All great traditional artists live according to high moral standards. This creates a connection between the characteristics of the art of painting, good writing, and the individuals who bring about such art. Only when the artist represents a high level of morality can his paintings or writings hope to achieve a high artistic value. Artistic works mirror the personalities of their creators.
Renowned painter Hung Bin Hong (1865-1955) categorized painting as scenes from the markets and streets, mountains and lakes, and the paintings by the Shi Da Fu.
According to his understanding, a painter aspiring to master the requirements of this highest art form must be cognizant of a high level of the teachings of Confucius. He must possess broad-ranging knowledge and have mastered the techniques of painting to a high degree. Furthermore, he must have a general ability to bring a nation toward peace and prosperity. Such an individual must personally have cultivated well and have acquired a fine individual, moral yardstick.
Li Ku-Chan (1898-1983) is an equally well-known painter who learned traditional Chinese painting from Qi Bai Shi. Li often said:
“Man must first of all have noble characteristics, then he will possess the necessary nobility to paint well. A human being exhibiting negative characteristics is unable to paint a single righteous brush stroke.”
Li Ku-Chan had to endure 10 days of incarceration during the Cultural Revolution (1966-1976). His own students then tormented and almost beat him to death for refusing to paint according to the prevailing political trend at the time. To extricate himself from this dilemma, some pleaded with him to paint agricultural scenes, such as a huge crop being harvested. He countered this suggestion with an ironic smile and said: “Yes, I will paint such scenes and title them ‘Selling One’s Soul Cheaply’ or ‘Huge Crop of Bodies.'”
The regime officials compelled the painter to do public self-criticism sessions where the rulers attempted to make him denounce his teacher Qi Bai Shi. Li Kun-Chan refused, was seized and assigned to work in the fields. But even there he continued to practice qigong. The following adage from that era is attributed to him:
“Those who destroy the homeland and torment the populace can be assured the revenge of the Heavens. I will persist until that day.”