What Are the Different Types of Chinese Art Styles?
Supposedly, the first Chinese villages rose in the Yellow River Valley sometime around 5000 BCE. The first dynasty, the Xia Dynasty, started sometime around 2070 BCE. There was a lot of time for various Chinese art styles to form between then and now.
Are you interested in learning about some of the different Chinese art forms, themes, styles, etc.? If so, read on!
What Is Chinese Art?
The term "Chinese art" refers to all the visual types of art in China. That is, it includes all the art that Chinese artists and cultures produced within China.
Such work could've been made in all sections of Chinese history. This includes eras from the Prehistoric age up to the Contemporary Age.
This group is quite large as there are a large variety of Chinese art forms. Here are some of the common visual Chinese art forms:
- Jade carvings
- Bronze work
Common Chinese Art Themes
There are many differences between the Chinese art forms of different eras. However, many of the themes remain the same. These characteristics often come from cultural, religious, and philosophical beliefs.
Some Chinese art experts believe you can classify Chinese art themes into three branches. Chinese paintings can depict human figures, landscapes, or flowers and birds. You can see how these relate to the themes mentioned below.
Experts believe that many ancient Chinese art pieces were used for rituals. Many ancient Chinese artifacts aided in sacrifices to heaven and clan ancestor spirits.
Practitioners had to perform these rites correctly. If they did, the spiritual forces they prayed to would benefit the living.
Most Chinese artists had strong scholarly backgrounds. At one point, artists had to know about other artistic masters to be considered true artists. Perhaps that is why many figure paintings depict gentlemen scholars enjoying their pursuits.
However, reunions and appointments between officials also showed up often. Human relationships have always been important to Chinese culture. This is likely why they often showed up in Chinese art.
Art pieces in earlier times also had moral and social functions. Many early wall paintings depicted characters like good sages, generals, ministers, and emperors. They also depicted the evil opposites of these characters.
These paintings served to show the characters' features, roles, and personalities. The painters were essentially telling stories to future people and asking them to behave.
In addition, court paintings often depicted auspicious and memorable events. Patrons or the imperial court would commission court painters to create this art. It decorated tombs, palace interiors, and various other buildings.
The Chinese have always valued understanding nature and living according to its patterns. They believed the natural world was what it was because of the balance between yin-yang dualism. So Chinese artists used their art to express their understanding of these forces.
One can often find natural elements depicted in different Chinese art forms. These can include plants like flowers and bamboo and animals like birds. Chinese art forms also often depicted expansive natural landscapes.
However, such depictions weren't always realistic. Landscape painters would often create natural scenes that were more idealistic. This is mainly because the Chinese valued personal expression over external appearances.
Types of Chinese Pottery
Chinese pottery is a type of Chinese art that goes back as far back as the Prehistoric era. Artists created the pieces in this category from a wide variety of materials.
Chinese Neolithic pottery includes any ceramic pieces made between 10,000 NCE to 2,000 BCE. In the earlier Neolithic era, the ancient Chinese preferred to leave their pottery works unpainted. They instead decorated these pieces by pressing cords into unfinished pieces and leaving imprints.
As the Neolithic period drew to a close, Chinese artists began to paint their ceramics. They tended to create human faces and geometric designs.
Artists in Neolithic China also created jade objects. Miners extracted this heavily sought-after gem from metamorphic rocks. In the hands of artists, these gems would turn into various objects.
Many of these objects (cups, vases, and ornaments, mostly) were practical and decorative. Others had ceremonial purposes. Chinese artifacts like the bi disk and cylindrical cong found their way into burial sites across Liangzhu.
Many think of the iconic blue and white porcelain when they think of Chinese pottery. These pieces appeared in the 1300s.
Artists often utilized these pieces in temples. The blue underglaze these pieces had was a change from the red underglaze used in the past.
As we can expect from our knowledge of Chinese themes, many of these pieces depict nature scenes. One can find plenty of birds, flowers, and landscapes on them.
Ancient Chinese sculptures didn't depict human figures. They preferred to create ritual pieces with animal decorations. Only later did the Chinese begin depicting human figures like warriors and Buddha.
After the Neolithic period came the Bronze Age. Historians gave this era its name because it was when humans first used bronze. In China, artists used bronze to craft ritual and functional objects.
To create these objects, Chinese artists often used piece-mold casting. This technique involved making a clay mold of a model. Artists would pour melted bronze into the clay model to shape the bronze.
Artisans favored this technique, especially during the Shang Dynasty (1600 to 1046 BCE). With it, they could easily create detailed and delicate designs. All they had to do was inscribe the molds.
You won't find sculpture depictions of the deities of native Chinese religions. However, you can find many sculptures of Buddha created by Chinese Buddhists.
These sculptures date from the 4th to the 14th century. Sculptures used Greco-Buddhist models that arrived via the Silk Road for inspiration.
One cannot mention Chinese sculptures without mentioning the famous clay Terracotta warriors. These are an army of clay warriors that workers buried with the Chinese emperor Qin Shi Huang. Farmers in Lintong County in the Shaanxi Province dug up the underground chambers that housed the warriors.
The size of each of these warriors would indicate their roles. Important figures like generals were taller than entertainers like strongmen and musicians. Along with humans, there were also figures of horses and chariots.
Experts estimate it took 700,000 artisans around 40 years to complete the entire army. From the fine details on each sculpture, it's clear that each artist worked hard to carve them.
Artists created traditional Chinese paintings by dipping brushes in black or colored ink. The artists would usually use these materials to color either silk or paper. The artist would then mount the work on hand or hanging scrolls.
There are two significant eras for traditional Chinese paintings. Each of them had different styles.
Han and Tang Dynasties
Paintings in the Hang and Tang dynasties mostly depicted human figures. Families often had portraits of their ancestors so they could venerate them. Other artists created scenes of daily life to depict the teachings of Confucious.
Five Dynasties to the Northern Song Dynasty
Landscapes were the most popular forms of painting in this era. Chinese artists in the north painted towering mountains with sharp lines. In the south, Chinese artists used softer brushwork to depict peaceful hills and rivers.
Poetry is one of the highest-regarded Chinese art forms. It offers a way for writers to depict public and private expressions of deep emotions. This gives all of poetry's readers insight into the inner life of Chinese writers across thousands of years.
This written art first emerged in China over 2,000 years ago. One of the first official books of Chinese poetry was the Shin Ching (translated as "The Book of Songs" or "The Classic of Poetry"). This is a collection of 305 poems.
Another well-known early poetry book is the Chu Ci (translated as "Verses of Chu"). This is a 17-section anthology.
Many other pieces of poetry emerged after these works. Until the May Fourth Movement, most Chinese poetry rhymed and used characters concisely. This era has become known as the Classic Era.
The modern era of Chinese poetry has seen more experimental poems. These pieces use free verse and several Chinese languages. Poets can speak and chant these pieces on top of writing them down.
Visit Our Gallery to See Many Chinese Art Styles
If you enjoy learning about other cultures and art, you should look at Chinese art. The many different Chinese art styles are sure to inspire and enlighten you.
If you want to see great examples of Chinese art, visit our new gallery in Hong Kong. This gallery holds works from the early Neolithic Period to the Qing Dynasty. Pieces include jade, ceramics, archaic bronze, and early Buddhist sculptures.
The gallery occupies the top floor of a prestigious Central Hong Kong building. Find the address of the gallery on this page.