supported by a statistic that out of a hundred Chinese painters the majority will have the tendency to pick either landscape or floral as their main subject matters while only a few of them will attempt to excel with either human figures or animals.
Freestyle painting is regarded as one of the most important evolutions in Chinese ink painting. However the sense of “Free” seems to be no longer as free as it has been previously as Chinese painters have begun to hesitate when painting complicated images of subjects for their creations. It has been found that most Chinese painters demonstrated more brushworks and slower paced action in painting their creations. No doubt the ambience of liveliness and flow projected in their paintings is decreasing from the levels seen previously. Are the artists experiencing more and more difficulties in releasing their “Qi” from inner bodies due to the complexity of the subjects they painted in the Freestyle Chinese Painting(Xie Yi Hua) ? Shall we still name such paintings “Freestyle Chinese painting” which is supposed to be free and flowing? Or has such painting become quite rigid, hesitative and dull even though it is still claimed to be “Freestyle”? So where is the significant “Qi”? It is very disappointing that I cannot sense it in quite a number of artworks done by the so called Freestyle Chinese painters. Perhaps I am a bit slow to sense the “Qi”?
Under such circumstances, I pluck up my courage to put forward a completely new aesthetic term i.e. Horse painting embodied by “Qi”, based on my view and understanding. I earnestly hope that fellow professional artists will forgive any mistakes I make. More importantly, it is hoped that my conception serves to stimulate others to improve on them, or to use a Chinese idiom, “to throw a brick hoping that it attracts a piece of jade.”
“Jing Qi”, the most essential and the strongest Qi of all
“Guan Zi”, an ancient Chinese philosophical book, mentioned that “Jing Qi” was defined as the most essential and the strongest “Qi” of all “Qi”. According to the explanation of “Guan Zi”, the more “Jing Qi” one has gained, the more powerful one’s life is and the more intelligent one is. In other words, everyone has “Qi” latent in the inner body .And the important question is whether the “Qi” is strong or weak.
I agree with the above mentioned point of view. Similarly the “Qi” for the painting is certainly not referring to the weak “Qi’’ but the essential and strong “Qi” latent in the artist’s inner body. Thus, “Qi” needs to be upgraded or highly cultivated by the artist through aesthetic improvement and accomplishment .In so doing the existing “Qi” will definitely become more and more powerful, or in other words, transform into “Jing Qi”.
The 8 main elements which formed the “Qi”
In my opinion we of the Science and Technology Age should not interpret “Qi” in a mysterious and abstruse obtuse theory. Instead, we should elaborate on the “Qi” based on scientific analysis. Hence I decided to try my best to analyze and interpret the exact meanings of “Qi” and how it formed to make the art beholder feel the sense of “Qi” in painting.
Of course “Qi” cannot be seen or visualized by human eyes. Yet artists have no way to grab the “Qi”. On the other hand “Qi” can be only sensed by the beholder through the painting projected by the artist. The “Qi” projected in the painting directly and deeply goes into the mind of the beholder and then touches and stimulates the beholder’s aesthetic reaction.
The 8 main elements which formed the “Qi” in painting are as follows:
1) Profound sub sense (subconscious) of entire subject
2) Confident execution
3) Smooth flow
4) Consecutive connection
5) Right rhythmic operation
6) Use of inner strength
7) Harmonious co-ordination between mind and body
8) Image summary with solid foundation
The above mentioned analysis stresses more the formation of “Qi” rather than the implementation of the mood and imagery of the “Qi” in painting.
Noticeably I rank the “profound sub sense (subconscious) of the entire object or subject” as the priority and the most important element among the main 8 elements because it deeply influences the rest of the elements.
1) Profound Sub Sense (Subconscious) of the Entire Subject
The above mentioned sub sense can be only achieved if the artist has an entire understanding and mastery in painting of both the inward spirit and the outward form of the aesthetic subject .This kind of sub sense is not kept in mind for a short period but profoundly printed in the mind forever. Unlike painting an image with a picture reference alongside or after a first draft or even with a few rigid pictorial memories, the speed of movement is definitely quicker when painting with subsense than even the artist’s thoughts or what his eye can trace. The speed implemented in sub sensed painting is just like the quick defensive reaction of a martial art master without a second thought when being attacked by his enemy. Similarly the sub sensed painting is executed under the condition of the subconscious without a rational and intentional arrangement. Hence as an artist especially as a Chinese painter, the element of “profound sub sense of entire subject” is very important to me for my horse painting.
2) Confident Execution
With good preparation and sufficient practice, confidence will certainly be embodied in the artist’s mind. Thus the artist is able to execute his painting confidently without a single hesitation.
3) Smooth Flow
Smooth flow does not only mean the frequency of brushwork but also means the straightforwardness of the mental activation.
4) Consecutive Connection
Consecutive connection doesn’t mean that it is confined to a single consecutive line or brushstroke. In fact, it also means that the consecutive flow between two or more brushworks despite fact that they are apart, in terms of the application of brushstroke, ink-toning and coloring as well as the connection or relationship between the individual subjects in the painting.
5) Right Rhythmic Operation
This means that the strength, the speed and the flow of the brushwork is are precisely operated in an artistic rhythm. The accuracy in operating the aesthetic rhythm is relying on one’s artistic accomplishment and mastery.
6) Use of Inner Strength
It does not mean that a muscular man is able to release his inner strength. The inner strength can only be released or burst in a second when the co-ordination between the physical and the mental has merged into one. This inner strength released for the painting is quite similar to the “Inner strength” mentioned by the Kung Fu Master Bruce Lee in his martial art training. However, the use of inner strength should not be implemented all the way from the beginning to the end in doing an artwork. Instead the use of inner strength is only employed at the right time when it is needed to enhance the liveliness of the painting.
7) Harmonious Co-ordination Between Mind and Body
In fact painting is not only executed with hands but also with mind and body. Indeed the artist is “dancing” with his whole body when painting. Therefore the harmony in the co-ordination between mind and body is crucially important for painting.
8) Image Summary with Solid Foundation
It can be said that everyone has rights to summarize any image of a subject. However not everyone has the capability to summarize the imagery into the right form. Whether the image summary is precisely conducted is relying on one’s aesthetic accomplishment and improvement. In other word the image summary should be based on profound observation and the solid foundation of sketching. Obviously the more solid the foundation the artist lays the more excellently the artist can summarize the imagery.
I will stop writing here until I have another great opportunity to deal with this interesting topic again.
10th May 2015
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