In the early twentieth century, as Western learning began to penetrate China, the intellectuals of the period — out of a desire to preserve their identity in the face of Western knowledge — began to cling to concepts such as “Chinese painting” in order to distinguish themselves from “Western paintings.” After several unsuccessful struggles, however, they began to give up their artistic “Chinese centralization.” It is known that Western artists find it very difficult to succeed in China, however it is even more difficult for Chinese painting to defend itself against Western influences. Throughout the history of modern art in China, all terms like “fusion,” “compromise,” “collision” thrown into the air in the context of Chinese and Western painting, are all basically technical games between the two different methodologies of Chinese and Western painting. In the last century we have witnessed the evolution of Chinese painting from “denial of tradition” and “change of tradition” to “raising memories from tradition”, as well as the clash between Chinese and Western concepts such as tradition and progress, science and non-science, free brushwork and realism. The last century in Chinese painting is characterized by a large number of artists’ experiences in China. All of their revolutions and search attempts demonstrate their courage to try to break out of tradition and face the new future ahead.
- Doubting Tradition: Reform and Revolution (1900-1949) The daring to go against the traditional Chinese painting tradition began in the early twentieth century. Many Chinese painters who returned from the West during the 1930s introduced China to the Western painting style – a style characterized as realistic science. Now there were three currents in Chinese art: the traditional, the reformers and the modernist, these three currents formed the basis for the change that would take place in Chinese painting during the twentieth century.
- Changing the Tradition: A Change in Chinese Painting and Chinese Artists (1950-1979) After 1949 the traditional style was considered outdated and as one that could not express the characteristics of the new era, so painters in China had to undergo significant change. In order to succeed in change, the most important thing was to start expressing the real daily life of the Chinese people. Changing the content of paintings was the most significant basis for reform in Chinese painting, and is the biggest difference between traditional painting and modern painting. At that time, the new creative process founded by Sui Bei-hong in the early twentieth century, a style based mainly on sketches of everyday life, was practiced throughout China and became very common.
- Raising Memories of the Past: The Revival of Tradition (1980-1999)
At the end of the twentieth century, Chinese painters had greater tolerance and openness to multiculturalism and different artistic styles. At that time, the most famous schools of painting were “New Educated Painting” and “Ink Experiences”. The “new educated painting” style announced the new revival of tradition, as well as reflected the great resemblance to the traditional style in which the connection between the individual, painting and society dissolves. In a re-examination of tradition, there were also painters who developed a new strategy for themselves, “experimenting with ink”, in an attempt to understand from a new perspective the connection between calligraphy, painting, brush and ink. Beginning in the 1980s, Chinese painters gradually began to be exposed to the works of Western artists such as Monk, Kirchner, Mark, Bacon, Klein, and de Kooning. Chinese painters began to use these techniques in an attempt to introduce modernism into traditional Chinese painting. In addition, additional thought has been put into the physical properties of the ink wash. Linguistic marks, simplicity, distortions, exaggerations, as well as techniques of paper folding, spray spraying, dripping, rubbing and the use of wide brushes were all widely used in the works of this period.