Chinese art has the oldest tradition in the world as a distinct type of art, while most artworks reveal a high degree of both continuity and awareness of the thousands of years old tradition. Many of the finest examples of Chinese art, especially the early works have been created by unknown artists which is another distinct characteristic of Chinese art, especially of the ancient masterpieces.
Increased contacts with the West in the 19th century combined with the collapse of Imperial government led to dramatic changes in Chinese art which, however, retained its distinct character which made it increasingly desirable among the collectors throughout the world.
Chinese painting reflects a major influence of calligraphy, and uses mainly paper and silk as the media and black or coloured ink. The traditional Chinese painting which doesn’t know oils uses two main techniques:
Gongbi. It refers to a technique that was developed by artists at the Imperial court and workshops. Gongbi painting uses highly intricate brush strokes resulting in exceptionally precise details. Most Gongbi paintings are very colourful and most often depict narrative or figurative themes.
Ink wash painting. Also referred to as literati painting is marked by the use of black ink in different concentrations.
Early Chinese artists mostly painted human figure, while most of the surviving works originate from burial sites. During the Tang Dynasty (581-907), many painters focused on landscape and according to many art critics, landscape painting that reached its height between the early 10th and 12th centuries is the greatest achievement of Chinese painting.
Unlike painting, Chinese sculpture mainly avoided human figure which is probably related to the fact that Chinese religions don’t know veneration of the images or sculptures of deities. Chinese portrait sculptures are thus almost exclusively Buddhist.
Pottery and Ceramics
Chinese art is perhaps best known for pottery and ceramics, especially those made from porcelain. Most examples of pottery and ceramics, including the greatest masterpieces were made in Imperial workshops. Besides porcelain, Chinese artists also used other fine materials including jade, silk, lacquer, bronze, silver, gold, rhinoceros horn, etc.
New China Art
New China Art refers to art movements from the New Culture Movement (flourished during the last dynasty in the early 20th century) to the present day. After the Cultural Revolution that lasted from the mid-1960s to the mid-1970s, there has been a greater tolerance to freedom of artistic expression and today, Chinese art market is among the fastest growing ones in the world.