Daoist Talks

Daoism in Chinese Arts

Daoist talks are a series of articles that are posted at irregular intervals on zettl.blog and are dedicated to the topic of Daoism in Chinese art.

These articles attempt to exemplify particular aspects of Daoism in a brief, concise manner and with the help of illustrations. They are based on scientific material, primarily classical Chinese painting theories, and are not esoteric speculation.

Daoist Talks Series of articles on painting



Daoist Taks IX

Bada Shanren Fish – the term ziran 自然

Ziran is a fundamental concept in Taoism that can be understood as “naturalness” or “spontaneity.” It refers to the inherent nature and self-so of all things, emphasizing the importance of following the natural flow of the universe rather than resisting or attempting to control it.

Zhu Da Fish composition
patriarch by Shi Ke


Daoist Taks VIII

Ego versus Self

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.


Daoist Taks VII

Dao in Chinese Poetry

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


Daoist Taks 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
details of zen painting


Daoist Taks 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.


Daoist Taks 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. And that’s very surprising because I personally think it’s a fundamental picture. 

Lin Kai painting
2 Shitao paintings


Daoist Taks 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…….


Daoist Taks 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
goldfish dream after Zhuangzi

Daoist Taks I


Two Daoist stories and a Daoist painting

Westerners who become interested in Daoism usually encounter Laozi first. 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.

Related Topics



Dao, Zen

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
landscape painting by Huang Binhong 黄宾虹

 Huang Binhong Landscapes



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.



Zha Shibiao Album Leaf


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…….

Zha Shibiao album leaf


6 Persimmons by Mi Qi


Mu Qi Key Work: Six Persimmons


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…..



Empty Space in Chinese Painting



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…..


dot against water detail


The Importance of a Dot


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……


The author, Friedrich Zettl, 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).

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.


recent postings at zettl.blog

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