Online Graduation Season of CAFA | Yuan Yuan: With Models, With Classes, and With Tutors

TEXT:CAFA ART INFO    TIME: 2020.7.21

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Editor’s Note: On May 20th, CAFA Online Graduation Season was officially launched. Within the first 24 hours, online browsing exceeded 2.13 million visitors and the number of individual visitors reached 530,000. Currently, online browsing has exceeded 2.46 million with 620,000 independent visitors from 115 countries around the world. This graduation exhibition has attracted global participation and attention.

Offline exhibitions can collect feedback from the audience as soon as they visit, and they can accurately receive information from the art market and then become a stage for exchange and learning between students ... In comparison, we know very little about the online graduation exhibition. How do teachers from CAFA look at this new form of graduation exhibition? How do they guide students to create? What challenges did they encounter?

CAFA ART INFO interviewed Professor Yuan Yuan from the Fundamental Department of CAFA. He shared his opinions on topics such as teaching on the postgraduate level, the difference between the Fundamental Department and the Oil Painting Department, the future development of online exhibitions, as well as the changes in students’ creations.

Interviewee | Yuan Yuan (Professor of Fundamental Department, the School of Fine Arts, CAFA)

Interviewer | Yang Zhonghui /CAFA ART INFO

Interview time | May 9th, 2020

Images | Courtesy of Professor Yuan Yuan and graduates

Translated by Emily and edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO


CAFA ART INFO: Hello, Professor Yuan. Because of the pandemic, the graduation exhibition at CAFA has changed a lot this year. We have also paid attention to the topics related to the graduation creations of students. Can you introduce the graduation creation class of the Fundamental Department to us?

Yuan Yuan: Our department is different from other departments in the School of Fine Arts. At the undergraduate level, we only have freshmen. In this case, regarding graduation creations, it basically refers to the postgraduate level. The postgraduate teaching in our department started in 2000, and it has been going for 20 years. I was only a young teacher 20 years ago and I could not guide postgraduate students at that time. Currently, I am in charge of the teaching work of the Fundamental Department. Postgraduate teaching in our department is divided into two parts. The first part is dominated by supervisors. If the supervisors’ proposals are approved by the School. They can take on their postgraduate students to complete the proposals. The other part is daily teaching, which is targeting postgraduate students from Year One and Two. The class is always structured around sketching, color, anatomy, and perspective. Based on these topics, we usually conduct indoor and outdoor sketching. It can be said that our course is always with models, classes, and tutors, which is regular professional teaching. When it comes to the third year of postgraduate study, all basic training courses are stopped and we turn our attention to thesis and graduation creation. In the Fundamental Department, we require students to connect their theses with their graduate creations, so their dissertations and final pieces are integrated. In the Year One and Year Two stages, we always invite tutors who focus on theory study, such as professor Yin Shuangxi, to give lectures on essay writing for students.

图1  LL女士140x100cm  2019.jpgYuan Yuan, "Lady LL", Oil on Canvas, 140x100cm, 2019

Our teaching takes cultivating talent as a focus with realistic paintings as the goal, as the supervisor group almost all have an oil painting background and mainly creates oil paintings. I graduated from BA Oil Painting at CAFA, and then took MA Mural Painting in Academy of Arts & Design at Tsinghua University (Prior Central Academy of Arts and Design). After that, I returned to CAFA and followed professor Jin Shangyi on the Ph.D. program. Although I have been involved in diverse fields, I have always been involved in deep research in oil painting. No matter how my student’s ability is when he or she entered the school, I always require them to have a skill in modeling. As regards oil painting, no matter if you are a freshman, or have been learning for many years, or are already a master, the basic point is your modeling ability, which directly relates to the level of a creator or a piece of work. In this case, our fundamental course is about the training in the deep exploration of modeling ability, which is needed at an undergraduate level in terms of teaching. However, we have a higher standard of content.

Some people do not quite understand why we stick to sketching and painting models in class for a long time. Children in kindergarten can draw an object, as can a postgraduate student or an artist, but the content, level and depth of research are completely different. For oil paintings, especially realistic oil paintings, sketching is the most basic means to improve the level. Painting various landscapes, figures, still life, etc. is a conventional training method. At the same time, sketching is also a creative method for many artists. As we know it, Freud is the most typical sketching painter. The figures are almost the theme of his life. He continued to study this subject. The objects he painted and the process of painting objects have actually become the medium of his art practice and his art itself.

The general characteristic of our postgraduate teaching is to seek common ground while reserving views on differences. Although the educational background and research direction of each of our tutors are generally consistent, there are still individual differences. In our previous graduation exhibition, students presented a variety of creative faces. The students’ personality and the influence of tutors are related. For students with strong personalities, tutors can retreat a little. If students’ personality is weaker, supervisors’ subjective intentions can be implemented a little more to help students find a direction for development. To some extent, postgraduate teaching is a game between teachers and students. This can also be said to be teaching according to aptitude and personality.

图2 杰苏尔和纳兹拉200x200cm/2017 副本.jpgYuan Yuan, "Jesur and Nazra", Oil on Canvas, 200x200cm, 2017

图3 .jpegYuan Yuan, "Ride the wind", Oil on Canvas, 80x100cm, 2018

图4.jpgYuan Yuan, "Military Flag Flying", Oil on Canvas, 97x130cm, 2018

CAFA ART INFO: You just mentioned the course in the Fundamental Department mainly focuses on oil painting. Regarding works, what is the difference between students in your department and students from the Oil Painting Department?

Yuan Yuan: Many situations determine the similarity and difference between the Oil Painting Department and the Fundamental Department. Almost all of our tutors graduated from the Oil Painting Department, so it is hard to say that there is a very big difference between the two departments. In fact, the main difference is the source of students. The students of the Oil Painting Department basically come from our department, and the students of the Fundamental Department include both the undergraduates of the Oil Painting department, the students from other departments and many students from other universities. This means that our postgraduate student sources and works will be relatively diverse, which can be clearly seen in the annual graduation exhibition.

CAFA ART INFO: As you mentioned just now, the diverse students’ source in the Fundamental Department and the influence of tutors bring about various appearances in works. How do these specific aspects reflect in the work of the postgraduates you supervised this year?

Yuan Yuan: I am in charge of two postgraduates this year, Wang Hanyi graduated from the BA Mural Painting Department at CAFA and Chen Hui graduated from Jingdezhen Ceramic Institute in Jiangxi. The different appearances of paintings caused by different student sources are fully reflected.

图5 陈慧·绘物语作品集.jpgChen Hui's Graduation Creation, "Girl's Dream", Oil on Canvas, 120x120cm, 2020

图6 陈慧·绘物语作品集.jpgChen Hui's Graduation Creation, "Secret Gardern Series", Oil on Canvas, Variable Size, 2020

图7 陈慧·绘物语作品集.jpgChen Hui's Graduation Creation, "The Peach Blossom Spring Series", Oil on Canvas, 30x30cm, 2020

Chen Hui is sensible in color. During the three-year postgraduate study, she has worked hard to make up for her shortcomings in modeling ability. The way she draws combines my guidance with her personalized methods. When guiding her creation, my basic purpose is to retain her sensitivity to colors and the personalized and feminine color system, allowing her to create freely. Meanwhile, with the help of indoor and outdoor sketching, I gradually guide her to use colors in a more ideal way. All of this can be clearly felt in her graduation work. She showed a girl’s sensitive thoughts, color judgment and emotional characteristics on feminine colors very well.

图8 陈慧·绘物语作品集.jpgChen Hui's Graduation Creation, "Flower Series", Oil on Canvas, 30x30cmx4, 2020

图9 陈慧·绘物语作品集.jpgChen Hui's Graduation Creation, "View of Jiangnan", Oil on Canvas

Although Wang Hanyi graduated from the Mural Painting Department of CAFA, he cannot be regarded as a typical student with the characteristics of the Mural Painting Department. The murals are relatively flat and decorative, but his abilities in sketching, character-shaping, and in-depth depiction are relatively strong, which allows him to control the details well. His work is closer to oil painting. In this case, I hope that he can draw as deep and detailed as possible. He is interested in researching urban life and I offered him a lot of suggestions. Some of my ideas are reflected in his works, but they are also tailored according to Wang Hanyi's own abilities and interests.

图10 王汉一毕业创作《窗》.jpgWang Hanyi's Graduation Creation, "Window", Oil on Canvas图11.jpg

Wang Hanyi's Graduation Creation, "Window", Oil on Canvas-sketch

Wang Hanyi, "City Window Series", Sketches

CAFA ART INFO: How did the pandemic affect postgraduate teaching and the students’ graduation creation in the Fundamental Department?

Yuan Yuan: The impact of the pandemic in terms of students’ graduation creations is not great in our department. We settled the final direction of the students’ presentation at the end of last semester. What we need to discuss with students are the details. The only change would be the sizes of works. At that time, students could only create from home without the use of a studio in the school and we were not sure if they could actually present their work, so we suggested students abandon large-scale paintings due to the transportation difficulties. Thanks to the internet, the communication between teachers and students is quite smooth. Compared to face-to-face communication, online communication can be clearer and more comprehensive. Students majoring in fine arts mainly create paintings on easels, although we may lose some texture and detail from the judgments through online supervision, we were able to focus on the entire effects of the works. Moreover, students are less disturbed at home, which can help them concentrate on thesis and creations.

Professor Yuan Yuan was guiding students online.

I think the postgraduate teaching during the pandemic showed a tendency to return to the origin of painting. Due to the pandemic, students have to stay at home, observe life, paint, and complete the assignments arranged by the teacher in a familiar environment. In fact, these assignments were also designed around their surroundings, forcing them to observe what they are familiar with, painting family members, objects at home, and the surrounding sceneries, which has a more personal creative meaning than sketching in the school classroom. What is the relationship between this new teaching model and our classroom teaching? Because of the pandemic situation, our teaching requirements are more closely integrated with students’ self-expression and observation of life and their paintings are more sentimental. Although the works are smaller in size, shorter in time and less in-depth. They are more vivid, with a more personal feeling and personal life inside, I think it is more intimate.

Chen Hui‘s Graduation Creation - Sketches

Wang Hanyi, "Still LIfe Series", Oil on Canvas, 2020

图16-0.jpg During the pandemic, Guan Yilin was sketching outside.

图16-1,20x20 布面丙烯 01.jpg

Guan Yilin's work, Acrylic on Canvas, 20x20cm, 2020

管一霖创作小稿.jpg Guan Yilin's sketches, 2020

Huang Yinyu's work, 2020

CAFA ART INFO: This year, CAFA announced a "virtual exhibition hall" for the first time. How do you see the future of this new form of graduation display? Are different types of artists suitable for online presentations?

Yuan Yuan: Online exhibitions are the direction of the future. The pandemic allows the online display to be realized and promoted. From my point of view, I think the online exhibition will be the norm in the future and it will be more dazzling than offline museums, because the exhibition of physical museums is subject to various restrictions on space, light, exhibition location, etc., but online displays can present the concept of a perfect museum. The online art museum is not necessarily a copy of the physical art museum but it considers presenting works in the best way. For example, the video and installation work from the School of Experimental Art can be fully displayed online without restrictions from physical space. For students major in fine arts, everyone’s painting can be placed in a great place and angle online. It is the advantage of online display. The problems in terms of “the best place to present” among others are solved in the online version. Every exhibition hall is perfect in this way.

As for the online graduation exhibition of CAFA, we do have some specific technical issues. As students completed their work from home, photographing can be a big problem, which includes accuracy and pixel difficulties. In the future, the online exhibition may be more interesting than offline display, as the perfect presentation is at its core. Once the technical problems are solved, the online exhibition hall would shift to an e-book, which can be read anytime and anywhere. It is intimate and it changes with people’s reading method at present.

Going back to the question you just asked, if artists have to face online exhibitions in the future, there will indeed be a difference here. When you are an installation artist, you will be affected a bit more, while oil painting artists will be less affected. Purely from the perspective of display effects, my feeling is that the improvement of online art museums should be based on 5G technology.

图18.jpegYuan Yuan, "Daughter of Dunhuang", Oil on Canvas, 180x180cm, 2019

图19 《百合》130x97cm 布面油画2016年.jpgYuan Yuan, "Lily", Oil on Canvas, 130x97cm, 2016

图20 袁元,《新城》,110x160cm,2000.jpg Yuan Yuan, "New City", Oil on Canvas, 110x160cm, 2000

CAFA ART INFO: Some people hold the view that the offline exhibition may be replaced by the online display. What is your opinion?

Yuan Yuan: With such a perfect online exhibition, will people still visit the offline exhibition? I think both of them have to be maintained, because the offline exhibition is in a physical space, with a concrete size and is perceptible. Viewing one thing can be different in terms of feelings online and offline. Some things require the audience to participate, such as installation works and the sculpture is tactile, including its volume, which can only be felt on site. From this point of view, online exhibitions cannot replace physical exhibitions.

CAFA ART INFO: How about your graduation creation? Can you talk about this?

Yuan Yuan: My feeling may have a lot to do with my oil painting creation. At the BA and MA level, I would deliberately draw a piece for my graduation creation. However, my doctoral graduation work is actually a piece I usually draw. With the improvement of personal ability and aesthetic cultivation, even if you just paint a portrait and a sketch, it may have some creative factors in it. It will no longer be a simple exercise, but a piece of work. This is my personal feeling. I am not in favor of drawing work very deliberately. The concept of creation may be related to the them, or it may be related to language. From this perspective, it can be understood that practice and creation should not be treated differently. I think it may be more appropriate to use the concept of work because it is more related to creativity.

图21 抽烟的女孩儿200x100cm 2011.jpgYuan Yuan's Doctoral Graduation Work, "Smoking Girl", Oil on Canvas, 200x100cm, 2011

CAFA ART INFO: Finally, please send wishes to all graduates this year.

Yuan Yuan: Graduating from the postgraduate program is the beginning of a new life stage for you. In the days to come, you might be successful, and you will encounter ups and downs, success and failure. As alumni of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, you have to believe in yourself and do the process well and you will always welcome joy. I hope you all have a bright future.

图22 无题180-180cm2009布面油画.jpgYuan Yuan, "Untiled", Oil on Canvas, 180x180cm, 2009

图24 凝视之一180x150cm 2012.jpgYuan Yuan, "Staring I",  Oil on Canvas, 180x150cm, 2012

图25 凝视之二180x210cm 2012.jpgYuan Yuan, "Staring II",  Oil on Canvas


About Artist Yuan Yuan

袁元老师肖像.jpg

Yuan Yuan, born in 1971 in Nanjing City, Jiangsu Province, Ph.D., is currently a professor at the Central Academy of Fine Arts, a supervisor for master students, and a Deputy Dean of the Fundamental Department at the School of Fine Arts. His oil paintings “Memories of the Monument”, “Su He” and many other works have been collected by many museums and institutions such as the National Museum of China, General Administration of Sport of China, National Centre for the Performing Arts, CAFA Art Museum, the Dadu Art Gallery, and the Taiwan Changliu Art Gallery.

In 2013, he graduated from the Central Academy of Fine Arts with a Ph.D. degree under the supervision of Professor Jin Shangyi.

In 1997, he graduated from the Decorative Arts Department of Central Academy of Arts and Design (Now the Academy of Arts and Design, Tsinghua University) under the supervision of Du Dakai with a master's degree. In the same year, he entered the Mural Painting Department of the Central Academy of Fine Arts to teach.

In 1994, he graduated from Studio One of the Oil Painting Department at the Central Academy of Fine Arts with a bachelor's degree.

In 1990, he graduated from the High School Affiliated to the Central Academy of Fine Arts.