From Reading Pictures to Appreciating Arts: Significance of One Meter’s Sight
——Character of Painting——2013 Chinese Oil Painting Exhibition
In “Character of Painting—2013 Chinese Oil Painting Exhibition” held at Dadu Museum of Art in Beijing, what aroused the great interest of Yin Shuangxi, professor of Central Academy of Fine Arts were not selected works by famous masters such as Zhan Beixin, Shen Xinggong, Wen Guozhang, Chen Jian, Yang Yao and Cao Xinlin, but some novel creation of Chinese aesthetics and painting skills on the oil painting from the West. “Inclusion of ink and wash as well as fine lines is the unique contribution made by Chinese painters to this foreign art genre. Many works such as Wasted Years by Ou Yang, Big Vision by Xu Fuhou, Melting Snow Series by Weng Kaixuan, Prayer by Jin Changzheng, Imagination to Reality—Pine No.3 by Li Jiangfeng, First Snow by Hu Dahu, Smoking Tree in Qian Village by Zhou Jianjie, Diversiform-leaved Poplar in Autumn by Song Yu and Pine vs Stone by Zhang Chun Dabao illustrated their comprehension and inclusion of taste of ink and wash as well as fine lines of Chinese painting” said Yin.
Jointly sponsored by China Oil Painting Society and Dadu Museum of Art, this exhibition showcased 170 excellent oil paintings strictly selected from over 5000 works nationwide. As Xu Jiang, president of China Oil Painting Society and vice president of China Artists Association, commented, “Painting should be like gazing at home with great attention. Abandon shock in body and superficial demand and settle our mind out of leisure and lingering, and you will return at ease to serious ceremony and thinking within a meter’s sight as a watcher in face of this great spiritual realm”.
As Yin Shuangxi observed, there was a strong reflection of nostalgia and ruins in the themes of this exhibition, which indicated that those landscapes and gardens in the traditional paintings had been replaced by technical situation in modern metropolis owing to the rapid urbanization in China. Lots of exhibited works such as Middle Spring by Bai Bingyang, Mist and Haze of Industrial Time by Li Jiashun, Industrial Sample—Steam Train No.9 by Liu Lei and Faded Memory by Zhao Shijie reflected old sites of industries and historical relics in a considerable degree. In the works Ancient Scent by Bai Di, a woman was pondering with eyes closed on an ancient table against the background of traditional village and landscape, and the title of Zhao Xiaofeng’s works Ancient Taste and Remaining Fashion and Duan Yuanwen’s Old Home No.8 implied the author’s nostalgia for the traditional home town. Besides, urban street sight and citizens’ life is another popular topic in this exhibition, which manifested that the Chinese contemporary oil painting turned its attention from lofty heroes in the passionate revolution to daily life of ordinary people in search of poetic charm of simple life. Whether it is nostalgia for ruins or poetic charm of simple life, an air of oil painting creation with unique reality and aesthetic of China, totally different from that in Europe, USA, Russia, Australia or South America, has come into our senses. As collectors of urban scraps, the contemporary artists held their nostalgia and mourning for classical spirit and cultural taste. In cities, industry and economic development have crashed many valuable items in classic tradition such as ideal, sympathy, harmony, romance, dream and poetry, an art in a broad sense. They are assessed by money or easily purchased or sold, and those nouveau-riches despised them like a penny. However, they are always sacred even though they were deprived, misunderstood or alienated by utilitarianism in the society. Luckily, they are recorded by Chinese oil painters from the cultural tradition and social reality.
From the first generation of oil painters of New China on, the mainstream of their pursuit was how to combine the characteristics of Chinese arts with those of western oil arts. Now we can say that the cultural gene of oil painting has been entirely transformed in the Chinese soil. Instead of being replica of European oil paintings, Chinese oil paintings care hardly about its orthodox origins but a transition towards Chinese culture, its oriental attraction out of innovation and contemporary advancement in oil arts. In the new period of reform and opening up, Chinese oil painters are entitled with the opportunity to source back to European tradition and modern oil painting and make clear their pursuit of local implication in this process.
While pursuing local implication, Chinese painters came to realize that academies and art circles in the West had been tired of painting. The advanced image technology not only changed the traditional dissemination way of information but also became an important media for contemporary art creation. The new media explored ready-made locality, original image and creative concept through new media constantly updated people’s vision, which lodge challenges against the visual experience brought by traditional paintings. In some developed countries, it is true that painting has been greatly marginalized. Today’s art realm in the West seems to be colorful with unceasing occurrence of new formality and concept and increasingly expanded art horizons. Conceptual Art, Behavioral Art, Installation Art, Video Art and Media Art took shape one after another so much that painting on shelves with centuries’ prosperity was pushed to the very margin. Oil painting even became the representative code for old-fashioned arts.
As a carrier of obvious gene of European culture, oil painting witnessed its rapid development in China and local cultural feature gradually dominated this foreign art forms. However, Chinese oil painting finds it increasingly difficult to exchange with their counterpart abroad. Then what is the direction of Chinese oil painting exchange?
“Chinese oil painters are supposed to not only learn to grasp the essence of European oil painting art but also immersed their creation into the local culture. European oil paintings have undergone changes and development for over 6 centuries while the time-honored cultural tradition in China needs to be adjusted to the current social life. The transition of tradition and modernity in both cultures lead to colorful and abundant art phenomena. Chinese oil painters have been endeavoring for their ideal to preserve distinct local feature and national expression in this foreign art form and manifest current Chinese people’s mentality and cultural concept in the cultural collision” Xu Jiang said. Perhaps in advocacy of aesthetic value of Chinese oil paintings and quality of oil painting in one meter’s sight, we ought to, as Yin Shuangxi concluded, appreciate arts rather than merely read pictures. Not only our paintings need to be upgraded, but also our audiences need to learn how to appreciate arts in observation of oil paintings so as to upgrade their cultural proficiency. Today, we live in a period full of various images and pictures where the production and dissemination of images are everywhere. Since the 19th century, the rapid development in various technology and machinery about image production made our visual experience more “technical”. The invention of plane printing and photography facilitated the transition from traditional illustrated books to magazine with photos, and the development of film and TV in the 20th century rebuilt people’s visual memory and image experience by motion pictures advertising. Whether in fervent vision or in accumulated images, our daily life has been changed by giant reproduction of social images. What is the meaning for painting in such an advanced period of images? This so-called advanced image world is symbolized by the instantly superficial and signal information while all those immortal paintings in human art history demand all-round observation with cultural background and knowledge structure. Viewing those paintings will lead to abundant information about history and living experiences. The upgrade in the feature of Chinese oil paintings means artists’ upgrade in refining personal experience and cultural temperament more than advanced technique. Focus on style and level of creation and then on disposition and taste of the author is the very important tradition in Chinese culture. Thanks to the in-depth cultural connotation, Chinese paintings manage to survive and develop through time; and with its abundant and elegant character, they will become our spiritual homeland, everlasting appreciation and sustenance for heart.