What shall Chinese Fine Arts Show to the World?
—Interview with XU Li, Executive Vice President and Secretary General of CAA
Ceramics from Rayy in Persia (Oil and Gold Relief on Canvas) by Nasser Palangi
Falconry (Oil on Canvas) by Aleksei Shatunov
Another Time (Acrylic on Canvas) by Nabeel Samman
Zhuangzi (Sculpture) by CHEN Yungang
As a great power with time-honored history, china's culture has been playing an extremely important role in its external exchanges. In the current period of great achievement in economy, how Chinese arts conduct dialogues with the world in a more extensive scope, comprehensive domain and lofted level and establishes the contemporary national image of China in the international arena is a topic worthy of discussion. In this regard, our reporter had a special interview with XU Li, executive vice president and secretary general of China Artists Association (CAA).
Reporter: In recent years, CAA has sponsored many events in external exchange such as the upcoming 7th BIAB, "Exchange Painting/Mutual Learning" Chinese Contemporary Artworks Exhibition, "Art and Peace" World Journey of Chinese Fine Arts, all of which have turned out to be a success. Among so many events, which has impressed you most and what has inspired you most ?
XU Li: This May, "Art and Peace—Chinese Contemporary Fine Arts Exhibition" was held in Italy and aroused a significant feedback.
China and Italy, the two HEIGHST of Oriental and Occidental civilizations, had a dialogue of arts in Rome and the excellent traditional culture as well as the core values of China were further highlighted, which has encouraged our self-confidence in culture. In face of the unsecure world and rampant terrorist attacks in Europe, the theme of expectation for peace was commonly welcome among the Italian audiences. Such works as Homeland, Sight over the Reed Tip and Chopstick Tree called on people to preserve ecological environment, safeguard and construct the common homeland for human survival. Such concerns about human peace and global preservation had aroused a strong sympathy among Westerners and thus we could obviously find the universal value of "Community with shared future for mankind" put forward by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
First of all, the enhanced soft power of national culture depends on what to be shown to the world. As artistic creators, we must be self-confident in our own culture and bring the world under the influence of Chinese culture, elements and spirits. In recognition of Chinese aesthetics, the West can feel about Chinese culture of unique Oriental charm.
The 7th BIAB has received over 10000 candidate works from more than 4000 artists of 102 countries. Within the passage of 15 years from its first session up to now, the total number of participant countries of BIAB has increased from 45 to 102. This session has more than 100 participant countries for the first time. Its theme "The Silk Road and World Civilization" has gained a positive feedback worldwide. As the second power in world economy, China has made a remarkable contribution to the world especially from the 18th CPC National Congress on. The major-country diplomacy strategy advocated by President Xi Jinping has gradually increased China's international standing and influence. Today when China has obtained a significant economic outcome, it is our obligatory mission to enhance its soft power of culture.
Reporter: As an important carrier of China’s national image, fine arts function as a decisive factor. What kind of artworks do you believe can represent the voice and image of China?
XU Li: This July, President XI Jinping paid a state visit to Germany and attended the 12th Summit of Group 20 at Hamburg. During the same period, CAA undertook a Chinese art exhibition titled "Feel about China/Most Beautiful Chinese" in Berlin, which was well-received. We selected 76 figures as the most beautiful Chinese in the mind of Chinese artists and people, such as times models LEI Feng, GAO Derong and JIAO Yulu as well as ordinary workers such as countryside postman despite wind and rain. In this long scroll about the most beautiful people in China, the diligence, good-will and wisdom of Chinese people were presented to forelgn friends in a vivid and lively way. Standing in appreciation of those works, German audiences were able to touch the current pulse and know about the current expression of China. Such a kind of publicity and dissemination of Chinese culture and values is easy to accept.
Reporter: In recent years CAA has organized a series of artistic creations concerning 'socialist central theme' and significant historical themes such as arraying five thousand years of civilization history through the project of "Fine Arts Creation of Historical Themes of Chinese Civilization", singing ode to CPC through the Commemorative Exhibition in the anniversary of CPC Establishment and giving reinterpretation of Long March Spirit through the 12 giant works in honor of the 80th anniversary of Victory of the Red Army's Long March. What influence have those events exerted on the creation direction of Chinese fine arts?
Xu Li: Since the reform and opening up, our artists have been severely impacted by Western culture and some wrong preferences for money, market and liberalism as well as fashions to erase thinking, history and mainstream have taken shape. In this case, by organizing creations of significant historical themes to praise the heroine spirit and role models, CAA endeavors to put an end to those dangerous tendencies and bring artistic creation back to the normal values. The spiritual power of arts lies in the soul while the expression in large-scale narration is the correct path. Artists are supposed to reflect the traditional Chinese culture both from the profound history and from vivid life in the reality and create excellent artworks of Chinese values. In the respect of artistic comprehension and manifestation, a surpassing development must be made on the basis of those paintings of historical themes in the past. In retrospect, we can find fruitful achievements and increasing artists in artistic creation concerning the socialist central theme and significant historical themes ever since the 18th National Congress of CPC. In this way, the problems of lack of innovative development, genuine masterpieces and current reflection were solved in a great degree and echoed the President XI Jinping's series of speeches about literary and art also demonstrate the contemporary artistic standard so as to achieve a combination of the current fine arts context and theme painting creation. Among the 12 giant works, I would like to take two examples. Though the figures seemed to be less specific, the romantic colors in the painting Taking of Luding Bridge perfectly displayed the bravery and perseverance of the Red Army. The grass in some old paintings used to appear bright in red colors while in the painting Irony Stream in the Grass, soldiers supported each other by the arm in walking towards deep grass in the twilight, which showed a depressive and overcast tone. Only by circles. Thanks to those creational events, Chinese fine arts circle has been united to serve for national interest and the direction of creation has been made right.
Reporter: Significant revolutionary and historical theme is an eternal theme for artists. As for current artists' reflection of those significant historical incidents, figures and points, what development, innovation has been realized compared with those previously? What is their historical significance and value in arts?
XU Li: I would like to take the exhibition in honor of the 80th anniversary of the Red Army's Long March as example. Though Long March is an old topic in fine arts creation, the current comprehension and manifestation of the Long March Spirit is a different issue for our generation. We are supposed to not only provide a perfect reflection of the Long March Spirit, but depicting the real danger hidden in the marsh can the author stress on the priceless victory that sacrifice lead to. In this sense, the Long March Spirit in contemporary understanding is conveyed in such a miserable atmosphere and such tragic moments bring audiences to appreciate the grandeur and brilliance of the Long March Spirit.
In Western countries, the historical theme paintings are almost everywhere, and national masterpieces of its motherland history can be found in some critical art galleries and museums in Europe and America such as Louvre, British Museum and Metropolitan Museum of Art. In Tang and Song Dynasties, some paintings of recording civil life, imperial excursion and ceremonies occurred from time to time. Therefore, it is our responsibility and obligation to excel in theme paintings and imbue the artistic spirit of shining spears and armed horses into China's art history.