Fan Di'an: How Shall We Get Insights into the New Epoch with Art

TEXT:CAFA ART INFO    DATE: 2019.12.31

Fan Di'an: I am Fan Di'an. I am here to attend this program—Insights into Art, at first I felt a little embarrassed because insight is by no means easy to attain. We often say that no matter in life or in business, having insightful eyes to see into things and or life is indeed difficult. I think what we might be able to achieve is just a limited view of things. In my own academic career, thanks to my experience over time, I am likely to have some insights into certain issues, that is, some very humble opinions of things. However, I am also aware that the word “insight” is something important that may ignite our thinking today. Because we are standing at a crucial point in time when we have never experienced such tremendous changes in history. As we always discuss that there is “space” in contrast with “time”. Moreover, we are living in an historical space that has never been seen before with such a high cultural complexity and even full dynamic tension. Therefore, insights will bring us a better understanding of the time-and-space coordinates where we find ourselves.

We are bombarded with new things every day. We can’t escape from the huge information age or the magnetic field of information now. Each of us is reduced to a dust in the magnetic field, but the magnetic field of this entire information age is composed of countless dust. Of course, we are often encouraged and motivated by many new things so that we are still enthusiastic about and eager for the rising sun every day. But we are often confronted with a lot of difficulties and confusion.

For example, days ago, I was impressed by a picture, which shows the black hole first being released in human history. In fact, the imagination and exploration of the black hole began as early as a hundred years ago. Just because the black hole was not known, or difficult to know, we can give full play to our imagination. As soon as the photo was made public, I felt for myself that my heart was greatly affected, because a thing that could allow fantastic reveries was suddenly fixed. In my mind, the black hole of which I don't know the form and the exhaustibility may be even bigger than the universe itself. The black hole outside the universe is full of fanciful charm. Just think of a huge black hole hanging beyond the celestial body, though it is difficult for us to peep into its outlook, it will not affect our lives today, but it will inevitably in the future. Thus, this form of imagination will make people breathe leisurely, away from their busy work and study.

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Once the photo was released, the black hole was shown like that in the so-called first photo ever disclosed in human history, which then blocked our boundless imagination. At least this is my true feelings. We need some time on our own to enjoy free thinking and endless space for casual imagination. This is where life is interesting. Everything has an answer, everything is so clear and everything becomes serious like this.

However, the publication of the photo of the black hole reminds us that the process of human civilization has entered the current era featuring many new features. For example, such a seemingly ordinary photo is actually the result of the joint efforts of many astronomers and scientists from different countries; even China has participated in such a huge team conducting the observations of black holes and a final combination of photos. So the announcement of the photo of the black hole, in my opinion, also indicates that there are many new things worth thinking about. The most significant thing is that human culture and knowledge, especially the process of human civilization, has now reached a truly global era. We must integrate the power of many disciplines, multicultural traditions and different cultural perspectives to tackle the tough problems and deepen the common exploration in order to finally yield good fruits that can be shared by mankind.

It sets me thinking that this case seems to raise new questions for art in which we are engaged. We all say that art represents the most individual labor and individual life. Advocating for individuality, each artist thinks, explores, studies and creates a self-existence first. But how does art still have the charm and play the role as before? This requires our comprehension of the changing way in which today's culture is composed. We often say that the global era brings about the inter-collision, mutual stimulation and coherent integration of different cultures. And the new artistic creation just happens under a new comprehensive background or context.

I once drew a very common analogy. In the traditional historical time, or in the tradition of history, human culture or civilization is like a rushing river. We have the famous sayings that the river never stops flowing or all different rivers shall flow into the sea. The rivers in life are very similar to the rivers of civilization, or, to be exact, the rivers of culture and civilization are very similar to the rivers we see in our lives. Both types of streams flow in different spheres of time. But today it seems to us that the picture of the civilization has changed, or rather the picture of the culture that is closely related to our lives has changed. The conclusion is that we now live in an era of oceans. Different cultures only serve as various factors for the rolling ocean. We know that the direction of the river, which is constantly moving forward, is a vector while the status of the ocean, which is rolling and flowing in different rotations, is not a vector, but a form of undulating surge.

This change has made things more difficult for each of us, whether engaged in any artistic creation or production. It not only requires us to have the courage of fighting in the river, but more importantly, to seek our own positioning in the ups and downs of the sea that cannot be mastered at all. This is the context of culture or the process of civilization we live in currently. From the perspective of the art or artistic creation that we are engaged in, I feel that after a hundred years of modern history, we have navigated from the original form to a new one, especially from the original exploration as an individual whose creative approach can be called an individual heroism to a new complex way that needs to be integrated into today's knowledge system, interactive cultural information, and even specific creative methods, media, materials, and conditions to finally reflect the individual value.

In other words, a new relationship is formed between the individual value and the overall cultural context. Regarding Chinese art, what it has encountered and affected in the past 100 years has not only been a variety of specific cultural factors. In the first half of the twentieth century, Chinese art was subject to a new impact from the visual system of the western world. This has ushered in the exploration of our artistic predecessors to combine the foreign art experience with China's own cultural themes. It could be said that generations of Chinese artists had left their footprints on this hard journey.

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Last year, the Central Academy of Fine Arts celebrated its 100th anniversary. The special period of one hundred years made us constantly memorize the hardships of the senior artists and the merits of their creations. In fact, we have witnessed many of the senior artists of the Central Academy of Fine Arts and even the Chinese art circles that have been working hard to practice an artistic path step by step that combines foreign experience with Chinese cultural propositions. We called it a pioneering road. This year, we are welcoming the 70th anniversary of the founding of New China. There is also a lot of experience worth being summed up in the development of Chinese art since 1949. We boast a large number of artists, who are also called the sages of Chinese art today. In the evolution of Chinese art in the past 70 years, they have created great works aiming at the different characteristics of the times. Today, looking at the collections in the National Museum, the National Art Museum and many other places in the Central Academy of Fine Arts, we discover that in those passionate years, many artists have been trying to explore how to use art to express their thoughts and emotions, and then to reflect on the new characteristics of the times in a new social life context and particularly the discourse of a new social ideology.



From the 1950s, then the 1980s when the reform and opening up began and up to the present day, in such a miniature art group in the Central Academy of Fine Arts, everything including the topics to be discussed, the propositions to be solved and the themes to be established have been imprinted with the mark of time. It is precisely thanks to that that these art works can enter the hall of honor in history, win our constant appreciation and especially inspire our deep thinking today.

But today, in this program—“Insights into Art”, the theme is obviously not on the history of Chinese art, or the history of art in the past 100 years. What we need to face is a more real present, that is, our theme is how to better seek our position as a Chinese artist or as Chinese art in today's global cultural context. It is likely that Chinese art has an opportunity to appear on the platform of the global art nowadays. It can even be said that if Chinese art is absent from or not present in a world or global art exhibition, the exhibition itself can hardly be deemed as “international”. Of course, the rule also counts in various activities happening in China, our own homeland. So Chinese art can have a global opportunity today because our country in this era has formed great power in such a huge historical transformation. Being surprising and spiritual, this power can be more keenly felt in reality.

For example, when we talk about China’s speed, the word--speed implies the diligence of the Chinese people. We have done a lot and done it very fast, with full enthusiasm and impulsiveness in the process. We often talk about the Chinese way now. In the 1950s and even the 1980s, basically we did not talk about the Chinese way, because at that time we were either relatively closed, or eager to absorb the nutrition of others; we had no time to think or in other words, we were unable to mention such a competent proposition as the Chinese way. But today, from economic and social development to cultural and artistic activities, all of us now discuss the Chinese way. So Chinese artists’ understanding of the western countries and of the international community has grown mature after such a long process; today every artist is thinking more about how to use their own system which is of course general, not personal or self-contained, to form the overall composition of Chinese art.

Sometimes we also heard that the international world had given a very appreciative and admiring evaluation of Chinese art, but their comments were also very hypercritical at other times. The significance lies in the real weight of the original component and connotation of Chinese art itself in today's world art community. Of course, art can be observed from different angles. However, I think it is very valuable that the Chinese art circle has proposed to deal with contemporary expression and exploration through  its own means in the past few years. If we follow the so-called international trends in art, blindly follow the path that others have already taken or adopt the methods that others have used from the basic concept to the general idea and from the way of artistic expression to the use of art media, Chinese art will lose its true power. Therefore, on the one hand, we have to recognize that Chinese art still has many shortcomings. In my view, in terms of the basic principle and the artist’s thinking space, the main deficiency of Chinese art lies in its localization, that is, the lack of a clear and firm standing position in the reality of local social change, the traditional local life styles and the various specific situations which all local people can perceive and feel today.

Therefore, from concept to idea, from proposition to method, art is often easily influenced by what has already happened. So, it is very important for today's Chinese art to capably use its own way, make contemporary creations and add a bright plate to the artistic picture of the entire world. In this respect, we are lucky to have many artists, especially my colleagues from the Central Academy of Fine Arts. I think that everyone is sober-minded and hard-working enough to accomplish their own artistic creation and support their own academic research in the following three aspects. First, the artist should have a broad vision to understand the important trends and some basic characteristics of the landscape of today's world art. Secondly, the artist should constantly rely on their own civilization to seek the support of traditional artistic and cultural concepts and implement a contemporary transformation of important propositions accumulated in China's own long history. These valuable propositions, like our own genes, have been passed down through thousands of years, though possibly in a slumber status. It requires us to find these dormant genes and activate them; or in other words, it is worthwhile to use the wisdom of today to further deactivate these traditional concepts of cultural thinking, sciences and art, and turn them into an important support for our creation today. Thus we should say it is just this support that could make Chinese art appear with a very intrinsic strength in any aspect of the international arena. It is not merely a general visual feature, but a comprehensive trait of the visual style, technique and medium.

For instance, we usually say that Chinese ink-and-wash paintings including the performance of brush and Chinese art paper should go to the world and be understood by people from other cultural backgrounds. This is of course necessary but not crucial. The priority is that you have your own traditional ideas to support your creation. For example, you may certainly use traditional media. So the second aspect of Chinese art is to further build up confidence in traditional culture.

Thirdly, in terms of the methodology of art, I said earlier that we had entered a comprehensive era in which the way of visual art has many possibilities. It is likely to go into a certain type of painting but come out in a new integrated artistic form. In fact, a person usually uses a certain kind of tactic and materials and receives the instruction of a certain so-called teacher at the early stage of learning to paint. But if this person really grows into a real artistic creator, he or she should bring together different nutrients, experience a kind of brewing of the soul and finally attain a kind of motivation for artistic creation. Therefore, I think that today's Chinese art, especially the art of the younger generation, should possess a new abundance of cultural elements and a comprehensive feature of cultural implications. This point derives from the most original issue of art. Art does not tell us a particular answer but suggests a reflection on the unknown. Art itself is not like an academic paper to give a clear solution; the pleasure and value of art is that it raises questions. It starts from the artist’s individual senses and thoughts and from a specific medium and a creative path and finally provides society with a visual text embodied with more comprehensive meaning, which prompts people to perceive and interpret from different perspectives.

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On this basis, I recall that we, who are engaged in art education today, shall show young students precisely this kind of context. Now in the graduation season of the Central Academy of Fine Arts, the graduation works of these students can be seen everywhere around the campus. In addition to overall browsing, I also try to squeeze in time to have a deep look at some works. Though I am not capable of much insight into them, I try to feel what our students are thinking about through their works or what characteristics there are in their creation. Today's school is no longer a walled academy. The information age has brought about the continuous expansion of the knowledge space of young students; but I am more anxious about one thing, that is, how to make these young students as well as teachers have a more stretching force in their artistic thinking.

On the one hand, we must feel, understand and even try to touch the tremendous changes that have taken place in our society. It’s essential to open up our horizon. In today’s China, the contemporary Chinese artists and art students, if they can make some contribution to this era, need to stand in the times and obtain the most real motivation for their creation. All the references, whether by seeing the exhibition or the pictures or other works of various forms and styles, cannot generate the original creative power of your own. To truly feel, experience, observe and be as insightful as possible can become an artistic dynamism, or can transform all senses, perceptions and feelings into a creative power.

On the other hand, art requires a painful travail and constant study of a specific problem, medium and method. It seems as a practice at the technical level; but I regard it also as a concept, that is, whether the person could achieve a deep experience and an acute feeling of things. Therefore, I think a broad space of thinking and a profound exploration of feelings are two fundamental points of artistic creation. If each of us can open and expand the tension of thinking and vent out one’s own creative passion in stretching force, I believe that his or her art is not only touching himself or herself, but also touching all the audience. For this reason, I recall the photo of the black hole. Although the photo shows the original form of the black hole, we can't feel the black hole only through photos. In this sense, the photo released is just a new starting point for us to go further towards the black hole and to enter the unknown world. Thank you!