Why I Paint
May 2010 Issue of Hi Art
There are only two ways to live your life. One is to live by instinct - going to school, finding a job, falling in love with somebody, getting married, reproducing, turning old and finally passing away. Most people choose this way. The other is to live with a dream of doing something significant and leaving something in the world without wasting your journey. For people who have chosen the latter, their life may be full of frustrations even misery; however, it is them who have made the world wonderful.
Takeshi Kitano said in his autobiography A kid from Asakusa, ‘I’m always doing my performance according to my real ability, no matter it is poor or excellent, being welcomed or disliked.’
In these days I am questioning myself. Why do I paint? Why did I choose paining as the lifetime pursuit and goal? What are the problems to be solved by painting? What are the principles to be shown in art? How have paintings around us changed during the past decades?
Such things often happen: some artists claimed that he was born for art, and when he was a baby all neighbors agreed that he was full of artistic talents and he was born to be an artist. Some major stars said he/she went to the entrance examination just for accompanying his/her friend, but finally it was him/her but not his/her friend was admitted into the School of Film Art, etc. It seems that I am not so lucky. I studied painting only because of my poor academic scores - from the first year in elementary school my scores of literature and math were seldom exceeded 70. And the reason why I chose painting ink and wash was because the rice paper was cheaper, and the ink pigments were economical - a bottle of ink mixed with water could survive more than a year. When I was a college student, I even painted pencil sketches on rice papers. I was criticized by my professor for it for many times, but nothing changed. Although I knew I should use sketch papers, they were still expensive, and I wasn't born in a rich family. For more than 20 years my career is like travelling on a roller coaster. I have rushed to the current location without thinking anything deeply in time. Now I am matured and sometimes I think seriously what I am living for. My conclusion is that I'm still far way from art. Occasionally it seemed that art was coming toward me, but suddenly I realized it was nothing but a dream, a great lie, or a big trap. I am 40 now, and if I want to be re-employed instead of becoming a painter, there are only two jobs left for me: being a night-watchman, or being a CEO who's always bossy in the daytime.
However, artists are born to be romantic and free. It's hard for them to obey any rule or regulation. So, if they take the above two kinds of jobs, they would definitely make very poor of either, and end up with being fired. In the past I could question myself, but now I can only face the reality and do what I am able to do. I have kept painting for dozens of years, I am a skilled worker, this is it. If someone says he is a genius, or art will be incomplete without him, with my courtesies, cultivation and the edification received from intellectuals, I will punch his face right away.
The purpose of art is to express thought and soul, while painting is just one of them. With its long history, painting has been the basis of all formative arts, to say nothing of its long-lived raw vitality worldwide and acting as advant-garde till today. The world is not always based on materials, money and mechanical principles. For example, if a young man falls in love with a young girl, he can stand under her window, playing his guitar and singing songs, or throwing flowers to her. If he forges iron under the window or throws dollars piece by piece upwards, he is likely to be disappointed. To a certain extent, we must make things abstract and allegorical; in other words, we should not tell a story too directly. Art need to express various desires of human being, which cannot be achieved by following formulas or explaining theories, nor by counting as well. It should be carried out in a haste, or carelessly, since even a tiny bit of crudeness may cause long-term displeasure and irritation. Painting is more objective than music, that's why I admire musicians - people can find beauty and realize the richness of life just by sitting there doing nothing with their eyes closed.
2010 is a round number again, which could be used for many purposes. Some take the opportunity to review the development of modern art over the past 30 years. However, I think 2008 is more appropriate. The dramatic change of Chinese society happened in 1978, so, all retrospections, no matter in literature or art or others, should take that year as a starting point. Otherwise it merely smells commercial, as though businessman sells sticky rice ball (which should be eaten in Feb) on the Dragon Boat Festival (in June), the only reason is the unsold inventory.
In the 30 years history of painting after the Reform and Opening-up, I have witnessed 21 of them. I appreciate paintings and art explorations before the ’85 New Trend Art Movements, especially during the Stars Art Society period. Some theoreticians define artistic works created during that period as a revolution only happened in art forms, but as a painter I have a different point of view. I think it was a revolution happened in content. Just like in the preface of Stars Art Exhibition it was written, "we can find countless subjects and deep revolutions in the real life, and we devote ourselves to it and its unpredictable and uncertain. It is undoubtedly the resource of our art. When we combine our liberated soul with art inspiration, art will make life dramatically exciting. We won't break with our ancestors, on the contrary, we inherited from them the ability to understand life, and the spirit to explore." Since then for decades I have never seen large-scale parades again like the great parade of defending Constitution held on the National Day in 1979. Numerous artists attended it. And since then among many art critics I could seldom find real intellectuals as brave as Li Xiaoshan and Li Xianting who dare to stand out boldly and fight against unreasonable conducts. During ’85 New Trend Art Movements, the purpose of art was still to liberate humanity nature and to emancipate the minds in a bold way. Objectively speaking, the first two artistic movements were launched by artists and theoreticians spontaneously, while the Post-1989 Art Movement in the 1990s was manipulated by galleries and capital. Therefore they were extremely different in art styles and forms, and even the behaviors of artists of those two periods were not the same. It's not necessarily a bad thing since the society has developed. Both artists and theoreticians are nothing but chess-pieces, like iron filings on a magnetic field moving involuntarily.
Nobody can take advantage of art, including artists themselves.
Sunday, April 11th, 2010