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Notes on Painting II


June 2010 Issue, HI Art

May 2 is the 68th anniversary of Yan’an Forum on Literature and Art. The Forum was held from May 2 to May 23 in 1942 hosted by Mao Zedong with more than 100 attendants including writers, artists and heads of each department of the Communist Party. On the forum Mao put forward the guideline that literature and art should meet needs of the public and serve the politics. The meeting has exerted far-reaching effects on the development of art and literature in China as well as on the formulation of policies in this field.

After 68 years, in April, 2010, Chinese Literature Summit Meeting was held in Taiwan, with the participation of authors from Mainland China, such as Wang Meng, Liu Xinwu, Yan Lianke, and Liu Zaifu. In particular, Ma Ying-jeou attended the meeting in person. On the summit he proposed that politics and administration should serve for literature and art, remove obstacles for them, and leave them more spaces; to accomplish that is the job for politicians.

Put aside issues such as ideology, political system and features, what politicians above have done is indeed showing their attitudes, with their proposals serving for either ruling or winning the election, and finally they have managed to make their attitude and viewpoints known by the public. Then according to their own needs, people support them, or formulate strategies towards them, or hide themselves: all happen openly.

Just like workers, famers, merchants, students and soldiers, politicians and artists cannot do jobs beyond what they have done for a long time and got accustomed to, and a sudden change in career may throw them into despair. A person who has cooked for his lifetime will not be an excellent tailor.

Only a few days before, one of my friends working in State Organs sent a message to me, asking me what “Four Represents” were. I replied, “What? What mentioned frequently before was ‘Three Represents’; where is the one more ‘Represent’ from? ” Then he answered, “Just Guess.” I racked my brain all day but still could not find the answer. I remembered that the “Three Represents” were respectively referring to productivity, science and culture as well as “the most fundamental interests of the most people”, and I was sure I had not omitted anything. Till bedtime I admitted that I was not able to solve it by myself, so I sent a message to him, “Tell me the answer, or I will call you after the midnight when I get up to urinate.” His reply was, “Representing the interests of compatriots from Hong Kong, Macau, Taiwan and overseas.”

Politicians also have to work hard. Besides handling countless affairs and mapping out various strategies, they must also remember a lot of exact numbers, which may show their expertise. Mao Zedong mentioned in his report made on the first day of Yan’an Forum on Literature and art that “In Kuomintang occupied areas, one edition of a book usually runs to only 2,000 copies, and even three editions add up to only 6,000. While in Yan’an, more than ten thousand books are available.” As to literary and artistic creation, Mao pointed out, “In the past, our writers and artists were confronted with such problems: unfamiliarity to and having no conception of their lives, and consequently they had no way to use their ability and talents. Indeed, what they were really unfamiliar to were the objects they were describing and recipients of their works, or we can say they even know nothing of them. What they did not understand was language they should have used. In other words, there were wide gaps in their knowledge in the true-to-life language created by the people. Hence their works not only were dull and un-lifelike, but also often contained self-coining expressions which run counter to popular usage. I was a student who had acquired a kind of habit of students. Then I felt that it was a shame to do even a little manual labor, such as carrying luggage, in faces of my fellow students who were incapable of carrying anything. At that time I considered that intellectuals were the only clean people in the world, while in comparison workers and peasants were dirty. I did not care of wearing the clothes of other intellectuals, believing they are clean, but I was unwilling to put on those of workers or peasants for considering them to be dirty. However, after I became a revolutionary and worked with workers, peasants and soldiers of the revolutionary army, gradually I knew them, and they knew me, too. It was then, and only then, that I radically changed the bourgeois and petty bourgeois feelings implanted in me by bourgeois schools. Then I felt that un-remoulded intellectuals were dirty when compared with workers and peasants. The cleanest people in the world are workers and peasants. Although they have soil-stained hands and cow-dung on their feet, they are still cleaner than bourgeois and petty bourgeois intellectuals.”

Twenty-three days later, Mao proposed five issues on the following aspects: who literature and arts should serve for, how to serve for them, the united front in literary and art circles, criticism of literature and art, and correcting unhealthy tendencies. Up to now all Chinese people know them, and some old people can even recite them backwards.

Ma Ying-jeou has also mentioned at the Chinese Literature Summit held last month, “Over 2007 Taiwan published 45 thousand kinds of books, and Mainland China published 135 thousand kinds; of course, with much more volumes. It seems that books published by the latter are 3 times as many as those published by the former. However, population of Mainland China is 57 times as big as that of Taiwan, so we can say that Taiwan has an advanced publishing industry. The idea of establishing Taipei into the global publishing center of Chinese literature occurred when I was the mayor of Taipei. In my opinion, the biggest difference between the popularization process of Chinese and that of English, French, German and Spanish lies in that western language are popularized by colonization, while Chinese are by migration.” He plans to co-compose a Chinese Dictionary together with Mainland China and make it accessible to all people on both sides of Taiwan Straits by adopting Cloud Database, achieving the conception of “reading and writing in traditional Chinese without the exclusion of using simple Chinese”. He also hopes that Chinese characters can be given a place on the World Heritage List and people, not only Chinese, who write in Chinese can be found all over the world.

Since the occurrence of the slogan “Art should serve for art itself” during the May 4th Movement, other slogans with the similar structure, such as “Art should serve for the public”, “Art should serve for politics” and “Politics should serve for art”, have emerged in an endless stream. However, no one can account for whom art and artists should serve for and nobody can make it clear that whose interests artists should represent. I do not know what happened thousands or hundreds of years ago. However, over thirty years after the implementation of China’s policy of reform and opening up, especially over recent years, I have seen clearly what has happened in contemporary  art circle: what the artists are representing are profits of auction houses, of the speculators, of the curators of exhibitions and of “the most” various galleries.  Even non-professionals can see that in Tongzhou District, 798 Art Zone, Caochangdi Art District, Cuigezhuang District and Huan Tie Art City as well as from various media of art and fashion magazines. The “Four Represents” above for contemporary artists have made them so distracted and busy that they not only fail to focus on painting but also have forgotten what they are. For them studying art is only the job to be done before entering universities, and now they are really too busy to study. Their slogan is, “Pursuing the fastest instead of the best”. Let us hope that this trend would disappear as early as possible.

Artists should stand for the conscience of the society. They should criticize and question everything socially unreasonable in addition to meeting people’s aesthetic needs, which is the least the artists and intellectuals ought to do and which cannot be done by no matter who serve for you. If artists cannot accomplish even these jobs, then it is impossible for them to serve for anyone.

Zhu Wei

Tuesday, May 11, 2010