I went to the Metropolitan Museum of Art a few days ago and was completely blown away by their collection of art and historical pieces. One of my favourite sections is the one on Asian art, which includes Chinese antique ceramics and porcelain and Japanese bird-themed ink paintings. Some observations I made about Chinese/ Japanese ink paintings (vs. Western oils):

– The brushstroke seems to be the dominant formal element (many paintings are absent of colour). By varying the width and type of brush, the painter’s ‘touch’ and the moisture of the brush or ink used, different effects can be created to simulate the texture of foliage, fur,  rocks etc. This is unlike classical Western oil painters who eliminate discernible brushstrokes to create photographic realism.

– Classical Renaissance perspective (which is logical and mathematical) does not apply. Perspective in Chinese landscape paintings is symbolic, with elements that are farther away placed vertically upwards. This reflects the scroll format of such paintings, which were not originally intended to live in a frame.

– Paper, not canvas, is usually the base of such paintings. Classical Western oils cover the entire canvas whereas much of the paper is left bare in ink paintings. I feel this provides room for the painting to ‘breathe’ and not seem confined, especially without the reinforcement of a frame. It also evokes a sense of depth that is more metaphorical than literal.

‘Drunk in Autumn Woods’, Shitao (Chinese, 1642–1707)



‘Crow and the Moon’, Kawanabe Kyōsai (Japanese, 1831–1889)