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.

Ink and Wash / Sumi-e Painting as Cultural Practice

Chinese painting embodies some of the most important values of Chinese culture– the importance of education, a high respect for nature and environment, the faith in the individual human and the pursuit of being a decent member of society. All these influences, some of them from philosophic backgrounds such as Daoism or Confucianism, are united and expressed through art. Ink and Wash painting, as it is believed, does not only serve as a meditative practice or activity for idle hours. It is also a method of self-cultivation, a representation of a deeply-rooted feeling of traditions and customs, and one of China’s cultural heritages.