art theory

the essence of Chinese painting

At regular intervals, the author tries to analyze various aspects of Chinese painting. He writes about philosophy, concepts, techniques, etc. on the basis of short contributions. 

The author studied Chinese painting and art history and lived in China for 5 years. He studied at the Central Academy of Fine Arts and wrote his dissertation on Chinese free-hand style painting (写意画 xieyi-hua).


short video portrait about Friedrich Zettl and his Zen painting


Zhu Da 朱耷 painting 花鸟册页之二


Chinese art theory: Lecture I


The Principle Of The Balance In Chinese Painting

The fundamental difference between many Chinese and Western paintings lies in the different image structures. To put it simply, it works like a western scale in western painting and like a Chinese scale in Chinese……..



Chinese art theory: Lecture II


CHINESE CABBAGE AND PEPPERS. Analyzing A Simple Painting By Qi Baishi 齐白石

Since Qi Baishi, Chinese cabbage gained a high status in painting. Because cabbage is a healthy vegetable, Qi Baishi especially loved it. There are many anecdotes about Qi Baishi’s exchange of cabbage pictures for real cabbage……..

painting by Qi Baishi


sketch by Pan Tianshou


Chinese art theory: Lecture III



Pan Tianshou was the great intellectual of the last century in China. One of his greatest achievements was the establishment of the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing, where Pan Tianshou first attempted to teach Chinese painting…….



Chinese art theory: Lecture IV



Chinese painting is closely related to the art of seal cutting and, of course, above all to calligraphy. These 3 genres have not only mutually fertilized each other over the centuries, but even more, none of them can be viewed in isolation if you want to understand them more deeply……

han dynasty seal


friedrich zettl on Chinese TV


Chinese art theory: Lecture V


CALLIGRAPHY FOR TV (No Lecture Actually).

Just a short sequence showing Zettl writing a couplet for Chinese New Year and talking about his life and years in China.



Chinese art theory: Lecture VI



If you learn traditional Chinese painting, it is extremely important – from the Chinese point of view – to copy old masters. As I think so too I accepted the challenge and the work were well received. When copying, one should under no circumstances try to imitate the original painting line by point. What is important is to grasp the spirit (qi 气) of the painting and to proceed independently. As long as you haven’t painted the picture dead, you’ve learned something.

landscape painting by Huang Binhong 黄宾虹


Zha Shibiao album leaf


Chinese art theory: Lecture VII


ZHA SHIBIAO: A Simple Picture And Yet A Treasure.

Today we want to dedicate ourselves to a small album sheet by the artist Zha Shibiao. It is one of the images that is seldom found in publications, one that looks very simple at first glance and only shows its charm and mastery when we take some time for a closer look and reflection…….



Chinese art theory: Lecture VIII


Six Persimmons By Mu Qi.

Each of us probably knows this picture, at least we saw it more or less consciously. Some Japanese art historians believe that it is the most important image of history…..

6 Persimmons by Mi Qi



Chinese art theory: Lecture IX



The term nothing, void ( xū) plays an important part in Chinese (Asian) art, and in the following, I would like to try to touch on at least some aspects and try to get to the bottom of its meaning. Since this is not possible in one article, there will be another post published later.

Nothing in Daoism, in Chan Buddhism, as well as in Chinese painting is a central concept and of the utmost importance…..



Chinese art theory: Lecture X


What A Dot Can Do

In a sense, a dot is a (very short) stroke. So what applies to the line also applies to the dot. A very important aspect of this is to fill this point with meaning – otherwise, it’s just a meaningless blob……

dot against water detail


chinese painting of a cat


Lecture XI


Cats In Chinese Painting

Let’s play a little game again: Let’s imagine there is a competition with 3 cats at the start. The “best” cat should be chosen. Which would get your vote: 1, 2, or 3?…..



Lecture XII


from Dao to Zen

Zen (禪) seems to be quite popular again, which is generally very gratifying. But if you check the search engines, you will be surprised by the many superficial articles.

zen moment painting


goldfish dream after Zhuangzi

Lecture XIII


Daoist talks (I) Two Daoist stories and a Daoist painting

Westerners who become interested in Daoism usually encounter Laozi first [2]. His only work, the Dao De Jing ( Tao Te Ching), is considered THE standard work of Daoism. However, I keep hearing that the book is soon put aside because it is too difficult to understand.


Lecture XIV


Daoist talks (II) The basics

Our main topic will be Daoism in Chinese painting. Understanding the essential aspects of the Dao should help us to understand Chinese painting better and more profoundly.

the chinese painter shi tao versus caspar david friedrich

2 Shitao paintings


Lecture XV

 Daoist talks (III) The Cosmos in One Dot

Mindfulness in Daoist painting begins with the smallest in a picture – and that is a dot. In the West, a dot on a paper generally has little special meaning…….


Lecture XVI

Daoist talks (IV) Dao, Zen And Buddha – And Daoist Extra!

Today I want to share a painting that I think is a special treat. It is by Liang Kai (梁楷;  c. 1140 – c. 1210), best known in the West for his painting of Li Bai. Only a few know his “The story of eight eminent monks” – scroll though. And that’s very surprising because I personally think it’s a very important picture. 

Lin Kai painting

details of zen painting


Lecture XVII

Daoist talks (V) Dao and Zen in Arts – analyzed by AI

I played around with AI programs and asked, among other things: “What influence do Zen Buddhism and Daoism have on Chinese painting”. The result was amazing.

What AI says, answering my question: The Role of Dao and Zen in Chinese Painting.


Lecture XVIII

Daoist talks (VI) Principles of Dao in Painting

Chinese painting of the last 1000 years is primarily focussing on Daoist ideas. These influences are of such an extensive nature that books can be written about them – and of course, much has already been written about them. It can even be said that Chinese xieyi painting (freehand painting) is applied Daoism.

painting tutorial bamboo
Wang Keping



Lecture XIX

Criticism: Not amused with the Emperor

China has a long and complex history of artistic expression, often intertwined with political and social commentary. Throughout various dynasties and political eras, Chinese artists have used their craft to voice their opinions and criticize the system, often at great personal risk.


Lecture XX

Dao in Chinese Poetry. Daoist Talks (VII)

Dao in Chinese Poetry: Analyzing two masterpieces of classical Chinese poetry with a Daoist structure. Li Bai and Du Fu. A few pictures by the Chinese painter Wang Ziwu 王子武 illustrate this.

Du Fu by Wang Ziwu detail
patriarch by Shi Ke


Lecture XXI

Ego versus Self. Daoist Talks (VIII)

The Daoist philosophy knows the phenomenon of the ego just as well as Western Philosophy and has given it a wide space over the centuries. But, and this is what is special, it is contrasted with the concept of the self and we want to take a closer look at that in the following.

stay tuned

In addition to the blog posts on art, topic-specific art theory articles appear here at irregular intervals.

coming soon image


For many years the author has been giving lectures on Chinese art or writing articles about it or speaking at symposia on China.

The lectures usually take place at oe.g.c.f. The articles are mostly found in the Chinareport, which has been published for decades and is published by Professor Gerd Kaminski.

The author’s book contributions can usually be found in books that have been published by BACOPA Verlag.


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