The mastery of Chinese calligraphy requires many years of dedication, serious study and self-discipline. It is one of the world's most demanding art forms. Yet, the Chinese nobility. and especially the genteel literati, seemed intellectually compelled to devote an important part of their lives to mastering it. They vied with one another to achieve excellence -- and to attain at all costs the elusively "absolute" mastery and perfection which would win for them the coveted public recognition, sought by the scholarly
The great privilege, wealth and high status accorded the great masters
of calligraphy were not unlike the rewards lavishly bestowed upon the
early immortal masters of Western (European) art during the medieval
and pre-medieval periods of Western history.
From the high art of Chinese calligraphy evolved the beauty and harmony of Chinese Brush Painting. In retrospect, we can say it was a natural and inevitable development. Not illogically, the first two "subjects" emerging from the calligraphic art form into Chinese Brush Art were 'Bamboo and Orchid'!
We will deal later with the symbology and ultimate meaning of all the 'subjects' of Chinese Brush Painting. including the first two mentioned here.
For now. we will say that Bamboo and Orchid engaged the whole devotion and interest of the earliest Chinese "Brush Masters" for the subjects were, by intention, far more complex and demanding than they appear to the untutored eye. Indeed, with the progressive
development of "Bamboo & Orchid", the first two subjects Chinese Brush Painting began its sure movement toward the high status of calligraphy itself.
For this reason, the Chinese aristocracy - the ruling class and its cultivated nobility, along with the spiritually-advanced intellectuals or sophisticated literati - discovered that devotion to the mastery of Chinese Brush Art was, indeed, an ennobling pursuit of mind and spirit, enriching human life and enhancing the highest principles and ideals of Chinese culture.
On the other hand -- the less privileged classes, the lower levels of the population, had neither the time nor the financial resources (nor the acceptable "spirit or intellect") to engage in esoteric philosophical or artistic pursuits. This was, of course, also true generally in Europe.
Author Diana Kan alludes to the elitism or exclusivity of the upper classes of China and provides a reasonable rationale for their high achievements in every art form. She says:
The Chinese aristocracy and its supportive literati class..."had the cultural background for mature, philosophical thought, and their artistic sensibilities had been heightened by long nurturing of an appreciation for beauty and harmony."
The techniques of Chinese Brush Painting have been codified; most notably formulated in the 5th Century A.D. by the venerated master Hsieh Ho.