On December 13, 2017, the fifth lecture of the CAFA “Doctoral Supervisor Lecture” series was held in the Auditorium of the Graduate School, CAFA, Prof. Ma Lu from CAFA, doctoral supervisor, Dean of the School of Plastic Arts and Director of the Department of Oil Painting, CAFA, elaborated on his own academic understanding and practical experiences in art, in addition to having an in-depth communication with doctoral candidates and other students present at the lecture, on the topic of “Do Artists Need to Have their Own Artistic Theme?”. “Doctoral Supervisor Lecture” series are sponsored by the Graduate School, CAFA and doctoral supervisors from the academy were invited to share the latest topics and research results from the supervisors, and it is incorporated into the teaching of postgraduate education of CAFA, to form an open, fused, cross-border teaching model.

Host of the lecture Dr. Ge Yujun, Director of the Department of Teaching at Graduate School, CAFA, presided over the lecture. First of all, he introduced Prof. Ma Lu who has always been active in the contemporary field of art since the 1980s, and one of the first artists that went abroad to systematically learn art and bring German neo-expressionism into China since the reform and opening up. The teaching and creation of Prof. Ma Lu has influenced a large number of Chinese artists, starting from the perspective of neo-expressionism to seek the appropriate quality to express contemporary reality. At the same time, Dr. Ge Yujun also mentioned that Prof. Ma Lu made a breakthrough in the performance of color and it reached a spiritual level in the exploration of formal language, in order to realize his inner expression. The lecture was centered on “theme” and talked about a variety of relationships with subjects, individuals, society, and art history.

Starting from his own creative experience, Ma Lu said that he usually did not have the concept of “theme” in the process of creating. If there was one theme, which was ahead of creation, it was given by others, and it was undoubtedly a disintegration of the independence of artistic creation. Perhaps referring to the theme, people often thought of a thematic creation. Since he was engaged in teaching, Prof. Ma Lu started to think of “theme” from various dimensions. Is there another theme? When we talk about Van Gogh and Qi Baishi, whether the explorative direction of their life can be summed up as a theme, which is obviously not limited to the theme of a work.

Prof. Ma Lu started from the concept to form an analysis, and the theme could be the central idea and the main content of the work, and it was obviously different from the “theme”. The most obvious example was that the portrait of Chairman Mao hung on the city gate of Tiananmen Square and the portrait of Chairman Mao by Andy Warhol have the same subject, but it was apparently not a creation of the same theme, that was, the subject was not determined by the image, but determined by the opinion and attitude of the artist expressed in the creation. In general explanations, subjects were closely related to titles, while the general audience often started with the title while appreciating the works. Prof. Ma Lu thought that a title often exposed the theme, even though some abstract paintings were entitled “Untitled”, it also expressed an attitude of the creator, which was like a man abstaining from voting. Prof. Ma also said that, we should not blindly criticize the major themes. He took the German neo-expressionist artist Anselm Kiefer as an example, and found that it was a major thematic painting when carefully learning his works. The performance of major themes did not mean right or wrong, but how to perform was the key, we should think of it from the perspective of people influencing the spirit, rather than the stereotyped “historical photos”.

Artists can see the place that ordinary people can’t, and capturing the special thing instead of the meticulous one, for example, Huang Binhong could not clearly see the scroll due to his eye disease in old age and he has thus created the “Black Landscape” during the period when living on his own in his later years. Prof. Ma also analyzed the ongoing creation, highlighting a light-dark contrast in the blue-toned screen in order to achieve the “readability” and “texture”, in which he pursues a kind of “form” instead of attempting to obtain an image, because the audience would interpret the image. He also had an idea of the figurative and abstract theme, and Prof. Ma believed that the subject of pure abstraction was the visual factor itself, and the theme was harmoniously combined with the form, without a representational image; the representational visual image constrains the visual form, and also offers form and content. Thus Ma Lu proposed two descriptions including “Roscoe’s Representation” and “Klotz’s Abstraction”, which showed a “restriction-freedom” relationship, and the representational and abstract was interchangeable by the processing of art.

Prof. Ma Lu also mentioned in the lecture that there was a relationship of “contradiction and desire” between the theme of art and society. At the same time, an artist’s position in the history of art was not equivalent to his position in society, which was often seen in the Western and Chinese history of art, and it was a perspective of the personal creation and social value, and also the traditional problem that we faced. At present, the rise of artificial intelligence prompted people to think of the values ​​of people and art from some new perspectives and even the issue of how people dealt with things. At the same time, in the history of art, the subject of art was always manifested as the dissatisfaction with the history of art, such as the creations of Cezanne. The coordination of the art also embodied a multidimensional quality. He considered that the artist Kiefer paid attention to the hollowness, manifesting in the ruins in order to clearly see an internal structure, which was connected with the blank page used in the creation of Chinese calligraphy.

At the end of the lecture, Prof. Ma further gave his conclusion: the theme of art was visual; the thoughtful style was a theme and the style without a thought was only a pattern; the idea was only to aid the understanding of the vision. The visual category is different from thought and text, and it can finish the things that thought can’t do, what is it? It was a question proposed by Prof. Ma Lu at the lecture, and the audience present at the exhibition combined his own creation or research to find his own answer.

Text by Zhang Wenzhi, translated by Chen Peihua and edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO

Photo by Hu Sichen/CAFA ART INFO

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