Using roots to make necessities has been practiced since primitive society. Like other artistic crafts, art of roots produced from primitive labor. The earliest root carvings are “辟邪” and “角形器” showing up in the Warring States period.
In the Sui and Tang dynasties, root carving works not only prevailed in folk, but they were also cherished by the governing class. In the Tang dynasty, people laid emphasis on the natural forms of roots, cleverly taking advantage of the effect of corrosion and moth-eaten.
In the Song and Yuan dynasties, art of root carving not only developed in the court and folk, but also appeared in grottoes and temples. Roots were used to carve the statues of the Buddha, always comparing favorably with the clay.
Root carving preserves natural beauty. Ancient artists created lifelike and vivid works by a special technique using expression based on the roots' natural forms. This kind of creation is not completely artificial, but created by both human beings and nature.
Root carving is different from engraving. It combines peculiarity with ingeniousness. Although its aesthetic principals share common ground with engraving, at the same time they are applied uniquely. The common ground is that they share expressive techniques of wood carving, sculpture, stone carving and so on, overcoming weaknesses by acquiring others strong points. The difference lies in the natural shape of roots. During the creative process, root carving mostly maintains the natural form of the root, adding some artificial polishing. In other words, root carving is guided by the inherent qualities of the root, rather than by shaping images merely through carving.
Creative effect achieved from the same material can vary from artist to artist. Within the field three factors are considered of major importance.
- Uniqueness of the root - To some degree, root carving is an act of discovery. Finding and working with a unique root is half of the task and requires experience and a keen aesthetic vision.
- Cultural foundation - Rich cultural foundation, referring to the overall creative process, highlights the natural beauty of the root.
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