huìhuà liù fǎ 绘画六法
Six Rules of Painting
The term refers to six techniques and aesthetic principles for painting formulated by Xie He, a painter of the Southern Qi and Liang dynasties. After studying famous painters of the previous age, he summarized his views on painting in six basic rules: dynamic style, forceful brush strokes, life-like image, characteristic coloring, careful arrangement and imitation and copying models. In this way, he established a theoretical framework for traditional painting. “Dynamic style” means that a painting should make the viewers appreciate its vitality and charm. This is a general principle focusing on the aesthetic effect. The other five rules concern specific techniques. “Forceful brush strokes” means being able to wield the brush to portray characters freely with lines of various shapes. “Life-like image” means the image should vividly capture the form of the depicted. “Characteristic coloring” means applying color according to the characteristics of the subject of the painting. “Careful arrangement” means a composition should achieve a good overall effect. “Imitation and copying models” means copying masterpieces to refine one’s painting skills. These rules became the basis for later art criticism and discourse on the five aspects of technique, providing a summary of ideal painting techniques and enriching theory on painting. The “six rules of painting” cover the basic techniques and aesthetics of ancient Chinese painting. They also established guidelines for art appreciation and influenced criticism and artistic creation in China from the Six Dynasties on.
What are the six rules? First, dynamic style. Second, forceful brush strokes. Third, life-like image. Fourth, characteristic coloring. Fifth, careful arrangement. Sixth, imitation and copying models. (Xie He: An Appraisal of Ancient Paintings)
The six rules of painting are succinct and discerning and will stand the test of time. The latter five rules, starting with “forceful brush strokes,” can be learned. But “dynamic style” requires innate aptitude and is not something that can be acquired just through scrupulous efforts or lengthy practice. Only an inspired mind can achieve dynamic style, yet without consciously knowing how. (Guo Ruoxu: Experiences in Painting)