Chinese vs. Western Art: A Comparison


    There are many complex factors that come into play during the development of an artistic tradition, such as the histories and philosophies of the involved artists. When comparing Chinese and western art, the differences are evident in the medium, composition, perspective, and tone. While most of the Chinese art was used to represent a specific way of expressing landscapes, western art was directed at accuracy. 

    The differences between the two are believed to have originated from the philosophies underlying them. For example, Chinese art was mainly driven by Buddhism and Taoism, which targeted the eternal expression of sceneries. On the other hand, Western art borrowed more from the Christian philosophy and targeted to present accuracy, while scenes were seen as mirrors of the nature of God. Keep reading to discover more differences between Chinese and western art.

    A Closer Look at the Chinese Painting

    In most traditional Chinese paintings, artists used brush dipped in pigments and then applied on silk or paper. Then, the finished work was hung or kept as scrolls. They were also used on lacquer-ware, walls, and porcelain. 

    Taking a closer look at the works of art in China, say from Han to the Tang dynasties, one can see detailed portraits of courts showing emperors and royal lifestyle. During the era, artists started adopting the freeform style of landscape painting that later dominated traditional Chinese art. From these early works of art to later developments, the effects of Confucianism and Buddhism that targeted to demonstrate the harmony between nature and humans were very strong. Because of this, artists were able to focus more on emotions and personal feelings when presenting landscapes. 

    The dominance of landscape painting resulted in the development of more Chinese symbols, including water, clouds, trees, rocks, and people. When these symbols were used, the artists rarely included color or shade to show landscape elements, such as nighttime or daytime. Instead, they used symbols, such as the moon, to indicate it is nighttime.  

    A Comparison of Western and Chinese Art

    Now that you have a brief of how the Chinese art developed here, is a head-to-head comparison with western art: 

    • Representational vs. Expressive art: Chinese art was used to depict nature, and in most cases, took an imaginative, unique, and expressive method to represent what people could see in nature. This is in line with the Taoist principle of living in harmony with nature. In contrast, the western painting was more representational, using things such as lighting and shapes to denote accuracy. 
    • Fixed vs. dynamic perspectives: Most traditional Chinese paintings frequently used dynamic perspectives that helped the viewer to get a clear sense of movement without including realism. However, the western perspectives took a more fixed approach to create a sense of realism. It is like a photo representation. 
    • Minimalism vs. Shading: Chinese artists used brushstrokes that help them to generate the minimalist outlook and personal feelings. On the other hand, Western art relied on technical brushstrokes that help to render shading of the item being painted. 

    As you can see, there is so much difference in the representation of western and Chinese art. In both cultures, the main determining factor is the underlying philosophy. Check out the leading Chinese artworks by top collectors, such as John Dodelande, to learn more about the difference.