I graduated in 1981 under the special condition that the students of that year graduated ahead of schedule as this was the arrangement of the Ministry of Culture, so there was actually a sense of solemn and stirring emotions for all the graduates in that year. I was lucky as I was the only one remained to teach in the academy. I remember I said something on behalf of all the graduates at the farewell party which resulted in many classmates being moved to tears. In fact, at that moment, everyone was full of complicated emotions including excitement, anxiety, sadness, even being complacent and they were easily excited.
If anyone was anxious, it revealed that they were serious about wanting to do something, instead of cynicism. In fact, each transition of big events and each individual phase adjusts to the individuals so they gather new powers, the things that are accumulated in the previous stage, will be mobilized after it enters a new stage. For example, I returned to China a few years ago, which was a transition of the individual phase, the special experience of that particular phase and though I did not know what happened in the country, the system, the opposition, as the avant-garde and the conservative viewpoints were contesting against with each other or the vitality was stimulated by the intermediate zone…These experiences were overlapped by the past experienceand new thinking grew and gathered into a new ideological motivation and creative energy. Therefore both of my feet were on the ground of this unique China scene. Outside art and the campus, there must be a lot of things which you hated but you can’t ignore, so you can do nothing about it unless you would be capable to stay inside, bearing the things you don’t like, penetrating it and thus finding the valuable inside it.
As to the difference of the graduates now compared with us at that time, it was that our future was passively arranged by the government which assigned the majors and jobs for the graduates, while now young graduates have to learn how to select, because there are a variety of opportunities and selections throughout the world. My problem is I am not good at choosing, but I know if I abide by my destiny, reality is my tool no matter where I am placed.
You have a lot of choices now, but it is also difficult to start as you have to accumulate as much “credit” to certify that so you can perfectly finish the things that you hope to do (This is true everywhere). In fact, it doesn’t matter to a young man what they temporarily do now, anywhere in society there is social creativity and folk wisdom, which would be accepted depending on your accomplishment and temperament. My principle is that I have to devote to something. When you try your best to do anything you will be more and more capable; the man who is concerned for personal gains and loss actually wastes himself therefore he is becoming more and more stupid. The author of the cartoon “Havoc in Heaven” Zhang Guangyu said: “I have made my biggest effort to do everything well, even a small illustration.” Because Qi Baishi had worked as a carpenter until 60 years old, which was his long-term study of drawing, and his efforts were workable up to his age over 100.
It is a good time for young people. I always say that today human beings have the characteristics of the “primitive era” from some perspective and there are new things and new tools appearing every day, people face too many “unknown” things, generations have been placed in a “strange century” at the same time, the accumulated knowledge and old experience is restructured and eliminated, the more that is accumulated the more would be eliminated and youths can do it better than their teachers.
Over the past few years, I was involved in “The Start of a Long Journey” and “CAFAM Future” exhibition, for me, it is a process of reading the works by the youth and distinguishing the difference between two generations, I always maintain a consciousness: they are younger than me and have a stronger sensitivity to new things, a deeper recognition of future trends and physiological adaptability than me. They represent the future, which is a biological level, an evolved instinct. I envy them, because I was a fool when I was as young as them. On the other hand, I feel each student has been restricted by the teacher, which is directly reflected in their work. It is a problem for education. I would like to say that Oriental and Western education both have their advantages and disadvantages. Chinese art education is passive, sort of a system and our situation is more complex than any other one, in addition to the inheritance of traditional art, we have to accept the strong Western classical and contemporary civilization achievements, while the West basically only need to consider their own tradition and the contemporary civilization dominated by them at present. The core of the current teaching system is basically the learning a foundation in Western training methods in fine arts in the 19th century, in addition to some broken inheriting of traditional Chinese academy and raw Western contemporary art education. Because of the broken “form”, students finish a variety of styles as imagined by teachers, achieving fragmentary skills, but they often don’t know exactly what to do after learning the “skill”. Even after graduation, they don’t know what the artists do, and what things they should have when they confront their future.
I hope to warn people that: we are injected with an “academy gene” that is mixed with advantages and disadvantages. We need to think about one thing that China appears to all sorts of artists who come from the same educational system, where some are able to escape while many people are trapped in it. In the face of the genetic facts which have already been implanted, I believe there must be some particular good things which do not appear in other systems. It depends on your sober-mind and alertness to take the essence and discard the dregs.
Humans have been exploring what is “art”, but it has entered an era where art is ambiguous today. If the art is ambiguous, what good is the artist, should artists cling to the art itself? What should artists do? In my opinion, to understand life reasonably is good. For example, if you think a lot about material things or money, you can work hard to become a successful commercial artist, I think this is also good. Although the teacher said you should not be controlled by money, you can say it embodies the other value behind money. If you are a male from the science department, it’s rare in the art world that you can bring some rigorous things to the chaos art world and perhaps you can play a role in the increasingly integrated art and science. A handsome boy or beautiful girl is more convenient than the ugly man or ugly women in society and their career but convenience will simplify your thinking, which is certainly reflected in your work. If you are attempting to be recorded in art history, you have to give up a lot of things, to firmly hold onto the core which promotes art or you can’t be the man you hope to be.
All art students are lovely and it is a happy thing for me to discuss art together with my students. When I talk with my students, through their moves, I can estimate their true character and honesty, what kind of student they are and I also believe that everyone is a treasure and a treasure of different varieties. The role of teachers is to know where and how to discover the treasure.
It is interesting that someone said: “Each child has their own map to complete, and the map is completed in advance”. Although teachers still think of students as children when they graduate, neither teachers nor students can predict the future, which is like myself as I have finished a large number of works, but I didn’t know I was interested in certain things until I finally review them. I think every student has their own map or their own fate, which is determined by personal character and quality. The role of the school and teacher is to help you become a man of skills and whatever kind of art or job, you should be a man of great quality.
As an independent artist I once presented a large number of works and exhibitions around the world. I often thought it would be better if I was clever at that time, which was my real feeling at that time. But now I believe that the nature of art creativity is not from the IQ, it actually comes from the energy of the social scene. China is a place that can be used to create a huge energy, by the man who has the capability to absorb the energy, to be used in the things worthy of it.
Courtesy of Xu Bing, translated by Chen Peihua and edited by Sue/CAFA ART INFO