An Overview of Ink and Wash / Sumi-e Painting Books – Historical Surveys and Instructive Guides


Instructive Guides of Ink and Wash / Sumi-e Painting

With ink and wash painting being so popular in Chinese culture, it is only natural that a number of books have been written about this special kind of art. The works discussed here can give you a helpful overview not only about the different motifs and genres in Chinese painting, but also can help you with learning the different techniques and painting styles.

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Cultural Sources of Ink and Wash / Sumi-e Painting – The Influence of Confucianism on Ink and Wash / Sumi-e Painting


What is Confucianism?

Confucianism is not a religion, but a philosophy which was and still is immensely important for the political and ethical system of China. It is rooted in the teachings of Confucius and is together with Daoism and Buddhism one of the three great philosophies of China. It was developed around 500 BCE and influences Chinese society and culture until today.

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Cultural Sources of Ink and Wash / Sumi-e Painting: Literati Painting


What is Literati Painting?

“Shi dai fu hua (士大夫画) “ – “scholar painting”,  or “Wen ren hua” (文人画) “literati painting”, describe the painting of amateurs, the literati. The origins of the literati class date back much further, but both terms generally describe paintings executed by scholars in the Song (960-1279 CE) and Yuan Dynasties (1271-1368 CE). Literati were – to put it bluntly – scholars who painted as a hobby; statesmen, politicians or civil servants, who used painting as a way of self-cultivation and compensation for every day’s work.  As opposed to court painters or craftsmen, who earned their money by producing portraits and the like, scholar painters never sold their works. They saw the use of brush and ink as a way to convey their inner thoughts, be it through calligraphy or painting.

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The Cultural Background of Ink and Wash / Sumi-e Painting: An Introduction


Ink and Wash / Sumi-e Painting and its Place in History

Ink and wash painting in China is truly a living art with a long tradition. From its very beginnings in the Han Dynasty until very recent currents in the 21st century, ink and wash painting is an art which has been continuously and actively pursued. Starting off from a rather humble background as a derivative of calligraphy, painting was technically refined, went through highs and lows, sometimes stagnated in techniques and motifs, until being revived and modernized, while being continuously supplied and fed by philosophic and religious influences. Ink and wash painting developed into an art which is more than any other art form a subjective reflection of the painter’s inner world. This subjectivity may be the reason why painting never lost its independent character, even in times of political and social turmoil.

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Cultural Sources of Ink and Wash / Sumi-e Painting – The Influence of Chan Buddhism on Ink and Wash / Sumi-e Painting


The Rise of Chan Buddhist Painting and the Birth of Ink and Wash / Sumi-e

The 12th to 14th centuries in China can be seen as the birth years of what would later be known as sumi-e. Starting with the literati, who used mostly or only monochrome ink, it came to full development when some painters consciously withdrew from social activities and advocated themselves to Buddhist studies, mainly of the Chan School. Chan Buddhism had been introduced to China in the 6th century and was revived in the 13th century. Its ascetic, straightforward nature appealed to many scholars.

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