This refers to paintings produced by ancient Chinese scholars and writers, as distinguished from those by craftsmen or court-hired artists. It is a sub-category of traditional Chinese painting, also known as “scholarly painting,” “southern school painting,” or simply “southern painting.” Although Su Shi (1037-1101), a renowned Song Dynasty poet, first advanced this idea, Ming Dynasty painter and calligrapher Dong Qichang (1555-1636) regarded the Tang Dynasty poet Wang Wei (701?-761) as the true pioneer of literati painting. Its authors typically drew inspiration from scenery and image of mountains, rivers, trees, flowers, and birds, focusing on expressing their subjective perceptions and innermost feelings. Their works sometimes showed resentment and discontent with certain social phenomena. Stressing skillful use of brush and ink, literati painting transcended the restraints of form and technique, imbuing itself with real taste and verve.
Examining scholarly paintings is like looking at galloping steeds of the world: one must choose only those works good in both structure and vision. A mediocre painter pays too much attention to trifles such as the fir and hair, horse whip, manger, and fodder, which are not quite able to enhance our aspirations. We would start to feel tired after we have looked at the first ten inches or so of such a painting. Song Hanjie’s works alone show the intrinsic quality of a true scholar.(Su Shi: Su Dongpo’s Comments on Literary and Artistic Works)