Online Graduation Season of CAFA | How to make graduation creations “online”? Listen to the experience of teachers and students from the Studio 1, Department of Oil Painting


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Editor's note:

Whether it is the traditional mentoring system or the studio education in art schools, it can be said that art education can always emphasize the demonstration and direct guidance of teachers in person, but the sudden outbreak of COVID-19 in 2020 has changed this status: the campus was closed, and the online teaching mode for students has become common practice. The online guidance of teachers from art schools has become a beautiful landscape. In order to cope with the impact of the pandemic, the Central Academy of Fine Arts (abbr. CAFA) has also launched for the first time the virtual art galleries for students who will graduate, building a solid platform to display students’ academic achievements. Whether it is from the graduation exhibition itself which embodies the studies and efforts of the graduating students over several years, it is also the threshold for them to enter society, as for the new look for this year's graduation exhibition, the 2020 “online” graduation season is bound to attract our attention.

Offline exhibitions can collect the feedback from the audience as soon as they visit, and they can accurately receive information from the art market and further become a stage for exchange and learning between students ... Compared to this, we know very little about the online graduation exhibition. How do teachers of CAFA guide students to cope with the new form of graduation exhibition? How do students change their minds to prepare for their graduation creations? How does the museum plan and prepare for this online graduation exhibition with such a large number of participants? How can gallery owners and collectors see and discover artists of interest? Does the new form of graduation exhibition have any significance after the pandemic is over? CAFA ART INFO have interviewed the teachers who have instructed the graduating class from the Department of Oil Painting at CAFA to talk about their observations.

Interviewees丨Teachers from the First Studio of the Department of Oil Painting

Interviewer | Yang Zhonghui (Editor of CAFA ART INFO)

Interview time | April 16, 2020

Pictures & Video丨The First Studio of Oil Painting Department

Motion picture production | CAFA ART INFO

Translated and edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO

Note: The interviewees were Professor Hu Jiancheng, Professor Sun Xun, Associate Professor Lin Xiaochu, Associate Professor Xia Libin, and Lecturer Cai Haokun. The interview was mainly completed by Lin Xiaochu, and Hu Jiancheng made the final revision.

CAFA ART INFO: Hello everyone, because of the pandemic situation, CAFA graduation exhibition has changed a lot this year, so we have also paid attention to the topics related to the students' graduation creations. Can you talk about the graduation creation class at the Department of Oil Painting for us first?

The Graduation Creation Course of the Department of Oil Painting has been a traditional course since the establishment of the Department in the 1950s. Many oil painters from previous generations became famous for their graduate creations during their undergraduate studies. The First Studio of the Department of Oil Painting was renamed from the “Wu Zuoren Studio” established in 1959. After the leadership of several generations of studio directors such as Mr. Wu Zuoren, Mr. Jin Shangyi, and Mr. Sun Weimin, who were also Directors for the Department of Oil Painting and the Deputy Dean of the Central Academy of Fine Arts. It can be said that the First Studio is very representative and it has trained many famous artists and educators. The studio's undergraduate graduation course is taught collectively by the teachers from this studio, so that students can be counseled in different ways and from various angles, which is relatively sufficient and the effect is relatively good. At present, our studio is coordinated by Director Hu Jiancheng and a teaching team of five teachers including Sun Xun, Lin Xiaochu, Xia Libin and Cai Haokun. In teaching, we have always followed the traditional teaching methods set by the Department of Oil Painting at the Central Academy of Fine Arts. The curriculum is set from sketching to oil painting still life (landscape), to figure sketching and to nude sketching. It emphasizes the expression of the languages of oil painting while following the process from the simple to the complicated, from the easy to the hard parts. In the first semester of the fourth grade, our studio also retained a one-month-long and most difficult two-nude sketching course before entering the teaching of the graduation creation. In fact, the creation course also has short-term interpenetration training in the second and third grades and creative assignments are arranged every semester after class. Because creation and sketching are complementary to each other, the study of sketching plays an important role in improving the skills of oil painting techniques. The training of creation also raises questions such as the language of oil painting for sketchers and enhances the students' initiative in sketching. The graduation creation is a reflection of students' comprehensive ability during the undergraduate period, thus it is a very important course.

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From Vision to Fruition, Archives of the First Studio, Department of Oil Painting, CAFA (1959-2013)

CAFA ART INFO: What impact did this pandemic have on graduation creation courses? Please briefly introduce the situation of graduates in the First Studio.

Graduates' creation course started last semester and continued into this semester, which lasts for one year. In the last semester, we have conducted many classes of graduation creation and thesis tutoring. Most of the students have already experienced 2-3 rounds of draft discussion on graduation creations and they have basically determined their creation plans. Since the pandemic started during the winter vacation, all of our students have been forced to create at home. Confined by the conditions at home, many students had to prepare the painting materials again and even changed their creative themes. There are a total of 9 graduates in our studio this year, including a Korean student.

Their current creations can be divided into several major types:

I. Regarding inward expression: students take themselves as the objects of creation, and explore the relationship between "I" and the object image, between "I" and others, beyond the concept of individual portraits, while ascending to a philosophical thinking and achieving a new significance in vision. The creations by Huang Wei and Xu Ke belong to this type.

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Creative Drafts by Huang Wei

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Creations by Xu Ke

II. Re-recognition of family members and families: Chen Meiling and Zhou Zhenhuan respectively chose her father and his grandma as their objects of their paintings, and Ma Jingyang chose her father's studio and small objects of life as subjects. They describe their objects in their specific family environments and the relations between the figures and the cities, there is a touching strength in their expressions of human nature and objects.

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Creations and Drafts by Chen Meiling

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Creations and Sketching Drafts by Zhou Zhenhuan

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Creations and Drafts by Ma Jingyang

III. Regarding sensitivity to the current life under the pandemic: creations by Zheng Yingmin and Jiang Bin focus on life feelings with the pandemic influence. Zheng Yingmin uses masks as the medium of her expression to reflect the relations between different people, diversified masks and psychology. Jiang Bin painted fragmentary moments of life in the pandemic.

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Creations by Zheng Yingmin

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Graduation Creations and Process by Jiang Bin

IV. The epiphany about modern social life: creations are derived from their feelings of life, and they use new methods to express features beyond life. Yang Lin and Zong Xueyu’s creations belong to this category.

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Graduation Creations by Yang Lin

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Creations by Zong Xueyu

CAFA ART INFO: From the status that students have been involved in their graduation creations, we can find the impact of the pandemic on them. So what do you think the influences might be that will arise from the new form of graduation exhibition? As oil painting belongs to easel painting, what are the advantages and disadvantages of an online exhibition?

Regardless of the impact of the pandemic, students have attached great importance to the issue of their graduation creations. This is a phased summary for their lives, and a huge leap forward in their professional careers. Even for their graduation creation, they can focus on in-depth thinking on their artistic language and expression. It can be said that graduation creations are comprehensive reflections of their modeling foundation, color language and experiences accumulated in their four-year undergraduate study. Of course, oil painting has the expressive charm of the media itself, the fluidity of canvas and pigments, the brush strokes, the texture and so on. We often say that the reason that we should observe the original paintings lies in them. The live exhibitions of previous students have shown the charm of the original works well. The only difference this time is the online display, of course, this is a new attempt, and it is also an exciting way to display.

No matter how these works are exhibited, our studio has changed nothing in the requirements for students, we still require that the completed works can reflect the qualified teaching in a higher level. The size of the works and the languages of expressions should consider the future on-site display effect. Because paintings are not presented for once, graduation creations are not the finishing point, but the starting point for students' artistic creations. In the future, they will have many opportunities to display their works. Our students have attached great importance to the communication and duration of this graduation creation course. And the advantage of creating at home is that one can devote oneself to one painting quietly and concentratedly which has achieved a better effect than expected. Currently, the creative status of the students in the graduating class is very good and it can be said that they are gradually getting better. At the beginning, each student prepared about 3-5 creative ideas, after many teaching discussions, they were advanced in thinking, and finally determined 1-2 creative topics, after they were perfected and deepened, they have produced excellent sketches and color drafts set for their final creations. At present, students have completed more than half of their creative progress, and most of them have basically entered the final stage, and their works are becoming more vivid.

The online graduation exhibition is actually an extension of the exhibition form. Compared with the offline exhibitions, it has extensive advantages and characteristics. From a professional point of view, of course it is necessary to see the original display, but the exhibition period and the size of the audience are limited. The online exhibition viewing method is convenient and flexible. We can watch the exhibition anytime, anywhere, which is consistent with the development of the epoch. With the development of 5G technology, visual sense and physical sense will become stronger and it will become a common form of display in the future. Two or other forms can rely on each other to display artworks in a more comprehensive way. Because of the visual (online) museum method adopted during the pandemic, it can be regarded as an unprecedented opportunity created by special circumstances. For artists, the greatest assets are their experience. Confronted with the pandemic, China has used its national strength to fight against the pandemic and achieved certain results in a short period of time. Our students also participate as individuals in different ways and enhance their personal quality of life while thinking about the relationship between individuals and society and the relationship between individuals and their country, which enhances patriotism, positive energy and national pride. This is consistent with the teaching philosophy that our studio has always adhered to, focusing on traditional techniques and level, pursuing ideal beauty and promoting positive energy. After this period of experience and creative integration, students are generally becoming mature and more responsible as these experiences are also well reflected in their creative expressions, bringing a unique imprint of the epoch to this graduation exhibition.

CAFA ART INFO: We know that this pandemic of COVID-19 has also changed the educational mode of teachers. What are the challenges you have come across when it comes to your guidance of graduation creation?

As for the discussion on the concept of graduation creation, we have not changed much according to the usual teaching requirements. The main reason is that the scope of the students’ selections of themes has been narrowed, for the expressions of First Studio of the Department of Oil Painting tend to be traditional realism. If the students determine their themes, performance objects and subjects, then they need to accumulate some on-site sketches with the assistance of photo materials. Because of the pandemic, students can only create at home, and the conditions are limited. Therefore, the five teachers in our studio discussed this and decided before the start of the course: on the one hand, we encouraged students who prepared more complete sketches and materials for the last semester to continue to create on the original basis; on the other hand, students who are unable to complete the original concepts, can pay attention to their lifestyle and portray the warm scenes and characters in their families or lives in a positive and optimistic way and refine them into creations, or they can take the special events of the current fight against the pandemic as their creative themes, etc. Actually, only the subject matters can be changed, and there is no difference in requirements. Our studio's emphasis is also on quality.

CAFA ART INFO: This year's graduation exhibition of CAFA will be launched "online" through virtual galleries of the museum for the first time. What do you think of the future development of this new form of graduation exhibition?

With the development of digital media technologies, this kind of display mode with virtual art galleries has become very common in recent years, especially large-scale exhibitions at home and abroad. This is very convenient in terms of spread. Because in the special period of fighting the pandemic, this is a good process. The benefit of this presentation is that it has a wide audience and strong sustainability. For the students of this studio with a direction in modeling, our requirements on creative guidance will never change, that is, the pros and cons of the work itself and the artwork must have persistent characteristics, while pursuing a high quality that is reflected on techniques and content realms. The online exhibition will also be good publicity for students' works, so that more audiences can appreciate the artworks, which is a relatively new attempt for students. Of course, we have repeatedly emphasized the eternal quality of the works, not just sticking to one display. In the future, these works can continuously be presented elsewhere, so the quality and achievement of these works are the most important, whether it is an online or offline exhibition. At present, the difficulty encountered by students is that the technical problems of taking pictures is limited by the home environment. If the school has guidance in this area or has some communication and learning with the students from the School of Design, the picture effects to be presented will be relatively professional while also becoming an extension of teaching. Recently, due to the online reports of CAFA on courses, students are constantly adjusting when they take pictures and videos of themselves and works as they are also a supplement to creative teaching in terms of composition, light, and ideas. With this way of virtual display of student works, CAFA can be said to have a leading role in art education, which is a good demonstration for art schools across the country. We are looking forward to this graduation exhibition in the Virtual Art Museum.

CAFA ART INFO: Do you remember your graduation exhibition? From then till now, would you share your feelings with us?

Lin Xiaochu: My BA graduation exhibition was in 2001 and the exhibition was presented in the Exhibition Hall of Shuaifuyuan in the old campus of CAFA. It was a classical European-style building and it was very beautiful. It was the predecessor of CAFA Art Museum. There were fewer graduates in our Department of Oil Painting than there are now, with a total of a dozen students. I clearly remember that my work was exhibited in the main exhibition hall on the second floor. At that time, I also won the Excellent Work Award. One of the group paintings “Eye Series” was collected by CAFA. Later, several other works were able to be presented in the “Exhibition of Excellent Works of Graduates from National Academies of Fine Arts.” So the entire graduation exhibition can be said to be very impressive, and it was also the starting point for me to form a certain look in my painting and be recognized by everyone. At that time, there were few students, and one studio had five teachers. Sometimes the ratio of teachers to students was almost the same, so CAFA has always followed an elite teaching model. The preparation progress of our graduation creation was relatively long and we had been accumulating works during the undergraduate period, the amount of works was relatively large, the works I created in the early stage at that time were also selected for the “2000 APEC Young Artist Invitational Exhibition" and I had a rich experience in exhibitions. So for the graduation exhibition, I had a total of more than ten works to form a series. Compared with the current students’ creation with 2 works, the number of requirements is not much, but there is still a lot of progress in the description and professional ability of students and their creations also have epochal characteristics.

Cai Haokun: My BA graduation exhibition was in 2013. Although the graduation exhibition was held in June, the hot weather made us enter the summer in advance. At that time, the graduation exhibition still kept various disciplines showing in turn in the art museum or multi-function hall. It happened that the works of the Department of Oil Painting were arranged in the multi-function hall in 2013. It was a small regret. After all, all of us wanted to exhibit in the CAFA Art Museum with professional lighting equipment and a good atmosphere for the exhibition, the most important thing was that it was CAFA Art Museum.

It’s 2020 now and this year CAFA will switch the graduation exhibition to an online exhibition due to the pandemic. This will be a new challenge for all the schools and students of CAFA. This will be a very special exhibition. Perhaps compared to traditional exhibition forms, online exhibitions can make the public more accessible to students’ works, so that they can get to know these artists in all aspects through pictures, texts and even videos. The speed of the spread will be unprecedented. At present, all senior students are stepping up to complete their graduation creations and theses. According to the requirements of the online exhibition, they need to upload pictures and various information in advance. Although they have created at home, the pressure is still increasing. I look forward to seeing the works they have done and I hope that these good works will be perfectly presented to the audience through this "visual" exhibition.

Teachers’ Wishes for Graduates

Be honest and work hard. Work hard for the realization of the Chinese dream, the realization of the ideals of life and art!

—Hu Jiancheng, Professor of CAFA

From the very beginning when I gave lectures, the class was so quiet. I became more familiar with you after a while. I felt that the students in this class were very kind and had something that silently touched me. I hope you can keep this valuable quality in your future lives and creations and paint good works!

—Sun Xun, Professor of CAFA

The students of this graduating class have concentrated on their studies and each has their own personality and characteristics. It can be said that they have artistic temperaments. They have also achieved good results in the three-year study of oil painting. When you graduate from the First Studio of the Department of Oil Painting, which means that you will enter society with this honorable label. The First studio of Department of Oil Painting hosts several generations of famous oil painters and oil painting educators from the foundation of P.R.C., and it has a qualified style and taste. You are also a generation of a succession of artists from this studio. I hope that you will continue to take on the mission of upgrading Chinese oil paintings on the basis of inheriting excellent traditions.

—Lin Xiaochu, Associate Professor of CAFA

There will be occasions when the wind and the waves surge and the sails will be hung to navigate the sea. Your study at the academy is about to be completed and you will soon create a brilliant future and continue to struggle for your ideals. I hope that everyone will continue to be persistent in art, embrace passion in life and persevere in diligence; I sincerely wish everyone will make achievements on the road of future art research and art exploration with outstanding masterpieces; wishing all of you can ride the wind and waves with excellent achievements in study and career.

—Xia Libin, Associate Professor of CAFA

From the second year to the fourth year, I saw your efforts and progress; from now and into the future, I am looking forward to your courage and success. In this extraordinary year, you are destined to achieve extraordinary achievements.

—Cai Haokun, Lecturer of CAFA