Simon Leys on Chinese painting

‘The theory of Chinese painting is based on a fundamental distinction between amateurs and professionals: only the art of amateurs is deemed to have true artistic value, as they alone are individual creators, whereas professionals are mere artisans who practise their craft on the same footing as carpenters, potters and other anonymous manual workers. No amount of skill and beauty can redeem the paintings of the professionals and make up for the spiritual deficiency that taints their origins. Technical virtuosity and seductiveness in a painting are considered vulgar, as they precisely suggest the slick fluency of a professional hand answering a client’s commission and betray a lack of inner compulsion on the part of the artist – for the professional works for an external reward whereas the amateur seeks self cultivation; to the professional, painting is only a trade; to the amateur, it is a spiritual discipline. Therefore, it was hardly a paradox if, for instance, a great painter of the Qing period could inscribe on one of his masterpieces the defiant calligraphic statement: ‘What I fear most is that my painting may look competent.’ A certain form of clumsiness was valued by the painters as it clearly established the non-professional character of their work and vouched for the purity of their inspiration.’ ~ Simon Leys