Preeminent Artist Chen Zizhuang’s Conclusive Judgment on Class of Divinity and Class of Ease

Preeminent Artist Chen Zizhuang’s Conclusive Judgment on Class of Divinity and Class of Ease

For art lovers to clearly understand the high-level artistry of noble style and magnificent conception, the Art Publishing of America has researched historical archives relating to different artists, as well as various insights and art criticism available online. We are including the critical writings on art by Chen Zizhuang, the preeminent painter in history, for your reference. As a viewer, one must first understand the different levels of style in order to truly appreciate the inner essence, the ease of marvelous charm, and the vividness of life in the art of painting. Only then can one truly comprehend the extrinsic and intrinsic beauty.

Dr. Yuhua Shouzhi Wang is a supreme virtuoso in painting. In order for readers to truly recognize the artistry of Dr. Yuhua Shouzhi Wang, we have included Chen Zizhuang’s Conclusive Judgment on Class of Divinity and Class of Ease in this catalog. When Dr. Yuhua Shouzi Wang knew about our decision to include Master Chen Zizhuang’s theory and judgment, she did not agree to it. Dr. Wang said, “Art is manifold. Art serves to offer enjoyment to people. There are noble style and ordinary art to suit different art lovers. Few people are able to understand the art of noble style. Different styles of art are like different kinds of flowers in a floral garden. Each kind of flower has its own characteristics. Each person has their own likes and preferences. Master Chen Zizhuang can be considered the Van Gogh of the East. He has attained the state of no-self and no methods. His alignment with nature is the backbone of his conception, enabling him to free himself from the restrictions of ink and brush. His art is truly wonderful and can be reckoned as the pinnacle of the Class of Ease in the history of art. At the same time, I have to say that each painter has their own strengths. For example, Zhang Daqian was highly skilled in rendering springing lines when he copied the Dunhuang Murals. In his old age, his ink wash landscape paintings were of special qualities. The horses that Xu Beihong painted were of historical significance as his style was distinctive and preceded by no one. Bada Sharen, Wu Changshuo, Qi Baishi, and Huang Binhong were unquestionably great masters of painting. Other painters were also showing their respective strengths and offering different levels of enjoyment to different people. Their strengths are what I have to learn.”

Following is the Conclusive Judgement on Class of Divinity and Class of Ease by Master Chen Zizhuang.

What is the Class of Divinity? This refers to artworks that consist of infinite variation and highly concise composition; people can feel the extreme likeness of the objects yet the paintings do not contain much detail of the form. Some scholars say that the Class of Ease is superior to the Class of Divinity. Ease is the result of the artist breaking loose from the inner mind, as well as from the methods and formal elements of art. The painting of this class is absolutely free of any restraints.

What is the Class of Ease? It is simplicity, childlikeness, and truthfulness to one’s feelings. No deliberate effort is made in the creation of a painting. The artist has attained the state of no-self and no methods.

Wu Daozi is of the Class of Divinity. Shi Tao, Wu Changshuo, and Huang Binhong are of the Class of Divinity. They did not attain the Class of Ease. This is because their art still carries selfness. When Qi Baishi was about ninety years old, his works were between the Class of Divinity and the Class of Ease.

The buffaloes that Qi Baishi painted do not look like buffaloes. The image does not look like a buffalo, but the buffalo is implied. It even makes people feel that the buffalo is slowly moving forward. He did not depict water, but the composition gives a sense that the water in the field is very deep. This is called “attaining the conception and abandoning the form.”

A painting of the Class of Ease is one that has escaped the “net of methodologies.” The artist has been through all the hardships and understands all the difficulties. This is obviously different from the state of no knowledge.

Painting requires two kinds of ability. One is the ability to paint. Another is the ability to express. To paint is to illustrate and describe. To express is to present the state of ease in one’s mind. Expression is essential to the art of painting. However, looking through paintings created by artists from the past to the present, most people only paint but they are not able to express.

The first chapter in learning how to paint is about capturing the form. Once the form is correctly captured, then it has to be abstracted and given an artistic touch. That is the development from likeness to unlikeness, from nature to art.

The first step in painting is to develop likeness. The second step is to abandon likeness to achieve unlikeness. First, one must capture the likeness of the form and subsequently lose that likeness. If you are unable to achieve the first step to resemble the likeness, yet you claim that what you paint is between likeness and unlikeness, then you are simply deceiving yourself and deceiving others.

Rustic simplicity is the most sought-after quality in painting and calligraphy. A good painting does not show any sense of elegance or stylishness. You can understand this by looking at the paintings of Bada Shanren. The paintings of Wu Changshuo and Qi Baishi still show a sense of elegance and do not achieve complete rusticity. The art of Huang Binhong does not show any sense of elegance. In terms of class, Huang is superior.

The noblest of art cannot be learned through forms or expressions, because art emanates from the character and morality of the artist.

It is not easy to reach the state of “painting mindlessly” where someone can spontaneously create wondrous works of art even though they seem to be doodling mindlessly. Historically, only Fang Fanghu, Sun Long, Shitao, and Bada Shanren were able to do so. Xu Wei and Chen Chun were hobbyists, they could create some casual works, but when it came to serious art, they had no such abilities. Wen Zhengming, Shen Zhou, Qiu Ying, Tang Yin, or the Four Wangs did not even know the rudiments of “painting mindlessly.”

When Qi Baishi was in his seventies, his art gradually became mature. It was also when Huang Binhong and Wu Changshuo were in their seventies that their art became mature. Chen Shizeng passed away when his art was approaching maturity. The Three Rens (Ren Xun, Ren Xiong, and Ren Bonian) did not reach maturity in their art. Historically, Bada Shanren was one who matured at a young age. Shitao was halfway to maturity when he died.

The Emperor Huizong of the Song Dynasty did not make one good painting. His flower and bird paintings were only of the quality of specimen drawings. During that time, it was chronicled that the Emperor’s paintings were “unsurpassable by anyone in the world.” It is obvious that either the literati of the time were unable to tell good from bad, or they chose to flatter the powerful and dared not speak the truth.

The painting method of Huang Gongwang in depicting landscape was limited to one type of mountain. He was just like a street singer who keeps singing the same song. The Four Masters of the Yuan Dynasty mainly adhered to traditional ways without much of their own original creation.

The art of Tang Yin was simply a sentimental nuisance. His works only presented superficial richness of beauty but were devoid of ideation.

During the Ming Dynasty, Wen Zhengming, Shen Zhou, Qiu Ying, and Tang Yin relied on following the methods of Song artists to create paintings. They did not have much originality.

Xu Wei was rich in imagination, but he did not have much real-life exposure. His paintings can only be considered works of an amateur. He did not have fundamental painting skills.

Among the Four Monks of the Ming Dynasty, Shitao and Bada Shanren expanded the scope of landscape paintings. Shi Xi and Hong Ren were narrow in their scopes.

Trivial details can still be seen from Shitao’s paintings, yet Bada Shanren had transcended the mundane. The art of the Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou was sluggish. They cannot be considered masters.

In the last few hundred years, there were only three persons who can be considered eminent masters in the field of art. They were Wu Changshuo, Huang Binhong, and Qi Baishi.

Zhang Daqian did not develop his own style from daily life. He formed his style by imitating the works of earlier artists. This is very different from creating art from observing the world. That is why in terms of thinking, he has no original ideas. In terms of philosophy, he has no system. In terms of painting, he has no theory.

Zhang Daqian could paint a perfectly round halo on top of a Buddha in one stroke. He openly demonstrates that all the time. People are amazed and full of praise, calling him the living Wu Daozi. Reporters love taking pictures of him. However, that is only his craftsmanship, not art.

Zhang Daqian is very intelligent. Unfortunately, he has not applied effort in developing his creativity and he is wasting away his time.

Xu Beihong was overly skillful in painting horses. He always painted the same horse. That was all he could paint. Objects have their usual appearance, but, art must not become a stereotype. There must be variation. Art is divine when there is infinite variation. From a deep tradition comes a long legacy. Xu’s paintings did not spring from any traditions; it was inevitable that his art was limited.

The plum blossoms Kuan Shanyueh painted look like snapshots taken through a window. As an artist, he is merely acting as a camera. It is not possible to create a painting without artistic conception.

In painting pandas and camels, Wu Zuoren is still at the stage of imitating the likeness of nature. His works cannot be considered to be of any artistry.

Learning to paint comes in two stages. The first is the stage of craftsmanship. The second is the stage of art. Zhang Daqian has only attained the stage of craftsmanship.