Thursday, August 13, 2009
Brushwork: Zhong Feng 中鋒用笔
Cai Yong once said, ‘Let the tip of the brush always moves within the middle of the stroke.’
As Chinese calligraphy is a uniquely Chinese art, it is understandable that there is a lack of a suitable vocabulary in English for describing the subtle qualities of line that have concerned Chinese calligraphy.
Calligraphy is mainly about writing Chinese characters with lines and it uses materials such as brush, ink, and paper or silk. One of the basic criteria for good brushwork is known as zhongfeng, which literally means ‘centered tip’. The term has no equivalent in English because it is essentially meaningless for both Western oil painting, which is painted largely with a flat brush, and Western calligraphy, which is written with a stiff pen.
While it is a term that can be interpreted in different ways, the concept of the “centered tip” is absolutely crucial to an understanding of Chinese brushwork.
Zhongfeng, like many Chinese art terms, is profound in its ambiguity. It may refer to the way the brush is held, the position of the tip within the stroke, or to the brushstroke itself. The most common definition refers to the manner in which a brush is held and, in this basic usage, describes a method of holding the brush in an upright position, that is, it must be perpendicular to the writing surface - bearing in mind that almost all Chinese calligraphy is executed with the paper or silk laid out flat on a table. When the brush is held this way the tip of the brush naturally occupies the middle of the line as the calligrapher begins to create a line or stroke. No matter in which direction the brush is then moved - up, down, left, right, diagonally, or in an arc - the tip of the brush will always be within the middle of the stroke, provided that the brush continues to be held perpendicular to the writing surface. This will enable the hair of the brush-tip to spread out evenly in all directions.
It is generally agreed among experts that, when a calligraphy piece done in zhongfeng, is held up against the light, a thin line of thick ink should be seen running in the middle of the stroke, even when the stroke turns at sharp angles or in curves. Mi Fu told us that one of the best examples of zhongfeng, is Su Shi’s transcription of the Chibifu. Unfortunately the effect cannot be discerned in photographic reproductions. It is said that the entire piece is done in zhongfeng, and it remains to this day a standard phrase of critical acclaim.
就如其他的中文艺术词语一样，中锋的含义模糊不清。它可以指执笔之法，笔锋在线条内的位置，或者笔法本身。最普通的解释指执笔的方法；而这种用法是说所执的笔要正直，就是说必要与书写表面垂直 - 记住书法是在与平铺在桌面的纸张或帛布上进行书写的。当用这种方法来执笔来开始书写时，笔锋自然就占据笔画的中间部分。无论毛笔向哪一个方向移动——上下、左右、对角、圆弧——如果毛笔能够与书写面垂直，那么笔心都回在笔画的中间。这也能够使得笔锋可以均匀地分散的每一个方向。