Conceptual Transcendence Redefining The Boundaries Of The Traditional Chinese Realistic Painting Author:Hang Chunxiao Date: 2012-08-21 Size:
The conceptualized “traditional Chinese realistic painting” is a “burden”, due to its emphasis on “techniques” easily resulting in viewers’ neglect of the meaning of “painting” - a path to view the world. Under the delicate and neat intention,

The conceptualized “traditional Chinese realistic painting” is a “burden”, due to its emphasis on “techniques” easily resulting in viewers’ neglect of the meaning of “painting” - a path to view the world. Under the delicate and neat intention, “the traditional Chinese realistic painting” now has the beauty in forms as its center of viewing, concerning itself with questions like “how to produce the image?” or “how to present the perception?” while neglecting the focus on human beings. As a result, “the traditional Chinese realistic painting” drifts far away from the current “tradition”. The question is: is it really that “traditional” as we imagine? The answer is negative. You may be surprised - its juxtaposition with the “the free sketch painting” is a division that has been long in existence, isn’t it? Actually, it’s not as taken granted as “imagined”. “The traditional Chinese realistic painting” together with its juxtaposition with “the free sketch painting” were “born” as a response to the western realism at the turn of the 20th century - “the mainstream of the Chinese painting before the Southern Song Dynasty is the realistic painting, but after the reign of Emperor Huizong of Northern Song Dynasty, the trend has shifted towards the free sketch painting which put more focus on the spirit instead of the appearance - a truly extraordinary quality of the painting. It inspired not only painting but also literature, producing supreme works that present unspeakable yet amazing beauty. The lashing on Chinese painting from those in favor of the realism of the western painting was deeply rooted in prejudice.”⑴That is to say, “the traditional Chinese realistic painting” was defined as the counter concept of “the free sketch painting” in order to show that Chinese painting does not lack in the department of “realism” of representation and eliminate “prejudice”. The division was nowhere to be found in the previous literature on painting.

I didn’t bring this up to judge our predecessors, but rather a reflection on the initial “intention” when the concept of “the traditional Chinese realistic painting” first came into being, or the historical will. In traditional painting, the standards of painting genres are distinguished based upon the objects of painting, such as landscape, people, horses, flowers and birds, or the styles of painting - supreme, vivid, skillful or fantastic, lacking in methodical division. An investigation into this will find the Chinese regarding painting as a means to get in touch with the holiness and penetrate the philosophy of life, providing the viewers with such experience, regardless of the ways by which to achieve that effect. Therefore, a painting can be skillful and fantastic as well as supreme and vivid, be the means of depiction realistic or free-style. But such subjective viewing approach came under huge impact at the beginning of the 20th century. The western realism which was based on the thinking of evolution brought up the subject of portrait and depiction, which is the aesthetic mode of naturalism - presuming objective reality does exist in the world, the plane painting can reproduce the objective reality through some illusionary method. Thus the change in the objective of painting: the traditional inspirational viewing approach was no longer “lofty and supreme”, instead it became a drawback, a “prejudice” according to JIN Cheng. In order to rectify the “prejudice”, we need to search for the gene of “reproducing” the nature in the tradition, naturally pushing methods into the center of attention, for the subjectification in reading could not be cured without an objective method. From a certain angle, the division of “the traditional Chinese realistic painting” and “the free sketch painting” was the product of the impact of western scientific viewing. It’s a coerced diversion in “the experience of painting reading” which superficially appeared to be a change in “nouns”: replacing the subjective appreciation of the effect of the frame with the objective verification of the depicted objects.

Under such logic, “the traditional Chinese realistic painting” was born with a strong gene of the western culture instead of our own “tradition”. What needs to be established here is that pointing it out is not an advocation of “nationalism” - eliminate alien genes and return to traditions. On the contrary, it was directed against the creative ideas that deemed “the traditional Chinese realistic painting” to be “tradition” with no room for change. Evidently, the cultural encounter of today is a melting pot of varied cultures, making any attempt to purify one’s own lineage an impractical belittling act, which is especially true in the field of “the traditional Chinese realistic painting” - born with a passive hybrid quality, because of which “the experience painting reading” was changed, bringing about judging standards such as “whether it’s lifelike, whether it’s accurate, or whether it’s delicate”, granting validity to the judgment. And it’s exactly because of this hybrid that the birth of the concept of “the traditional Chinese realistic painting” could offer other possibilities to the aesthetic experience to the Chinese painting - activating the traditional expression capability, enabling remarkable change in the Chinese painting’s ability in the depiction of nature. However, the “activation ability” of any new concept will eventually be “sealed off” due to the birth of new criterion, with its cultural representation as the self-determination of the genre boundary, just like today’s “traditional Chinese realistic painting” gradually becoming a self-sealing painting concept with definite boundaries under the certainty of creative ideas of thematization, representation and modeling; under the certainty of creative forms of sketch, color filling and multiple rendering; and even under the certainty of creative materials of rock colors and enriched colors, posing itself as “the tradition” and shutting the door to new possibilities. In fact, this self-posing traditional concept was born for the very purpose of breaking the tradition. For that matter, “the traditional Chinese realistic painting” as a concept didn’t possess the stable foundation to represent “the tradition” at all - it’s a concept that changes the expression pattern of the traditional painting in “the flow and change”. Therefore, any attempt to consolidate the viewing approach, creative pattern or even the genre boundary of “the traditional Chinese realistic painting” is a deviation from the initial intention at the birth of the “concept”. That is to say, today’s “traditional Chinese realistic painting” shouldn’t and couldn’t become a sealed-off genre of painting. It needs to maintain the “flow and change” under unceasing self-scrutiny, thus continuously self-activating and boundary-broadening. As a result, putting forward the notion of the conceptual transcendence of “the traditional Chinese realistic painting” is not a denial of “the traditional Chinese realistic painting”, but an activation of the creation of “the traditional Chinese realistic painting” in a redefined boundary - to present the expression ability of the traditional painting resources in the new visual structure, just like the traditional painting resources activating the depiction of nature through changing “the experience of painting reading” at the beginning of the birth of “the traditional Chinese realistic painting”. As of today, the “conceptual transcendence” of “the traditional Chinese realistic painting” is also entrusted with such goals; casting away the “resting-on-the-throne” cultural stance, and enabling creation to exert its ability of intervention and expression into “the now”.

Only in this way could the “painting resources” be prevented from turning into the archaic “tradition” (expressing the set objective in a set visual structure) and fully release their potential expressive ability in the new expression pattern. It’s indeed fundamental for the transformation of any set cultural mode to understand this. The reason is simple - the original cultural mode cannot have the self-upgrading space and ability without the structural change brought about by the expression pattern. What’s noteworthy is that a bunch of new-type creative attempts in the filed of the traditional Chinese realistic painting in recent years were exactly the effort in the transformation of the expression pattern of “the traditional Chinese realistic painting” to present the self-activating dynamics of “the painting genre”. From the exploration of the sporadic individual cases of the 1990s, such as Xu Lei’s “Graphic Expression” to the group creations gushing out in recent years, such as Jiang Ji’an’s “Conceptual Vision”, Xu Hualing’s “Recreation of the Viewing”, Peng Wei’s “Breaking out on the Easel” and “The Reconstruction of Image” by Zhang Jian, Qin Ai and others, numerous “bizarre” visual structures were continually dissolved to reconstruct the boundary of “the traditional Chinese realistic painting” in our concepts and bring the brand new expression pattern: shifting from the expression tool of the set logics of “naturalism” and “aestheticism” into the interaction between “the vision” and “the intention” and “the concept”, thus achieving the opening of the target of expression. This endeavor undoubtedly transformed the “tradition” into a path of re-experience instead of a classical mourning, thus equipping the seemingly traditional painting genre with the ability of intervention into “the now”. What’s more important is the incessant surging of new works and younger artists in the creative group is a clear symbol of the endeavor of “redefining the boundary” in an open and sustainable status, full of possibilities and future, instead of a sealed-off and formatted “painting genre”. And this will unquestionably help similar researches maintain a kind of energy and stay in the continuous “movement” of self-scrutiny - attempting to break through the constraints of traditional experience and release Chinese painting’s expression of the current cultural experience, thus becoming the most remarkable “contemporization” movement of the Chinese painting in recent years.

Of course, the “contemporization” of “the new Chinese realistic painting” is different from the “contemporary art” that we’re familiar with. It’s not a “contemporary” appeal in the western art history logics, but rather something happening in the “meaning” structure of the self logics of the Chinese painting - reconstructing the expression relationship between the cultural tradition and the current survival experience and cultural experience. Certainly such judgment is not a denial of it being influenced by “the contemporary art” or even its possibility of intervening “the contemporary art”, but some induction of “meaning in the theoretical sense. What should be alerted is that to every individual an induction is never a complete summarization, for individuals differ in logics when confronted with questions, which leads to variances in the approaches of experience and results, resulting naturally in the diversity of results, an abundance that cannot be summed up in theory. And it’s exactly because of this that the “the conceptual transcendence” of “the new Chinese realistic painting” was brought up - instead of a historical judgment of artistic styles, it’s based on the cultural “activation” functions that it possesses: pursuing the contemporary expression pattern of “the traditional resources” and becoming the cultural representation that manifests “the tradition” currently encountering some “in-depth fission”.


⑴ P180 A Tourist Journal of 18 Countries by Jin Cheng, published in Volume 205 of Modern Chinese History Series -- Sequel edited by Shen Yunlong. Taipei Wenhai Press 1976.

Hang Chunxiao

Written in Wangjing on Jun 8, 2012

[Editor] 马西