Progress and Lingering
Summary: In recent years, fine art criticism is entirely much less dynamic than that in late 1980s, and in addition to the changes of objective environment and mediocre fine artistic creation, it is also related with the condition that a large number of accomplished critics went abroad and the impact on art market. However, critics are still on the way to be mature, and moving towards a more professional level. A number of younger critics are emerging, and meanwhile, through the arduous efforts by critics, artists are beginning to recognize the role of criticism.
──A Review on Art Criticism from 1989 to 1993
Fine art criticism is different from fine art theory, and also different from fine art history; it is artistic behavior for the reality, including literal work of theory analysis, comprehensive explanation, journalistic comment and report on artists, artistic works and activities. It is a media between art creators and art acceptors, and of the same role with artists, which is to actively step in contemporary art and cultural thought, and meanwhile, of the same role with audience, to comment works from the enjoying and accepting angle. To systematically summarize the fine art criticism in recent years, it is necessary to make a basic definition for contemporary fine art criticism on its concept, division of type and selection of object for this article; to acquire a general understanding of current situation of fine art criticism in recent years, it is also necessary to make a simply review of fine art criticism since 1980s.
This article does not take the political criticism on different schools of scholarship and art under specific political campaign as an object to discuss. As a part of the integral culture, the criticism method taking political culture as the content to criticize belongs to social criticism, but the remnant of Cultural Revolution to perform political judgment on artistic matter beyond artistic law is not related with social criticism. Though the criticisms on Lang Shaojun’s academic view and Xu Bing’s artistic production as well as “Xishan Conference” occurred before Deng Xiaoping delivered his speech in his trip to south China have formed some major theoretical phenomena in fine art area, yet because they did not happen under a normal academic atmosphere, they are also not related with the concept of general artistic criticism.
Another phenomenon that cannot be included in the category of criticism is art market, which is also an important factor dominating domestic fine art circles since 1989. The major event that critics interfered in market operations was undoubtedly the “Guangzhou • Biennial Exhibition of Art (Painting Section) in 1990s”. One of the purposes of “Guangzhou Art Biennial” is to promote Chinese avant-garde art to enter the art market with domestic collectors as its buyer, but the fact is that whatever the subjective desires are, Chinese art market is still a commercial painting market manipulated by foreign painting dealers, and very few quasi-avant-garde artistic works having access to this market are of stylized artistic manners. In theory, the naive nature of this idea lie not on whether Chinese entrepreneurs have the ability to purchase art, but rather the market itself is contrary to the concept of avant-garde. Market is a buyer-seller relationship, the buyer has to recognize the use of a commodity before purchase it, for personal appreciation, or for preservation or increase of value; such recognition has the prerequisite of the perceptual and rational knowledge, namely he would always acquire the possible use of such commodity through various channels. This “acquire” is in fact the process that artistic works are gradually being understood and accepted in society, and transform from the avant-garde style into the stylized style. There is always avant-garde nature in the production of a new artistic style, because it would always break the set style and the fixed appreciation habit by our predecessors. Breakthrough does not always mean success, and almost every artist imagines a breakthrough, but only a small number of them would succeed. It is almost certain that there would be no businessmen who, with his appreciation habit destroyed, would still spend a lot of money to buy works which might be worthless in the future. Therefore, he will always wait to invest after the community recognizes such a style. A style recognized by community might have already lost its avant-garde nature and become the vulgarized criterion and form, and then accepted by market and academies. Avant-garde artists are always poor and lonely. Yet there is certainly an exception that entrepreneurs starts from the perspective of making advertisement, would invest some artistic action in advance without consideration of its final effect. Many conceptual art activities in the west adopt such a fund raising method, but conceptual art itself can never enter the market, it is totally different from the market situations of the traditional easel painting and sculpture. Strictly speaking, the critics should pay attention to the creation with creative nature, rather than to the commercial action entering the market. Due to the special Chinese situation, these two different issues are stirred together, and even, in order to establish the domestic market with domestic collectors to buy artistic works, this idea itself has been imagined as an avant-garde artistic performance. Corresponding to this, some critics have been employed by artists or galleries to conduct writing, and most with a form of artistic criticism. In general, this kind of criticism does not represent critics’ personal will, but rather, reflects the operating purpose of galleries and artists’ need for self-promotion. But it does not rule out the mutual choice between artists and critics made through the media of money, namely, the combination of critics’ will of criticism and the artists’ creative consciousness through the investment by artists. This will possibly be more and more widespread along with the enhancement of the market economy; therefore, it is required to make necessary identification for analysis of the case study ad criticism on artists by critics.
The vitality of criticism lies in its avant-garde nature. Criticism is always closely associated with a specific artistic ideological trend, and the critics’ originating awareness can be reflected only in criticism on creative works. Criticism is a product of modern society, and only with the modern mass media could professional critics affecting artistic thought through mass media come into being. Under the context of mass culture, modern art could only have social influence through critics and media seized by critics. If criticism does not take avant-garde nature (speaking without specific reference) as the object, then it will lose its value to exist, and it will be no more than a general guide text for appreciation and a vulgar culture for boosting some individual artists. Therefore, when we measure the value of a critic and his method and school, we need not to see the number of words he piled, but rather the role performed by him in promoting the development of modern art, and whether there he has responded positively to the process of Chinese modern art. It is not just the theoretical work performed on academic style, the significance of which could only belong to the category of fine art history. In addition, criticism as an independent science has its professional prescriptive nature, and the philosophieren on contemporary artistic phenomena represents the highest level of fine art criticism. A professional fine art critic may conduct various forms of literal work, but his career characteristics could be finally embodied in his philosophical and theoretical foundation. Prose-style, commenting, and journalistic art criticism, does not have the theoretical form in essence, although it may contain a profound thought, so it do not have the academic disciplinary significance, too. For the object of the criticism history, we also mainly choose the purely theoretical critics, or namely the theoretical thinking of critics. Only on such a foundation could a criticism history with theoretical framework be generalized systematically .
II Review of Criticism and Current Situation of Art
In China, the fine art criticism occurred as an independent cultural phenomenon around 1985. Although there was controversy on realism, abstract art and the nature of beauty in early 1980s, and this controversy as a reflection of thought liberation movement in fine art circles has actively prepared for the formation of Chinese campaign of modern art, but it didn’t make targeted critiques and summaries pointing to specific phenomena; for example, there was no corresponding critical trend of thought appeared on Stars Art Exhibition, Scar’s Art, Local Realism and other events of important significance in Chinese contemporary fine art history. Even the definition and meaning of its name were summarized after the emerging of independent criticism group. When the criticism is entirely the appendage of creation, in fact, it means that there is no professional critic, and there is no dissemination medium for critics to participate in artistic campaign. Technically, this is a prerequisite for independent criticism. Year 1985 is an important turning point, not only because of the occurrence of the New Art Movement, but also the participation and some domination by criticism on the movement. The domination is produced through the medium controlled by critics. The formation of professional critics group is mainly due to masters and bachelors graduated from the department of Historical Theory in academies of fine art, and the position provided to them, namely the medium through which they perform influences, are “Art (meishu)”, “Fine Arts in China” and “The Trend of Art Thought”, and “Translation Collections of Fine Art” and “World Art” playing an important role in promoting the occurrence of the trendy fine art through presentation and introduction of western modernist art. Media is often the link of movement, and the trendy fine art is originally only sporadic occurrence around the whole country, which is a spontaneous movement, happened among young peoples working on and loving art under the influence of western modern art, after China opened its door. In fact, since the Stars Art Exhibition, imitating and borrowing western modern art has never been stopped, and after 1985, the young artists’ activities were first reported in magazine “Art (meishu)” long officially controlled, and a series of theories and insights were made. The avant-garde comments on paintings of ” Progressing Chinese Youth Art Work Exhibition”, the report of “Pond Society” in Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts and the comments on the symbolism tendency of Beijing youth Art, are all closely linked to the artistic phenomena taking place at that time, while “Fine Arts in China ” took use of its advantages of short cycle and quick information to intensively report the avant-garde art, and played important roles in promoting information communication and forming the enthusiastic situation from north China to south China.
Critics’ independence depends on his position in artistic trend of thought. One of the important formal features of modern art is the destruction of the traditional appreciation convention, and paintings beyond the descriptive and literary natures take symbolic, expressive and abstract natures as the basic language, which causes the reading obstruction for audiences, and one of the results caused by this is that artists can not communicate with the audience through their works alone, while the realization of communication is the basic condition for social effectiveness of an artistic work. The theoretical interpretation of artistic works, originally, only emerged as a part of study on history of art, and then interpretation emerged as one of the main functions of criticism in Chinese modern art movements and played an important role in promoting the development and deepening of the movements. When the New Wave Art movement emerged, criticism in literal form is not a patent of critics, because there was no sound critics group, many declarations, talks about creations and theoretical articles issued by artists themselves played a critical role in fact. In this period, many important theoretical phenomena were created by artists together with critics. This declaratory theory confession virtually has no important theoretical value, and in addition to copying some poor translation of western modern art theory, it is more proper to say that this is no more than a kind of metaphysics of self-expansion, a kind of talking to oneself and the parrot-crying without knowing the content. This theoretical chaos is the same with the mishmash of good and bad creations mixing together. In addition that the professional critics group has not formed yet, artists’ self-interpretation also reflects artists’ unfamiliarity and mistrust with the function of criticism, and unawareness of the separation between criticism and artistic creation is the inevitable trend of labor division in modern society. The common view between artists and critics depends primarily on the effects performed by critics in the modern art movements. Except for the aforementioned critics’ progressive realization of the media operation and control, what’s more important is the effectiveness of criticism itself. In the period from 1985 to 1987, a group of youth critics have sprung up, and played a significant role in style guide, works interpretation and movement summarization, such as Gao Minglu’s theory about rational painting, Zhou Yan’s philosophical interpretation of Wang Guangyi’s works, Jia Fangzhou’s thinking on artistic forms and Yin Shuangxi’s criticism on criticism, which all conducted the theoretical responses to the rising New Wave Art Movement in varied degrees and angles, and such responses are clearly much more profound and comprehensive than artists’ self-interpretation and declaration.
If the New Wave Art Movement is treated as a rather blind one, then the criticism within the same movement seems to be much more clear-headed, as it steers clear of the jumbling phenomenon, extracts the artists and works of significant cultural identity and makes New Wave Art Movement show a clearer outline; such theoretical generalization and summarization have played a positive role for the development of modern art, and really made the criticism reach the front of the artistic movements. It was just because the predomination by such self-awareness that, for the first time, the national large art exhibition —— “Chinese Modern Art Exhibition” organized by critics appeared in China. Hereto, Chinese art criticism since the new era come to a conclusion, and it experienced the process from the beginning to the boom and then became an independent cultural group; criticism transformed from the policy interpretation and painter’s appendage into the participant and organizer of artistic movements, and also formed different criticism consciousness and schools. But just because criticism was directly derived from the artistic movement, it basically belongs to artistic movements as a part, which is a particular phenomenon for the ideological emancipation movement in the new era. Same with the New Wave Art Movement itself, the primary goal of criticism is to achieve the emancipation of people and minds. The freedom of artistic creation and thought have become the prerequisites in building the modern society, but the criticism with discipline consciousness has not yet been put on the agenda.
III Self-awareness of Criticism
“Chinese Modern Art Exhibition” in early 1989 made a full stop for the New Wave Art Movement, marking the ending of an impetuous, imitating and instrumentalism period and the reasons include external conditions, and also the internal laws of art development. What adapts to this is that art criticism has entered a phase of reflection, and begun its introspection while summarizing the artistic movement. In other words, after art criticism experienced the practice of the New Wave Art Movement, a critics group of certain scale began to form and an array of art publications seized by critics appeared, and even criticism holding the objects of criticism and critics began to emerge. The separation for criticism from creation is one of the signs of criticism progress, and criticism has jumped out of the creation circle to observe creation and criticism itself. From 1989 onwards, the substance awareness of fine art criticism has been reflected in three aspects: namely, the theoretical summarization of New Wave Art Movement, the initial formation of criticism methodology and school awareness, as well as the study and comments of criticism concepts and critics.
For grasping a historical process from the macro view and adding new requirements on fine art criticism, commenting, personally sentiments and prose-style reviews can apparently not realize the analysis and grasp of the history, philosophy and aesthetics of contemporary fine art. The difficulty to do a historical criticism is that it needs a theoretical framework, a knowledge structure and an aesthetic judgment, which is also a standard for fine art criticism to become mature. The realization of this process is the inevitable result of artistic movements and the accumulation of criticism practices themselves, and meanwhile, the New Wave Art has appeared in Chinese contemporary art history in the critical, proactive and developmental form, and the research and criticism on the New Wave Art need to reach out to the criticisms on the various specific art categories, it is quietly taking place to treat contemporary art from a developing perspective. The New Wave Art has become an object to criticize since its birth, but such kind of criticism is the blind denial of this modern art movement occurring in China on the basis of denying the basic value of modern art and under lack of the basic knowledge of modern art. However, those criticisms in review and summarization on the New Wave Art Movement after 1989 were based on the positive affirmation of the value of this movement, and the congenital deficiency of New Wave Art itself became the focus to be criticized, which in fact put the fine art phenomenon into a whole cultural structure, because at that time, under the impact of foreign culture, Chinese society reflected the problem in cultural and psychological preparations from politics and economy to literature and art. Thus, at that time, the fine art criticisms focused mainly on external conditions, and the non-ontological criticisms became the main criticism form.
The article “The Dilemma of Chinese Modern Art” by Huang Zhuan in Issue 5 of the magazine “Art (meishu)” in 1989 theoretically discussed the New Wave Art from the perspective of cultural criticism, and he believes that in essence, Chinese modern art movement is a paradox of the concept of modern art, because “Chinese modern art is basically not the direct product of the modern industrial civilization, and also due to that Chinese history has not completed the process of democratization of modern sense from all aspects of ideology and the social system, … … the modernization of Chinese art has never been able to get rid of the heavy mission of the cultural transformation and the very intense social ethics colors, … …” “Behind the exciting mental state dominated by this mission sense, we find more about metaphysical apartheid and unpractical attitude than others.” The starting point of Huang Zhuan is that China is a society in the pre-industrial period, and there is no real social and cultural foundation for its modern art, and we just impose the ethical and philosophical rather than artistic spirit upon art. However, he believes that the art which should be concerned is not the substance of art, because “Various self-discipline and technical discussions fail to help us achieve this goal, and on the contrary only hamper its implementation, so we should at least avoid the ‘Pure Language’ or ‘Pure Form’ exploration of art.” Apparently, he puts the issues of language and form under the philosophical proposition. Here, Huang Zhuan adopts a method of art history to the art criticism, and he does not specifically analyze the birth and its necessity of the rational spirit for New Wave Art, but denies “the Product of the Whole Cultural Spirit” in accordance with the rules of art history, and treats the microscopic phenomena of artistic creation as the subjects to criticize, “We must recognize that the main body of artistic actions should also be individuals: manual artisans, artists, patrons for artistic enterprise, critics and all the media communicators to make art generate journalistic effects, rather than the refined overall concepts we talked about, e.g. the spirit of the times and the eternal rationality.” “The really good shows in artistic history just start here, … …” Here there is a contradiction that, the overall cultural spirit is carried by the main body of artistic actions, and the mistake of the New Wave Art lies in the too much pursuit of the proactive rational spirit with neglect of the specific cultural conditions, it is not because theorists only focus on “the purely ‘spiritual’ discussion of modern art.” It is originally discussion of movement itself, which changes to be criticism on theory during the explanation.
In 1992, Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House published ” A History on Chinese Modern Art ‘1979-1989’” written by Lv Peng and Yi Dan, and its preface makes a quite comprehensive exposition to the development of Chinese art from the new period onwards, with focus on the New Wave Art; this preface can be considered as an important document for over-viewing the New Wave Art from a critical perspective. In this preface, there are several distinctive features in outlining this period of history. First, the author is treating a certain period of history in the long history river, “For this century, in China, the controversy surrounding the tradition is complex, and the reason is that the contending of artistic practices has gone completely beyond the scope of art and even culture. Finally, keen artists and critics find that the impurity of Chinese modern art is precisely of pure authenticity, because what we are facing is not a part, but a whole.” This is the definition of history, as well as a basic point, and places specific historical facts under certain historical and cultural backgrounds, so that to some extent, comments of merits and demerits on the New Wave Art which has lasted for a long time can be avoided, and it is to explore the rationality (regularity) of a phenomenon from the provisions on historical contexts. Second, the specific art phenomena are subject to particular cultural backgrounds and thoughts, and the modern art movements in the new era are cultural criticisms and ideological liberations in nature, “The modern art during the decade under the reform and opening policy is of the nature of a real cultural revolution, and of constructive significance, are because it is established on the basic point of human liberation.” By inspecting the New Wave Art from this perspective, the positive explanations will be made on its achievements and failures, creations and imitations, and passion and blindness and others, while reasonable references will be provided for various criticisms on the New Wave Art. When various actions of the New Wave Art are covered with rational cloaks, they must withstand rational criticisms. “Their explorations of art itself are often judged with non-art method, and their understandings, feelings, emotions and others expressed through art are mainly subject to moral condemnations.” Finally, the authors propose the issue about value standard, which is in fact the criticism standard. After basically denied the visual form as a standard, the authors clearly stated “Critical Form”, and the establishment of this standard in fact coincides with the situation of the condition of New Wave Art itself. “As the birth and development of Chinese modern art is the result of liberation pursuit of people’s minds and spirits, and people’s issues are always of artists’ concerns, then, it is incredible to talk about this segment of art history without of the social critical significance of works serving the liberation of mind and spirit.” “The establishment of criticism principle is equal to the establishment of basic premise for writing Chinese modern art history. The premise will undoubtedly affect our judgments on value of artists and artistic works. In fact, it is also the basic point for us to hold the development of art and the selection of artists in this decade.”
From these key points in the preface, we can see that the authors start to inspect specific cultural phenomena under specific cultural backgrounds on the premise of recognizing the modern art as the main stream of art in the new era. For example, under the isolated analysis of the erected understandings on western modern art by artists, it is easy to reach the conclusions of “Copy” and “Imitation”, and so down to the political judgment of “Total Westernization”. According to such a judgment, it is impossible to write the history of art in the new era. However, under the situations of the economic system reform and opening policy in the new era, as well as the specific context of the ideological liberation movement, imitation is the unavoidable way to use for reference, and in addition, there is no pure imitation, all imitations and adoption for reference have been included into the scope of cultural criticism. Therefore, the theoretical framework set here by the authors is not a general discussion of theoretical issues, but a model provided for the criticisms on contemporary art. Although setting this method is for the operation to compiling history, the compiling of a contemporary history is in fact a critical judgment, and such a strong methodological sense will be inevitable reflected in the criticism on status quo.
In early 1989, “Chinese Modern Art Exhibition” has just ended, Gao Minglu, one of the main organizers for the exhibition, in view of the need for theoretical summarization of the New Wave Art Movement, as well as the disorder in methodology and situation of fine art criticism, he took the advantage of his position as an executive editor for magazine ” Art (meishu)” and consciously organized a number of influential critics and theorists to discuss the method and concept of art criticism. This group of conversations by writing about the criticism concept was published in Issue 10 of magazine “Art (meishu)” in that year. This is the first time to quite clearly put forward the method of art criticism, which is an important step toward the disciplinary construction of fine art criticism. Although as early as before “China Modern Art Exhibition”, there was memoir with a group of important critics talking about views on criticism published by Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, as criticism practices did not organically combine with art movements, most of the articles in the memoir were limited to talk about artistic views and the understandings of modern art; there was no consciously raised issues about methodology yet.
Year 1989 as the sign of initiation of criticism methods enjoys two important backgrounds: The first is a series of seminars organized to cooperate with “Modern Art Exhibition”, and due to the different perspectives and specialties of participants, comments on the New Wave Art reflected obvious differences. This criticism forms supported by different disciplines were just the starting points for different criticism methods. At that time, disciplines of some influencing critics were mainly history of Chinese art (Liu Xiaochun, Xue Yongnian, Gao Minglu and others), history of Chinese modern art (Lang Shaojun, Shui Tianzhong and others), art theory (Zhou Yan, Yin Shuangxi and others), history of foreign art (Shao Dazhen, Kong Chang’an and others) and theory of literature and art (Peng De, Wang Lin, Chen Xiaoxin, Lv Peng and others), and those transformed from professional painters (Jia Fangzhou, Deng Pingxiang and others). In the view of Gao Minglu, summarizations of modern art movement taking the advantage of “Modern Art Exhibition” have to be comprehensively and three-dimensionally carried out through the supports by different disciplines. Therefore, first of all to discuss the criticism concepts and methods is obviously of instrumental significance. The second is that “Translation Collections of Fine Art” edited by Fan Jingzhong from Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts which systematically introduced and presented modern western art theories, and played an extremely important role in the construction of art theories and art criticisms. Translations and presentation by “Translation Collections of Fine Art” focused on British fine art historian Gombrich, and meanwhile Fan Jingzhong translated and published a series of books by Gombrich. Gombrich’s artistic theories and art history ideology had caused direct impact on Chinese art critics, especially on those young critics participated in the New Wave Art Movement in the middle and late 1980s. Also, “Translation Collections of Fine Art” introduced Wolfflin’s Formalistic Art Historiography and Panofsky’s Iconology. “World Art” by Central Academy of Fine Arts also selectively presented Riegl from the Vienna School, Roger Fry and Clive Bell from the British Formalistic Criticism School, and Rosenberg—American Abstract Expressionistic critic, and others. The construction of these basic theories not only carried out necessary training on Chinese youth critics, but also provided theoretical references for the construction of criticism methodology.
In “Contemporary Art Criticism Conversation by Writing” organized in Issue 10 “Art (meishu)” in 1989, the issues talked about by some critics who directly participated in the modern art movements are very pertinent, but in terms of methodological consciousness, they are still in a hazy state. “Critical Consciousness” by Lang Shaojun clearly brought forward the ontological problem of criticism, and drew distinctions between the theoretical form of criticism and other disciplines. His emphasized two aspects: One is to make out the relation between fine art criticism and art history as well as art theory; the other is to make out the relation between artistic criticism and non-artistic criticism, and fight against substituting vulgar sociology for art criticism, which was of practical significance at that time, though there was no theoretical definition of the distinction between vulgar sociology and sociology. However, Lang Shaojun’s article also reflected a kind of vagueness in ontological consciousness caused by humanistic passion. This is highlighted by his focus on the personalities of critics, “Critical consciousness requires the premise of independent personalities of critics.” In fact, in terms of the essence of criticism, personality is not a necessary attribute, and personality should be the basic premise for all artistic and academic activities.
“Developing Journalistic Art Criticism” by Yin Shuangxi is the low level discussion on the criticism forms, and the low level means that, he had early began the micro study on the low level criticism before a macro framework was build up. This low level does not mean that Yin Shuangxi’s study is in low level, but rather that the journalistic artistic criticism lies in the most shallow and marginalized position in the whole criticism situation. In this article, Yin Shuangxi quite systematically analyzed the premises, conditions, forms, purposes and problems for journalistic artistic criticisms. According to the case at that time, this article most comprehensively and completely referred to the styles and methods of fine art criticisms (albeit in a part). The journalistic artistic criticisms are not personally commenting criticisms or journalistic artistic reports, but an integral part of the structure of criticism. Yin Shuangxi keenly became aware of a basic problem in the construction of criticism discipline through this subject. It should be noted that the journalistic artistic criticisms is only a kind of external form of criticisms, without touching the essence of it.
In case that Wang Lin’s short essay “Problem in Criticism” is developed into a long article, the long article is just the aesthetic demonstration of the essence of criticism. Starting from the basic definition of literary and artistic theory, first of all he specifies the position of criticism in artistic activities through defining art. “Art is not an isolated spiritual activity, but a tool for social communication. In communication, on the one hand the artistic works are the products of artists’ conceptual activities, showing the considerable personal nature, … …” “Mission of criticism is not to bring out a certain kind of individual experience, but rather through experience to indicate the key factors and procedures causing experience; strictly speaking, criticisms are revelations of aesthetic appreciation, rather than representation of the emotional states.” Criticism is a rational process to decipher the symbolic form of art as life activity. The implication is that if art needs to be communicable, it must be criticized. Wang Lin’s typical feature is his aesthetic presentation of the essence of criticism, while talking less about the operability of realizing criticism as a social communication tool.
Gao Minglu again organized the discussion on the characteristics of criticism in Issue 5 of magazine “Art (meishu)” magazine, and proposed clearly the issues on ontological and disciplinary nature of criticism. The discussion memoir titled “Ontological Awareness and Disciplinary Nature of Criticism ── Five People’s Talk about Criticism” was a thematic discussion conducted in an informal discussion by Gao Minglu, Fan Di’an, Wang Mingxian, Yin Shuangxi and Yi Ying. The form itself of this kind of discussion decided that it is not possible to discuss very deep theoretical issues, but the way to raise issues is of significance for the establishment of Chinese modern art critical system in the future. As what Gao Minglu himself has pointed out during the discussion: “Creation and criticism before 1985 was mainly focused on objects and paid attentions to how to present the real life in picture, as well as the form of visual sense … …From 1985 onwards, youth artists believed that the substance of art is the substance of artists, and then art entered the rational representation phase, the critics at that time should be mainly focused on what artists wanted to express, and pay more attention to artists’ wishe and intention. Further more, I think we need to establish a new critical structure, or namely to enter the stage of ‘Structural Substance’, in order to treat intents, works and meanings of works as organic criticism.” But till this time, the ontological consciousness of criticism was still stuck in the subjective desires, while human passions were still the major driving force and factor when criticizing specific works and artists.
After 1989, in addition that “Jiangsu Art Monthly” still maintained a relatively active academic atmosphere, “Art Pantoscope (yishu guangjiao)” in Liaoning also established a particular column for study and discussion on art. Compared with “Jiangsu Art Monthly”, “Art Pantoscope” allowed long articles to be published, and discussions on some issues could go much deeper. Therefore, due to the theoretical confinement of Beijing’s major fine art publications, some critics turn to publish articles in “Art Pantoscope”. So it can be said that precisely because of the existence of “Art Panorama”, the theoretical blankness was avoided for this period. Gu Chengfeng’s “Reflections on Contemporary Art Criticism” in Issue 1 “Art Pantoscope” discussed several important issues of art criticism under the context of Chinese contemporary art. After the ebb of New Wave Art, the impetuosity and enthusiasm disappeared, while the time to conduct a sober reflection on the criticism itself came.
What Gu Chengfeng focused on in “Reflections on Contemporary Art Criticism” was the critical consciousness, and although this issue has repeatedly been mentioned by others, he was still the first critic to explain this issue systematically. In order to demonstrate this issue, he regulates the methods of “consciousness” by starting with the concrete form of the criticism. The first was to transcend the moral value judgment，which shall not be the central task of criticism, “In an environment which is not open and lack of relaxed atmosphere, it always results in wrong direction, and make people mistakenly stray outside the art issue.” The second was to transcend the pure formal aesthetic judgment; but the issue is basically not conducted, and in fact, from the early 1980s, China has failed to develop the ideological trend of form criticism. The argument about formal beauty was not a critical phenomenon, but the controversy of creation concepts, which was mostly conducted in the circle of painters, and also the formal beauty was only reflected in low decorative level on creation at that time. The third was to get rid of the reliance on collective consciousness; Gu Chengfeng was not referring to the independence of criticism here, but rather that critics begin to focus on paying attention to individual artists who was performing creation, which was different from New Wave Art Movement that only paid attention to collective activities. The fourth was to get rid of the description and appendage identity; which was related to the issue on independence of critics, but not referring to the independence of critical methods, rather that critics shall not become vassals of artists, “Only through independent views as well as personal aesthetic judgment and feeling of works, could a critic exist.” The fifth was to get rid of the old modes of criticism; the old modes listed in the article include personal commenting, developing and chronological types. In this article, the author put forward his view after listed various features of consciousness, and he believed that the key issue for criticism to be modern is the criticism standard. The scope of the criticism standard comes from existing facts and experience, and it is stated in the text that: “Usually we can not observe and ponder then be delighted in front of the meaningful original creation until we are familiar with the connotation of the existing schemata. In this sense, many works can achieve their rightful positions in the standard contraposition; … …” After determined the nature of the criticism standard, the author continued to elaborate the range of it, but he did not define the scope clearly, rather he put forward his negative argument against the view raised by Zhu Bin in the article “Criticism: Problem and Method” in Issue 2 “Art Pantoscope”. Zhu Bin said: “The art standards come from outstanding works resolving artistic problems, which objectively reflect artists’ problem-solving capability and artistic levels.” Zhu Bin’s viewpoint contained reasonable factors, namely standards exist in excellent works, in general, outstanding works are established through comparison by critics, and therefore criticism standards could be interpreted as products of comparison; but Zhu Bin did not move forward along this train of thought, rather he focused on solution of problem. This proposition itself has deviated from the standard of art, because the function and purpose of artistic creation are not to set up and solve problems. Gu Chengfeng believed that “Artistic standards shall not be confined to the solution of artistic problems ── if they were limited to operational level. Artistic standard is larger than artistic problem, which involves the solution of artistic problem, and also, it shall include the spiritually completed state of art, as well as many other things like conceptual form and others.” However, Gu Chengfeng still did not give the following answer to this question, but he made a general reference that “Artistic standard can only be comprehensive standard, and we can not accept mistake in order to avoid another one.”
Gu Chengfeng made a comprehensive talk about a series of issues in criticism in his article, but he lacked an integral theoretical framework, and for some partial issues, he was still limited in the impression-style discussion, and there was no organic relationship between all the issues he treated with. This state is related with the fact that the level of professional researches on fine art criticism is not high in China now, and as the number of professional critics is extremely limited, let alone to make special research on the criticism as a discipline. Only a part of critics realized the disciplinary nature of criticism, but the knowledge and energy input are very inadequate.
Critical consciousness is not only reflected in critics’ consciously theoretical summarization of artistic movements and concern about the criticism substance, but also in the criticism on critical patterns and critics. This is a theoretical progress. Under the context of modern society, criticism does not only mean the theoretical responses made to artistic phenomena, but also the unique function of critics in the media era, namely the critics’ monopolization of media. This is reflected not only in that \criticism is circulated through media, but also that critics themselves are controlling media with a kind of power. It is just through the role of media that criticism could impact and control movements and ideological trends. Thus the criticism is no longer only critics’ individual acceptance and appreciation of artistic works, but also an organic component in the structure of artistic production and reproduction, so criticism itself becomes a relatively independent phenomenon which requires the acceptance and response from artists, audiences and theorists; thus criticism on criticism was born.
First of all, criticism on weapon is the urgent need of reality, and due to the responsibilities undertaken by criticism in ideological trends and movements, when liquidating movements, criticism also became an object for liquidation. In the article “Contemporary Art Criticism being required to make introspection” in Issue 5 of magazine “Art (meishu)”, Ding Ning showed his basically negative attitude to art criticism in the new era.” If in comparison, Chinese contemporary art is facing the cultures outside our country with its bright, if we could say so, ‘Vocabularies’, and even to some extent maintaining a passable consensus with alien people’s art creation trends, then in contrast, contemporary criticism is dull.” His basis of argument was that there were no “Tenable Criticism Writings” like Rudolf Arnheim ‘s “The Power of the Center”, Gombrich’s “Meditations on a Hobby Horse” or Arnold Hauser’s “The Philosophy of Art History”. “In the golden decade, under fairly relaxed environment and conditions, why there is no encouraging accumulation and breakthrough? Perhaps, we are just trapped in the burden of the transient enthusiasm, and lack a rudimentary attitude to do research far away from the impetuosity. It is not that the pattern-changed and deepening art creation stifled the inspiration of criticism, but criticism is becoming more and more aimless in the pursuit beyond one’s capability.” Perhaps the judgment and valuation is not accurate, as in artistic creation, there is also no Matisse and Picasso appeared, and moreover, and no Gombrich would appear within a decade under the not really so relaxed environment, let alone works of Gombrich is not art critic in original meaning. On the other hand, criticism itself is the participator and organizer of ideological trends and movements, and it is the response of critics made directly to artistic movements, which can never be the same with the study of art history and to be fully immersed in study. If criticism does not follow artistic creation, then the essence of criticism will not exist. Ding Ning believed that the first one of basic requirements for the construction of contemporary art criticism is to ” form a kind of equal response to the western modern art criticism. … … The objective of this response is especially to gain a new critical spirit as well as its method.” Secondly, “the criticism’s negligence on the significance of documents is shocking. However, in a sense, the amount of documentation relied on by criticism just signifies the technical meaning of the criticism itself and discourse power to conduct smooth dialogue with others.” From these two points, we could see that the primary task for the theoretical construction of art criticism is to absorb and understand the theory of the western modern art comprehensively, and this is not only because of the spirit and method of art criticism of that time are blind copies of western theory, but also the extremely inadequate preparation of documentation and knowledge.
No matter from what perspective an author is treating today’s fine art, he achieves a pure criticism of art criticism, besides, issues such as strengthening theoretical construction of critics, improving translation level and introducing western theory of modern art, were all favored greatly by theoretical circles at that time. But this article ignored two basic questions, 1, differences between art criticism and art theory in aspects of nature and function; 2, art criticism must firstly set foot in current situation of art in China. It should be a discipline developed in practices by integrating various conditions.
Pi Daojian, an art historian being active for a long period in Hubei, published an article on Issue 1 of “Guangdong Artists” in 1992 titled “Breakthrough of Art-Historical Concept and Methodology VS China Contemporary Art”. This article briefly reviewed changes of art historical concept and methodology since the new era. Pi Daojian set the criticism of art in art historical concept and methodology, and along with the development of China contemporary art, he achieved methodological breakthrough in art historiography and criticism. “Artists try to turn a moment of heartfelt feeling into an eternal form of effort, reflecting a spirit of art surpassing the limit of reality, which is just the life of new art. In this sense, breakthrough in art-historical concept and methodology in early 1980s is a call of new art life.” The emergence of New Wave Art, proposed an urgent task of art publications reflecting modern-art movements, therefore, journals such as “Thought Trends of Art” from Hubei and “Fine Arts in China” from Beijing were born. Critics were in response to thought trends of art by this front, and unavoidably, they replaced traditional modes of criticism by new ones like New Wave Art. “Along with this, academic construction of art history made a greater progress, on one hand, connections between art and politics, economy, history and culture of society are applied to the research of art history. Changes of artistic interest and visual style are treated with under the big background of social history, therefore, a research writing of art history emerged in a real modern sense; on the other hand, discussion of issues about self-discipline of art is deeper. A variety of philosophical, aesthetic, psychological and anthropological methods are applied to the research on self-discipline of art. “It is for sure that, from a more macroscopic point of view, either art creation or criticism, are a part of contemporary culture. Transformation of culture paradigm will definitely bring about various changes in cultural field.
Before this, Peng De, a critic from Hubei, has commented on the new born baby of New Wave Art, namely the publication “Thought Trends of Art” in one of his articles. Similar to Pi Daojian, he proposed clearly in his article titled “Construct the warehouse of thought for Contemporary Art” that, “New art theory and creation have become two torrents going forward side by side in the wave of art transformation.” As the chief editor of this journal, Peng De’s suggestion of editorial policy actually reflected his basic value orientation of art criticism. 1, “modern fine art itself is cross-regional, so relevant art theories can not have regional characteristics.” 2, “our time is a time of reformation, a time to face the future, a time with a strong orientation. In addition, orientation is not only a characteristic of time, but also the best choice of Hubei art to rank among China’s top level.” Peng De’s view on this is proactive, entering 1990s, Hubei is still a center of China modern arts. This is inseparable from the theoretical construction of “Thought Trends of Art”. 3, “up to now, popular theories of art are just a bunch of unrealistic mixtures……. “Thought Trends of Art” has maintained a vibrant vitality just because it takes publishing articles focusing on theoretical exploration as its own responsibility.” (Quotations above are all taken from Peng De’s collection of essays titled “Visual Revolution”, which was published by Jiangsu Fine Arts Publishing House in Oct. 1990.)
After 1989, construction of critical theory and research of criticism methods and critics were concentrated on Jiangsu Art Monthly pictorial. In these years, works organized by this publication mainly include: (1) research and introduction of critics, with the purpose to raise the statue of critics and expand their influences. However, conducting method of this work was not based on critics’ consciousnesses, but mainly a reflection of editors’ subjective desires, therefore, articles were filled with too much unnecessary traces of introduction for introduction, and most of them lacked necessary theoretical study and representation. (2) discussions toward the article of You Yong — a student from Central Academy of Fine Arts majoring in Art History, You Yong divided the situation of art criticism after the national funding into three levels: leaders control everything before the new period, which was a basic interpretation of literature and art policy; in the beginning of new period, artists stepped in theory, and addressed some insightful suggestions, but those suggestions lack depth and systematicness; Now it’s time for critics to walk onto the stage. Jiangsu Art Monthly organized a discussion with the subject of “critics walking onto the stage”, which was actually an issue of critics’ function and role in art creation. But when their function and influence have already been a fact in art movements and thought trends, this discussion seemed to be somewhat outdated. Though many important critics attended this discussion, it does not generated significant theoretical effects. (3) Continue to organize critics discussing concepts and methods of criticism by writing, but when many critics talk about concepts of criticism, just like when they write comments, with too much randomness. On the whole, these activities played an important role in improving the status and expanding influences of critics, as well as in making artists to theoretically understand the function of critics.
We shall see that, compared with art creation, the circles of criticism is still very small, to realize real criticism, a perfect and sound theoretical environment, a modernized media system of art, and financial security of experts doing theoretical work are needed, then it could be possible to attract more young people to devote into art criticism, and then to form a critical cycle within the circles of criticism.
IV Hot points and subjectivity of criticism
In the period of ’85New Wave Art movement, function of critics were mainly reflected in their participation in movements as the spokesman and interpreter of artists. They were full of passion and blindness. However, criticism itself lacked a witnessing of artistic movements from a certain distance. After 1989, New Wave Art began to cool down rapidly, which provided an objective condition and enabled criticism of art to calmly summarize the history of art in the new period, meanwhile to view the occurent phenomenon of art according to historical experiences and lessons. Of course, this was inseparable from the experience and theoretical preparation provided by New Wave Art itself.
In April 1991, Institute of Fine Arts in Academy of Arts of China held an “art creation seminar in new period” in Beijing State Council, Xishan Hotel. In the seminar, critics not only summarized and discussed fine art creation of the new period, some critics also proposed the issue of “post-New Wave Art” and criticized creation situation of Chinese art in 1990s, which was also symbolizing the criticism of art was stepping into in-depth and multi-perspective developments. Main characteristic of fine art criticism in this period was the separation between criticism and creation. Criticism did not stay in the same movement with creation anymore, but with an independent personality to track and comment on hot issues in art creation. What’s more important is that, it can set foot in the situation of historical and cultural tradition of China and the situation of contemporary society, with reference to the mainline of art in the new era, and kept the excellent tradition of new trend fine art – passion and responsibility of idealism– while analyzing specified arguments subjectively..
1. Post- new wave art
The word “post” does not mean a continuation of “New Wave Art”, but a closure of it as a historical phenomenon and an emergence of artists and creations which were obviously distinctive from New Wave Art in aspects of concept and style. Sensitivity of this criticism was firstly shown by critics who participated in New Wave Art Movement. The first person who noticed this change was Wang Lin, a critic from Sichuan. In a talk published in “Art Pantoscope” in 1991 (the 3rd issue), he pointed out that: “no matter in which aspect, the year 1989 will be an important borderline for Chinese modern fine art.” “After 1989, due to all kinds of external, internal reasons, Chinese modern art entered a status of submergence … …” so, what’s the basic feature of art creation? Wang Lin believed that “after 1989, the creation status of modern art was submergence, de-concentration and independence, which was closer to the essence of art if compared with the movement type and group forming trend of New Wave Art.” There are two obvious orientations of modality, “one is to change the distant cultural criticism in ‘New Wave Art’, and get close to realities and focus on human’s existing state and value of living … …”; “another orientation is to give up the inpatient exhibitionism of new wave artists who are rushing to search for styles, to calm down and stay away from current situation, and to carry out research about art language itself. This research can be pure abstract or pure synthetic, or even materialized.” We shall say that, people like Wang Lin are pioneer critics with an early consciousness of post-1989 art phenomenon. However, the basic feature of this phenomenon was not what Wang Lin has predicted, which might be related to the geographical position of Sichuan.
There is a precondition before criticizing the art in 1990s, which is in reference of new wave art. In fact, after the Chinese Modern Art Exhibition in 1989, many critics realized the closure of new wave art as a movement. While summarizing the gain and loss of new wave art, in reference to critical practice and experience of new wave art movement, they are also searching for new orientation of Chinese modern art from specified art phenomenon. “Recent exploratory tracing of art”, is an article by Zhou Yan published in Jiangsu Art Monthly in 1992 (1st issue), which actually was collected from speech notes of Beijing Xishan Conference in April 1991. In this article, Zhou Yan didn’t do in-depth theoretical explanation, but captured specified facts with the sensitive eyes of a critic and assorted them according to materials and states in the principle of art history. The first category was “mocking and self-mockery”, “series of creations by a group of young writers born in 1960s all have a sense of mocking … …” We should say that, it is a mistake that Zhou Yan didn’t do in-depth analysis of this phenomenon. As proved by facts, after 1989, with young artists who have newly-graduated and didn’t participate directly in ’85 new wave art movement as the main part, new academism style with background and materials of popular culture became a mainstream style in a certain period. The formation of this phenomenon has its deep social & political, economical and cultural background, reflecting the enormous constrains of inertia of traditional Chinese society on modern art. It is a rebellion against new wave art, also with the influence of art market. What’s more important was the penetration of creeping popular culture in modern art after the political consciousness of Chinese modern culture has faded. Briefly, it is not enough to simply summarize it with “mocking and self-mockery”. Equally, Li Xianting, a critic from Beijing, called it “Scoundrel Art”, was with a strong complex of ’85. He still defined the value of art on the basis of rebellion, but ignored the complex and vivid regulations of Chinese contemporary culture. The second type pointed out by Zhou Yan was ‘regulation and analysis’, ‘the so called analysis should be a quantitative analysis without interference of number category, there would be no definition of structural relationship (namely the essential relationship) in analysis and artistic works would turn out to be decorative pattern design. Certainly, this number is not the relationship in pure mathematic significance, or it would be not distinctive from design drawings of buildings.’ According to Zhou Yan, abstract art of rational analysis was absent in ’85 Art, and its appearance after 1989 could be regarded as a new tendency of the development of modern art. ZhouYan obviously overestimated the experimental activities of a small group. These activities caused hardly any influence in art creation of Beijing or other provinces by then and years after that. Some influential abstract art exhibitions emerged around 1992 had no relationship in meanings with the “New Measurement” mentioned by Zhou Yan. The third category was “metaphor and symbolization”, “This kind of writers were mainly artists over their thirties, and some of them were rather active “wave riders” during the 85’ period. Critics generally noticed their lingering ‘humanistic passion’. Compared with the young generation born in 1960s, they have an “complex” of value sense “Ultimate concern” in their works, on one side, showed their special preference to humanistic motifs; on the other hand, it showed their eagerness to searching for a more accurate and proper expression in linguistic turn .” Zhou Yan mainly mentioned the series of “Great Criticism” created by Wang Guangyi in 1990s and “Block Trilogy” by Zhang Xiaogang. Especially the “Great Criticism” by Wang Yi, later became a representative work of “Political Pop” trend, and brought about broad influences, which indicated that Zhou Yan had a unique foresight on this issue.
“The complex of 85’ Art and Contemporary Issues”, an article of controversy written by the Sichuan critic Lv Peng was published on “Art Pantoscope” in 1992 (5th issue), questioned the response in creation and criticism made by post 89 art to the ‘cynical’, ‘absurd’ nonsense attitude represented by ‘Scoundrel Art’. He believed that topics of contemporary art are solved in two relevant lines of cultural criticism and develop of style. Lv Peng proposed a deeper question: “today, when we are facing the history of ’’85 art, what should be self-criticized is not the ‘copy’ of thought and ‘abuse’ of language, but a question that, when in reality it happens changes beyond imagination, what will be our focus of work. Thus, the real problem of ’85 period is revealed: they are philosophical essentialism and artistic reductionism.” Philosophical essentialism is reflected in moralism, idealism and psychologism in ’85 art, which was called ’85 complex by Lv Peng. Typical reaction to this complex was the comments of Li Xianting on “Scoundrel Art” by Fang Lijun and others. Li Xianting said: “the control of boredom sense by scoundrel humorous realism has a real deconstructive significance and relived the meaning, value and system that have been controlling people and the entire society for many years.” Lv Peng argued measure to measure that: “as for contemporary times, to believe in the cultural strength of certain state of mind is to believe that building natural primitive garden is possible in urban cities, — which is definitely ridiculous.” However, what was confusing was that the argument of Lv Peng was also not built on the basis of specific changes of Chinese society after 1989, but also proposed from a fabled point, which was the “deconstruction project of new historical period”. If we say that, the 1985 new wave art was to a great extent blind and greatly controlled by western modernist art and its theories. So, after 1989, we can find that Chinese critics are still living under this shadow. As artists have been reformed by reality, critics may always turn a blind eye to the specific social reality. In order to remove ’85 complex, Lv Peng fixed his target of rebuilding contemporary art to be “criticism of ideology”, which, though has a gesture operating from a strategically advantageous position, however, this position is built on the sand beach.
“What does Lv Peng’s “criticism of ideology” mean in the field of art? He divided it into three levels, “firstly, criticism of ideology is a purposive strategy on concepts, it intends to separate a single system of ideology or cultural idea, and deconstruct the signified meanings of conceptual symbols which are forced to be accepted and customized by people, so that those conceptual symbols can show multiple meanings hard to be categorized. Secondly, “criticism of ideology is also a point of Neo-historicism.” “When the rehash of historical events, images or figures in contemporary culture was not a feeling to serve sentimentalism, but to enrich the multiple meanings of spiritual life, this action can efficiently remove our memories, and enables a re-performance of history today.” At last, “criticism of ideology means a more complete overthrow of aesthetics. Lv Peng uses a lot of concepts of deconstruction here, but he only made abstract statement without mentioning the meaning and necessity of deconstruction on contemporary culture. If we deconstruct for deconstruction, then it is actually following the old road of modernism. “Great Criticism” created by Wang Guangyi, was used as a typical example by Lv Peng. But if we put “Great Criticism” into the enthusiasm of Mao Zedong rose in popular culture in recent years, it is really worthy to study whether the meaning of Wang Guangyi lies in deconstruction or in popular culture. We always stress that artistic criticism need to be trained by art history to a large extent. It is because that art history is dealing with specific works and focuses on textual research and study from micro perspective. Artistic criticism always ignores specific research on works and background materials, which turns out to be a conceptual self-circulation at last. Though Lv Peng has keenly seized some macro issues of post-89 arts, but he still gives us a feeling of isolation from artistic practices.
2. New academism and new literati painting
New academism has emerged during ’85 period as a style and slogan. As a style, it refers to a pure studio technology with European classicalism as its chief source. Emergence and maturity of this style is closely related to the loss of fake-realism of soviet model which has dominated Chinese art institutes for a long time. Its emergence makes up a lesson of classicalism for thirsty Chinese oil painting, though this make-up has no realistic meaning. As a slogan, it means the “new academism” was first proposed by some young instructors from Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, with the purpose to reject New Wave Art and keep the right of interpretation of academism on modern art and their superior position. But these two phenomena of academism made no significant influence on the magnificent movement of new wave art. After 1989, instead, a group of young painters emerged in Beijing represented the real neo-academic art. In art criticism, we commonly use “New Generation (xinshengdai)” to call this very important phenomenon. This was because of a young artists’ exhibition under the name of “New Generation” held in 1991, the participants of which were mainly graduate students of Central Academy of Fine Arts in recent years. The emergence of new academism is inseparable from the unique political background at that time. As new wave art was fading and being criticized as a target of bourgeois liberalization, neo-academism emerged as an art in crevice, which was an opportunity of history.
Jiangsu Art Monthly had played an important role in organizing criticism on hot points. It was only due to this group criticism that some hot points phenomena in art creation could be revealed. However, domestic art circles still lacked large-scale publications of fine art criticism. So, there was no way to carry out comprehensive and systematic research and comments on some important trends and schools, most articles still rest on the commenting form. If there was a special publication of art criticism, the appearance of art criticism might have been quite different.
Criticism of art can not cause a movement, artists are always primary. Critiques pointing to “neo- academism” can well explain this. “Neo-academism” advocated by Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, though have organized exhibitions and comments consciously, but due to the lacking of competent artists, it didn’t leave any practical significance. Therefore, comments on this neo-academism also seemed to be weak. When Sun Zhenhua from Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts talked about neo-academism, he noticed the important difference between it and the new wave art: “some of the new wave art, their concepts go beyond forms artistically due to pursuing improvised impulsion and incidental effects. Its strong passion and impulsion broke through the constraints of form or found it hard to find a proper form to represent; therefore, it normally became a direct unleashing of passion, or is expressed in an extreme of anti-form. In contrast to new wave art, what the neo-academism pursued was constructiveness and a spirit to firmly defend profession.” (Issue 2 of 1991 “Art Pantoscope” ). When there is no specified object for criticizing, theories related to the new academism mostly remained on shallow levels. On contrary, the “new generation” emerged in Beijing attracted people’s attention by a brand-new style, and the style itself was also a complement and rebellion of new wave art. In “Strong Focusing Reality” (qiang jujiao de xianshi), Xiao Chen regarded this academic art as “general principle of them to reconfirm easel painting and realism.” “Superior-close observation of details and objective creation of language, deeper penetration of realistic spirits and freed style of expressionism make up the two wings of their art.” Yin Jinan stressed their relation with urban culture, “Urban life is the background of their creation, and the integration of basic comments of life as well as art criticism constructed the basic view points of close-up art.” (Issue 1 of 1992 “Jiangsu Art Monthly”) Criticism from Beijing on neo-academism was more detailed, but also lacked of theoretical depth. Analysis of new academism was inseparable from analysis of current certain condition of history and background, but most critics at that time avoided this issue consciously or unconsciously. Meanwhile, it also reflected that while facing topics on relationship between art and social historical condition, many critics had not yet fully mastered the method of micro-analysis.
As a response of theory to creation, “new literati paintings” was filled with much more stronger theoretical colors compared with “neo-academism”. However, there is a long distance between this theory, similar to its practice, and trend of Chinese contemporary social art. Compared with “neo-academism”, common place in background with “new literati painting” is that they are both artistic phenomenon gained social attention after new wave art in 1989. And before this, people have proposed this slogan, and held exhibitions under the title of “New Literati Painting (xin wenren hua)”. Differences are, firstly, Chinese painting stays in a very unique position in the trend of Chinese contemporary art. Heavy historical burden and strict procedure are great limits while it tries to transfer contemporary consciousness and refer to western modern art. However, these two points has just consisted the main sight of Chinese contemporary art. Therefore, reformation and innovation of Chinese painting and introduction of western oil paintings are not at the same starting line. Ink and wash painting basically evolved in its own inner system, this evolution seems to be much milder and slower than that of oil painting. After “Chinese Painting comes to its death end” (zhongguohua qiongtumolu) was proposed by Li Xiaoshan, a group of young painters were obviously searching for a way out for Chinese painting. To some certain sense, “new literati painting” is a new wave art inside the field of Chinese painting. If there was no new wave art, there would be no “new literati painting”. But it was a movement in its own system. The ebbing of new wave art enabled it to “emerge” on the contrary. Secondly, Chinese painting has a rich traditional foundation in aspects of practices and theories. The basic form of “new literati painting” did not surpass the range of traditional Chinese painting. Therefore, the traditional theory of Chinese painting became a main theoretical reference of criticism on “new literati painting”. It is quite different from the criticism of new wave art which mainly referred to theories of western modernism and modern life.
Intense discussion was made in Issue 5 “Jiangsu Art Monthly” in 1990 on “New Literati Painting”, with majority of these articles centered on the criticisms around the concept of “New Literati Painting”, without much involvement on the historical chance for “New Literati Painting” and its basic feature in form. In the minds of many critics, as long as it comes to ink and wash, they must mention the ancient and get to the root, which has formed a major feature of Chinese painting criticism. Many articles discussing “New Literati Painting” has demonstrated the lineage of literati painting, and thereby questioned the concept of “New Literati Painting”, such as it was stated in Ding Xiyuan’s article “Literary • People • Painting and New (wen, ren, hua yu xin)” that: “Literati painting is a long and historical developing process, literati painting kept being updated and advanced to new levels all through the more than 1000 year history. Literati Painting is per se not a genre, a painting school, or a style. Thus, if we pretend to be ancient, and propose a concept like ‘New Literati Painting’ or ‘New Literati Painting School’, this will show our ‘superficiality’.” Xu Jianrong’s “Historical Investigation of New Literati Painting” was also a historical observation on the concept of Literati Painting, but he put “New Literati Painting” into a historical link, and believed that “New Literati Painting rising currently marks the fourth period in the developing history of Literati Painting.” Starting from a cultural level, he culturally stipulated the phenomenon of “New Literati Painting”, and represented a relatively profound insight: “As long as culture covers economy, politics, religion and others are still impeding the realization of the inherent natures of people as an external force, , then, ‘Literati’ would never be a noun term of the ‘Past’, but rather always exist as the very realistic intelligentsia; and as long as literati exists, then, there is bound to be Literati Painting, or other special artistic forms which are similar to Literati Painting, for balancing the conflicts between people’s inner nature and the social and cultural order.” According to Xu Jianrong’s idea, the cultural value of “New Literati Painting” is greater than its artistic value, but he used the concept of “Literati” to define “New Literati Painting”, and denied the consciousness of participation and criticism of Literati Painting in contemporary art, so he may not be able to reflect the reality of “New Literati Painting”. Dinning’s view was on contrary to this, he believed that “there is no other kind of art which experienced much more of the era and cultural challenges than Chinese painting. In today’s artistic structure, the cultural strategetic decision faced by Chinese painting is becoming more and more urgent. The extraordinary point in ‘New Literati Painting’ is that it would rather substitute the group power for the individual effect of becoming famous.” “Why ‘New Literati Painting’ implies a high degree of possibility to be commented, is that it is an inextricably cultural complex, and through such a complex, people can see all the complicated aspects in contemporary art.” This assessment is obviously too high.
Criticism on Neo-Academic School and New Literati Painting lacked intensity, and the reason of it might be that these phenomena can not constitute the center of Chinese contemporary culture, and it also reflected the weakness in art creations in recent years, which had caused the absence of most important support in criticism.
In general, the dynamic extent of art criticism in recent years is far less than that in late 1980s, as to the reason of this situation, in addition to the changes of objective environment and mediocrity of fine art creation, it is also related to the fact that a large number of accomplished youth critics go overseas as well as to the impact of the art market. However, criticism is still on its way to be mature and more professional. A group of younger critics start to appear, meanwhile, through the arduous effort of critics, artists are also beginning to recognize the role of criticism, and have made more consensus and understanding with critics, the virtuous cycle of criticism and creation starts to appear, which was always longed by people. The development of era and the construction of culture proposed more requirements on artistic criticism—to bring about great critics like bringing about great artists would be the real maturity of the criticism. It seems that we still have a long way to go to achieve this goal.
This post is also available in: Chinese (Simplified)