00 featured image of Ma Lu

To Further Improve the Studio System, Activating the Professional Energy

The Department of Oil Painting, CAFA is one of the most influential academic departments in the art circle, and it has used the studio system to train a large number of excellent talent in the field of oil painting. Recently, the Department of Oil Painting has undergone a series of changes in the studio structure and the related responsible people: the Fifth Studio was newly established, Prof. Liu Gang is appointed as the director of the studio; Prof. Yu Hong is appointed as the director of the third studio; Prof. Wang Yuping is appointed as the director of the fourth studio. How do the heads of the studios, who are of a more mature profession and active thinking, lead the specialty of oil painting to develop a breakthrough on the road of the “oil painting is the leader”, with a more healthy and perfect studio system? CAFA ART INFO instantly interviewed Prof. Ma Lu, Dean of the School of Plastic Arts, CAFA and Director of the Department of Oil Painting, who introduced the background to the change, reasons, as well as the planning and design of the new studio.

Interview Time: December 1, 2016

Location: Office of the Department of Oil Painting, CAFA

Interviewee: Prof. Ma Lu

Interviewer: Zhang Wenzhi

Hello, Prof. Ma, CAFA recently announced the adjustment of the directors of the studios of the Department of Oil Painting and the Department of Oil Painting which also forms a new administrative and teaching leadership, would you like to briefly introduce the opportunity of this adjustment? 

Ma Lu: The Department of Oil Painting has been facing the problem of replacement, because most of the teachers are getting on in years, there are 6 or 7 professors born in the 1950s, and they will all retire before the 100th anniversary in 2018, because they are the directors or teaching backbone of the studios, we have to do some adjustments, in order to make the staff of the Department of Oil Painting form the teaching echelon. Shi Yu, Party Secretary of the Department of Oil Painting and Liu Shangying, Deputy Director of the Department of Oil Painting are born in the 1970s, because they are young so they should use their strength in the administrative work. Directors of the studios are academic leaders of teaching and research. The new directors of the studios Prof. Yu Hong, Prof. Wang Yuping, Prof. Liu Gang were born in the 1960s, with a rich teaching experience as they are also very mature in art, they have their own individual art concepts and teaching methods, which will bring a new atmosphere to the studio.

The first studio, the second studio, the third studio, the fourth studio of the Department of Oil Painting are well known, while the fifth studio was established in this change, is it the new action of the Department of Oil Painting?     

Ma Lu: The fifth studio is a newly established studio, taking abstract art as the teaching philosophy. At present, there are only two teachers, Prof. Liu Gang and Associate Prof. Meng Luding, it is necessary to enrich the teaching power. In the first half of 2016, Liu Gang was transferred to the fifth studio from the fourth studio, and Meng Luodin who was once a teacher of the Department of Oil Painting returned and together with Li to found the fifth studio. They have both been engaged in abstract art practice for a long time and possess mature artistic thinking. Meng Luding is one of the earliest abstract artists in China. He has also traveled to Europe and the United States, being well-informed and had a profound understanding of abstract art. Prof. Liu Gang is good at using contemporary materials and technologiy in abstract art, with a rich teaching experience, and he has been teaching in the fourth studio since graduation, thus understanding the characteristics and provisions of the academy.

The fifth studio unfolds the teaching from the perspective of the abstract. The previous four studios, including from the classical to color, expressionism, and the contemporary, modern expressionism, all started from the representation. In the representational painting, the subject of painting itself has a meaning, through the processing of the painting to make the meaning of the object clearer. However, there is not any object of abstract painting, but only the screen itself, allowing the screen to generate the own meaning which involves the independence of the painting itself. Abstraction is an important turning point from many previous schools to modern art, whether so-called pure art has a self-generated meaning, is the important issue related to whether painting can continue to survive. It has an essential meaning within the academic base. It doesn’t matter whether painting has an object or not, it doesn’t matter whether there is other value-added, painting through its own language forms the self-generated visual content and artistic value.

You just said that the fifth studio took abstract as the main direction of teaching and research, why is it set up now? Abstract oil painting was introduced in Chinaseveral decades ago. 

Ma Lu: The setting up of an abstract studio was suggested years before and CAFA had a plan to set up the studio four or five years ago, but the external and internal conditions to establish the studio were not ripe at that time. Over the years, abstract art has been increasingly accepted by the community especially as a variety of abstract art exhibitions are held throughout the country, many galleries promote abstract art, and many families consider purchasing abstract paintings, and it has a certain relationship with social development, economic levels and cultural consumption. Internationally, the art museums have made an historical research of abstract art, while the auction houses have held large-scale special auctions of abstract art, which all offer good external conditions for the teaching of abstract art. Seen from the inner teaching structure, it currently needs abstract painting, the old President of CAFA Jin Shangyi said that: We need to make up for the lesson in modern art. The establishment of the fifth studio is not only the need of society, but also the need of teaching, and the necessary initiatives to further improve the academic building of the Department of Oil Painting. Abstraction is not just a phenomenon and style, its ideas and laws are also the foundation of visual art.

In the specific teaching, how does the fifth studio start, such as what is the different plan of the teaching of undergraduate and graduate stages?

Ma Lu: there must be a plan, because the teaching syllabus, teaching plannng and teaching plans were finished before the establishment of the studio. Undergraduate students are all from the classes from the exams in the college or the middle school affiliated to the academy, they all have an ability in realistic painting, with the ability to imitate the object, while the understanding of painting is mainly built on the understanding of the object, converting the objective to the vision of painting, the object is the main standard. In the fifth studio, it does not require undergraduates to draw abstract paintings when they graduate, but to train in the ability in viewing the object, to build images and express content from the perspective of the abstract, if they have such a sense it is enough. They can still draw representational paintings, because representational paintings also have abstract factors, as long as capturing these factors, understand its meaning, it is then finished. In the postgraduate stage, we hope to cultivate some clear and pure abstract artists, completely detached from the object, so that the various visual elements break away from the dependence on the meaning of representation, and generate their own meaning. Pure abstraction is difficult, because it requires a grasp of the macro, mature thinking and firm artistic ideals in order to make seemingly simple factors to generate content and meanings, and it is the “philosophy” of visual arts. Abstract art can be derived from reality, from the summary of the visual experience, and also derived from history, derived from the previous art, but it must detach both the impersonal object and the previous art experience. Because there is no representational content to support abstract art which specifically needs art concepts and ideas as a basis, its meaning is subjectively given, too subjective to be able to give its meaning.

Seen from the current situation, the fifth studio just has the first undergraduate students. The overall situation is better than expected, when they selected the studio, the students enthusiastically applied, and it finally agreed that 6 students could be admitted, because there are only two teachers, who can meticulously teach a few students. In this process, we encounter the difficulty that there are too few teachers, it is reasonable that each studio has five teachers which is the most appropriate, but the school establishes 4 formal teachers within each studio, and there are only two teachers in the fifth studio, while recruiting teachers is not easy, for there are a variety of requirements new teachers.

It is known that the Department of Oil Painting has a studio of material performance, what is is the studio like now? 

Ma Lu: Now the school has an overall plan, all the material technological studios will become part of the workshop, the academy has got through, it is the elective offered to the students. It is a very good idea, which can both make full use of the teaching resources, and give the autonomy to the students. It was originally only Prof. Zhang Yuan of the studio of material performance, now he has retired, so this part is suspended. The position of the studio was the material technology which refused to recruit undergraduate students, because it served the various studios, to offer material technological teaching, but it can now recruit students and give them a master’s degree. This studio will be considered in the future, the courses of material techniques might turn into a real undergraduate education, but it should be positioned from the perspective of artistic concept, instead of material techniques.

In addition, the academy has been planning and gives the Department of Oil Painting the right to have 6 studios. It hopes we can change the sixth studio into an experimental studio, employing some foreign professors with excellent achievements and teaching experiences to teach, together with a few teachers to cooperate, exploring and finding a new way of teaching. But the implementation is estimated to be slightly later, because the fifth studio was newly established. We hope to make it develop stability, if it simultaneously establishes two studios, I am afraid it is difficult to control both. The experimental studio is different from the previous one, the style and leading principles are uncertain, which need to be slowly considered.

The adjustment of the Department of Oil Painting is a big action, and it is a view that the specialty of Oil Painting has become “stagnant” over the years, especially in the annual graduation season. Whether this adjustment is a consideration of this respect? 

Ma Lu: Perhaps the concept of “oil painting profession” is “stagnant”. The brilliant history of the Department of Oil Painting is an historical burden for us now, if you want to break through, what about the traditional? It is easy to say inheriting and carrying forward the tradition, but it is difficult to do it, because the era has changed and the community needs different things. This topic has been discussed many times, we very hopeful that students can be creative, and can create new things, which requires a combination of new means and new ideas, which will break the tradition, but you have to keep the quality of the Department of Oil Painting.

The foundation of traditional realistic oil painting is the most suitable form for realism art, which is the root for the “Department of Oil Painting” to become the “leader” of the Department of Oil Painting. It is difficult to hold the traditional desire, because the entire era has changed, the use of this form to express life and understand things does not match the social phenomenon, or the feelings brought by society, it can only meet the needs of some people, so that, we encounter a lot of unprecedented problems in the development of the subject, if we still use the traditional skills, they can’t be solved, it needs some new things coming in, it needs creativity, so that, the establishment of the fifth studio is an attempt, it is impossible to change a lot, but after all, from the representational painting to abstract painting, the change of concept is great, and it also hopes that abstract teaching can feed the representation, so that the representational painting has a new understanding and evaluation method of representational painting.

In fact, style is not fundamental but the quality is fundamental. To create a high-quality work, first of all, people have to offer high quality.

I think the establishment of the fifth studio is particularly important. We are still inside the painting when we find a new meaning in the painting, from which to find a breakthrough. When we go far, it will become the installation, sculpture, printmaking, when it does, if people do not have a new understanding of the painting itself, it is meaningless, if the basic concept of painting has never changed, our creation is only a change of style.

In my opinion, this situation is actually more affected by cultural and artistic trends, as a method to capture images, the oil painting has been greatly assaulted in the current context, while some artists such as Keefer has a contribution in mentioning the value of painting again. 

Ma Lu: It is certain that it is one of the reasons, which is the reason why we adhere to the painting, insist on adding new meaning to the painting, it can bring a new aesthetic or reflection, which is the permanent meaning of the painting itself, rather than the meaning that echoes other things, so that we look forward to the abstract teaching that will bring us new inspiration. In fact, Kiefer’s painting is different from the so-called realism painting. He adds a lot of real materials, enlarging the space, concentrating on the shape and reducing the color. But the most important thing is that he has the consciousness through these visual factors to question human nature, he made people reflect. He neither sketches nor draws a photo. We sketch and even draw photos, but it is only a means. Means is neither right nor wrong, just like the tools are neither right nor wrong, but it must be used with an accurate theme. The purpose of painting is through a visual experience to give people inspiration, to promote people to think, to shock the mind.

The final question that Chinese higher education puts forward is the building of the “double first-class”, how does the Department of Oil Painting build the first-class discipline, how do you see this topic?

Ma Lu: The real double-class is actually not so simple. A university achieves a high teaching achievement, which requires an accumulation of demanding excellent teachers, outstanding graduates, and outstanding scientific research, this accumulation can not be finished only by the academy, but it also demands the whole community’s desire and respect, demanding creativity. We can have a more reasonable allocation of teachers, more meticulous opening up of the curriculum, getting through specialties, but if the idea has not changed, it is actually the same. If our general direction is right, it does not need to make big changes. Like the revolution, the revolution is bloody, so we must consider this price, after all the revolution is not the target.

Attachment: the administrative, teaching leadership of the Department of Oil Painting, CAFA  

Ma Lu, Director of the Department of Oil Painting

Shi Yu, Party Secretary of the Department of Oil Painting

Hu Jiancheng, Deputy Director of the Department of Oil Painting, CAFA and Director of the First Studio

Liu Shangying, Deputy Director of the Department of Oil Painting

Ma Xiaoteng, Director of the Second Studio at the Department of Oil Painting

Yu Hong, Director of the Third Studio at the Department of Oil Painting

Wang Yuping, Director of the Forth Studio at the Department of Oil Painting

Liu Gang, Director of the Fifth Studio at the Department of Oil Painting

Translated by Chen Peihua and edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO

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