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发布者: 书法在线 | 发布时间: 2005-4-29 00:59| 查看数: 8425| 评论数: 39|帖子模式


                    苏立文(Michael Sullivan ):百年中国画坛与画家

Michael Sullivan
  Beida  talk

          I should like to tell you that I am very conscious  of what an honour it is  to be invited to speak at your great university, and to express my warmest thanks to Professor Liu Zhengcheng and you all for your hospitality.
           I have been asked to talk about my book Art and Artists of Twentieth Century China, which was published by the University of California Press in 1996.  I should like to try to answer the following questions: 1) how did I come to write this book? 2) What particular problems or challenges did I face along the way? And 3) If I were writing it today, would I write it differently?
          My first contact with China began exactly sixty-five years ago I arrived in Kunming  in April, 1940, and spent the next two and a half years working for the International and later the Chinese Red Cross based in Guiyang. I drove a truck carrying medical supplies to hospitals in what was then called “Free China”. During these years I saw nothing of Chinese art and met no artists or writers at all.  I was utterly ignorant of Chinese culture.  But  in 1942 a young Chinese bacteriologist from Xiamen who was working at Red Cross Headquarters, Wu Baohuan, received a letter from Cheng Te-k’un,  a Yenjing and Harvard-trained archaeologist who was running the Museum at West China Union University, Huaxidaxue, in Chengdu. He was looking for an assistant who knew English; was she interested? She told him that was not a job for her, and passed his letter to me. So it came about that I went to Chengdu, joined the Museum staff, and did some teaching as well. Khoan, came with me, and went to work in the Xibei Fangyi Chu. A few months later we were married, and Khoan gave up a promising career in science to help me with my work in art history.But before she met me, she had met Xu Beihong in Chongqing, and Lu Sibai had given hr  a sketch that he had made of the ruins of bombed Chongqing..
          In Chengdu we came to know a number of artists who had left the comfort of the coastal cities and joined the wartime migration to the West,  among them Pang Xunqin and his wife Qiu Ti, Wu Zuoren, Zhang Anzhi, Ding Cong, Yu Feng, Guan Shanyue and the sculptor Liu Kaiqu..  Pang Xunqin became a close friend, and we knew his daughter Pang Tao as a little girl. Pang Xunqin told me about his life as  a student in Paris, and about the modern movement of the 20s and 30s, about the early stages of the Woodcut Movement, the key role played by Lu Xun, and about the Quelanshe, of which he was a founding member. I learned an enormous amount from him. In 1944 he and his friends established  the Xiandai Meishuhui, The Modern Art Society, which was closed down by the Guomindang authorities because they showed Ding Cong’s satirical scroll, the Xianxiangtu, exposing the corruption of the Guomindang  regime. We hid it in our house for a while, and it was eventually taken to America.
          By the Spring of 1946 the artists, teachers and students who had been dreaming of returning home  began to pack up and make the long and dangerous journey back to the |Coast. When I said goodbye to Pang Xunqin in Chongqing, he thrust into my hands a volume to designs for textile, lacquer ware, porcelain, carpets etc that he had been  working on, and asked me if I could find a publisher for it in England. I never succeeded, but kept the album, and thirty-five years later was able to restore it to his hands in Beijing, where it was later published.
I arrived with Khoan  in England in the summer of 1946, carrying a suitcase full of notes on modern Chinese art, the fruits of my conversations with Pang and others in Chengdu,  which I hoped to use as the material for a book. The suitcase was stolen, and I had to begin again. I wrote to Pang, now in Shanghai and he circulated a letter to his friends telling them about my interest and asking them to send me any information and photographs they could manage.  But 1947 was a bad time, inflation was soaring, civil war breaking out, the artists were desperately poor, all their dreams of peaceful reconstruction shattered. But Pang’s letter produced one astonishing result. One day in 1948 there arrived at our London address a little airmail letter from Shanghai, in which,  folded up verysmall, was this painting, sent me by Huang Binhong – whom I had never met. It became  one of the treasures of our small collection.
Although I lost touch with my Chinese artist friends after Liberation in 1949, I felt I had sufficient material to publish, ten years later, Chinese Art in the Twentieth Century, which remained for some years the only Western-language survey of the subject.
          During the 1950s, 1960s  and 1970s there was little interest in the West in modern Chinese art. The new art of the Mao era was seen as crude propaganda, most guohua as a  survival of a dying tradition, and the efforts of artists such as Fu Baoshi and Pu Quan to adjust their art to the requirements of the new regime were seen as awkward or insincere. Practically no contemporary Chinese paintings reached America, which had imposed an embargo on the import on anything from Communist China. In Europe a handful of collectors acquired modern guohua, notably Charles Drenowatz in Zürich, Franco Vannotti  in Lugano and Arno Schűller in Prague, while a small collection was brought to the Musée Cernuschi in Paris by Vadime Eliuseef,  but there was no attempt to see modern Chinese art as a whole. I believe that Western interest in contemporary Chinese art was aroused, not by what was happening in China, but by the new art movements in Hong Kong and Taiwan that were partly inspired by the Abstract Expressionism of the New York School – notably the Fifth Moon Group in Taipei led by Liu Guosong,  and the Indao and Circle groups in Hong Kong., of whom the leading sprit was Lu Shoukun. Now Westerners , seeing something they could relate to, began to collect; galleries were opened in Hong Kong, Taiwan,  Europe and America, and the exhibitions and catalogues began to multiply. But  (apart from my own book) it was not until the 1970s that modern Chinese art began to be seriously considered in the West as a respectable subject of academic study. In 1972 Dr. Gao Meiqing completed at Stanford University the first doctoral thesis in this area,  in which she covered  the developments of the early twentieth century.  And now the books began to appear. It is not surprising that those produced by Western – and chiefly American – scholars in the ‘eighties and early ‘nineties dealt with art in its Communist context, for  example: Arnold Chang’s Painting in the People’s Republic of China: The Politics of Style (1980); Ellen Laing’s The Winking Owl; Art in the People’s Republic of China(1988);  Jerome Silbergeld’s Contradictions: Artistic Life, The Socialist State, and the Chinese Painter Li Huasheng (1993), and Julia Andrews’ Painting and Politics in the People’s Republic of China (1994).
          In 1984 I had given the Slade lectures at Cambridge University on aspects of Chinese art that had hitherto attracted little attention in the West – namely the social, economic and broadly cultural environment in which works of art were produced in traditional China. – an  approach which has since become fashionable – perhaps too fashionable – in current Western scholarship.. My venture into this field was premature, and not a success: the audience wanted to look at masterpieces of Chinese art, they were not yet knowledgeable enough to consider the economics of it – but I spent some time turning the lectures into a book, before I realised that, with my background and experience, there was  something I could do which other Western scholars such as those I mentioned could not – and that was to look over almost the whole of the twentieth century of Chinese art and present a picture of it that would be illuminating to the general reader in the West.
          So, around 1990, I began to put the book together. My wife Khoan and I had made several trips to China, and I felt I was beginning to get a broader understanding of what had happened in China in recent decades. An almost fatal illness in 1993 set the work back by two years, but I was able to finish the book, which was published by the University of California Press in 1996.
In the meantime our small collection of modern Chinese paintings had been growing. Five years at the University in Singapore had brought us in touch with the Chinese Artists there, notably Zhong Sibin, who painted this beautiful portrait of Khoan. In 1960 we had inherited the better part of a collection formed by Geoffrey Hedley, who had been British Council cultural officer in China, and had taken in Beijing this famous photograph of Qui Baishi, Xu Beihong, Wu Zuoren and Li Hua.
Our bequest from Hedley included works by Qi Baishi, Fu Baoshi. and Lin Fengmian, and an important group of woodcuts, chiefly by Huang Yongyu, done in 1947.
       .  Over the next forty years  the the number of our artist friends has grown and grown. Here are some of them, whose names will be familiar to most of you. (14 slides)
And as our friendships grew, so did our collection. These are some of the works that were given to us by the artist.  (13 slides)
It was never our intention to be collectors, but friends said we were, and we have bought a few works to make the collection more widely representative, for example (5 slides)  
   The effect of the generosity of these artists, and of the warmth of their friendship, was that  when I c ame to write Art and Artists of Twentieth Century China, the book inevitably took on a rather personal tone. I ended it by looking briefly back over some of the issues and crises that have affected Chinese art in the twentieth century:  for example, the growing awareness after 1900 that the great tradition had become largely static and that something urgent must be done to revive it; the intense debate between the conservatives, the reformers, and the revolutionaries; the story of the creation of the art schools and museums; the birth of the idea –shocking in traditional China – that art was a world language that obliterates all cultural frontiers; the concept of art as a social activity and an instrument of reform and revolution; the undermining of the idea of fine art as the prerogative of an élite; the struggle to understand,  absorb, and adapt a plethora of styles and traditions that had evolved historically in the West and all arrived in China at the same time; and, not least, the existence from mid-century, of  a cultural dictatorship that made the free exploration of these ideas, issues and institutions virtually impossible.
          What sort of problems and challenges did I face along the way? Nineteen seventy-nine is rightly considered a key date in modern Chinese cultural history. It was the year in which the last of the Rightists were cleared, and for those who survived it, the long disturbed sleep of the past thirty years was over, and the awakening had begun. The next ten years were perhaps the most exciting and creative in modern Chinese art, for the creative energy of the time was in constant conflict with the controls and stresses built into the system. The doors were opening to the West, and to China’s own past, and there was a feeling of optimism and hope,  as men and women dreamed of the year two thousand, and a sense of innocence not yet clouded by the rampant commercialism that has characterises today’s art in China – as it does much of the art of the West.  
          But the problem that confronted me was, as I wrote in the Preface, that “even as this book goes to press a flood of new material is appearing in China. Soon that point will be reached when no serious scholars will be prepared to risk their reputation on writing a general survey of modern Chinese art, not because there is too little material but because there is too much. In the meantime, I offer this book, not as a definitive study,  but as the personal view of an observer over fifty years”. To take just one example of the kind of material that has recently become available to scholars:  the fascinating, cosmopolitan cultural world of Shanghai in the 1920s and 1930s, which was forbidden territory in the era of Mao Zedong, when heavy emphasis was put on the revolutionary movements,   is now being explored through  examination of a host of almost forgotten journals and other writings that appeared in those years, and it is atl last receiving the attention it deserves. This was just beginning when I wrote my book.
          The book was on the whole well received by the Western readers it was intended for, partly perhaps because, apart from my own early book of 1959, it was the only one that attempted to see the picture whole – unlike the other books I mentioned which dealt with specific aspects of it. That was its strength. What were its weaknesses? .  
.          First and foremost, I am not Chinese. Inevitably, I see Chinese art and culture with Western eyes. If this is an expression of the “Orientalism” castigated by Edward Said as the condescending, superior Western attitude to Eastern cultures,  I would say that the Chinese are often just as prejudiced in their view of the culture of the Outer Barbarians. Is it not just as natural for Chinese to look at Western art and culture from a Chinese point of view? That is not a profitable line to pursue.
          More serious, and less excusable, is  the fact that there is a lot that I simply do not know. I do not read Chinese as easily as I should, and mastery of the language is now essential for dealing with a subject such as the history of Chinese art, especially in communicating with artists. If I were not nearing the end of my life, I would take two years, come to China and immerse myself in the language. But if, in spite of that, I have a deeper understanding of some aspects of the subject than some other Western writers, that is because I married a girl from Xiamen who, although, trained as a scientist, worked with me all her life and opened doors to me who would otherwise always have been a stranger.  Readers of my books will remember how many of them are dedicated to Khoan, and will understand why.
         As regards the scope of the book, I had to face the question: what is Chinese art? Is it ink painting. or  art done in a recognizable Chinese style, or is it art produced by Chinese, in whatever style or medium?  We are all familiar with this question; posed when people say that an oil painting is not ‘Chinese art’.  But that problem is easily disposed of, for Chinese artists in the twentieth century worked in a variety of styles and media, choosing what suited them best. If they expressed Chinese thoughts and feelings,  in whatever style or technique, their work was Chinese. Whether their art was ‘Chinese’ or ‘Western’ is no longer an issue.
          Should I include Chinese artists who lived and worked abroad? If they were trained in China –artists such as Zhao Wuji, for example, I have included them, even though they made their reputation in the West.  But I did not include the Xiamen-born painter Zhou Jianxu (Chiu Tenghiok) who was trained in England and spent his working life in America; still less did I  include Dong Kingman (Zeng Jingwen), born and bred in America who was an American painter in all but name. Otherwise, the field was wide open.   
         The choice of illustrations posed another challenge.  For the finest modern paintings, in terms of sheer quality, were often not by oil painters but  by masters working in a  purely traditional style – by artists such as Jin Cheng, Wu Hufan, Xie Zhiliu, Pan Tianshou, for example.  To the extent that these works represented a reassertion of traditional values in the face of the threat of Western art, they were historically significant, and I hope I did them justice. I wrote in the Foreword, “If this were a book about masters and masterpieces, it would be illustrated mostly with examples of guohua, for  even the least original of them is technically accomplished and pleasing to the eye. Some of the pictures in this book are major works by any standard. But I have chosen others not so much for aesthetic reasons as for the circumstances of their making, and for what they illustrate of an historical process unfolding. Here the experience of the artist in an age of crisis and the part he or she played in the drama of rejection, synthesis and self-discovery are often at least as interesting and important as the works of art they produced”.
          A book that embraces the art of a century of a major civilisation is bound to be somewhat superficial. Themes which have been the subject of volumes – Peasant Art, the Woodcut Movement, the art of Hong Kong and of Taiwan, for example, are each given one chapter. But this is inevitable in a survey, and I can only hope I got the balance right.
          Although, as I suggested, the book was on  the whole well received, there were some criticisms by Western reviewers. One, by Francesca del Lago, was that I paid insufficient attention to the effects of politics on an art world that during a key period was almost entirely under the control, and patronage, of the Communist Party. But I had two reasons for not stressing that aspect of the subject. The first was purely personal:  I did not like that kind of art, and felt uneasy when I saw the efforts of major artists such as Li Keran, Fu Baoshi and Feng Zikai to adapt the style and content of their art to political requirements.  It lost all spontaneity, and became either bland or forced. Moreover, some of these artists were my friends, and I could sense the strain they were under.
     The second reason was that the political content of the art of the Mao period was being thoroughly explored by other writers – notably by Julie Andrews – so I felt free to handle modern Chinese art in a different way.
          Inevitably the book contains mistakes, and omissions... I should, for example,  have mentioned the popular cartoonist of the ‘thirties and ‘forties Huang Yao, I could have said more about the later history of Jiang Zhaohe’s Liu Min Tu. I understand now that more work by Li Shutong and Wu Dayu has survived that I was aware of when I wrote the book. Other questions I should have considered more. : Just how good a painter was Liu Haisu?  Have I correctly assessed the rôle of Zhou Enlai in relation to art and artists? Did I give a fair assessment of the Lingnan Pai? (I expect that some Cantonese don’t think so!). I am sure there are other errors,  questions, and loose ends, which I hope readers of the book will point out to me.
          My first book, of 1959, had included a Biographical Index of about 280 artists.
Over the years as my file grew I added more names and information, and the book of 1996 included a Biographical Index of some 880 names, with more substantial entries. In recent years the number of practising artists in China and abroad has vastly increased, and there was clearly a need, for Western students, scholars, collectors and museum staff, of a more comprehensive reference work. So I have recently finished – or rather stopped work on , for such a book can never be finished, -  a Biographical Dictionary of Modern Chinese Artists, which is now with the publishers, the University of California Press. It contains about eighteen hundred entries. In compiling it, I have had valuable help from several post-graduate students at Oxford one of whom, Josh Yiu, is here today. I need hardly say that my Dictionary  does not bear comparison with the reference works in Chinese, which contain thousands of names. I have confined my selection to those artists whose work is already known – or soon likely to be known – outside China.
          The story  told in  my  book of 1996 essentially ends in the early ‘nineties. The last work discussed – a satirical painting by Fang Lijun – was done in 1992. So it does not cover the  extraordinary events of the ‘nineties, the huge development of Installations, Conceptual Art, Body Art,  or the artists’ communities that  sprang up in Factory 798 and elsewhere in Beijing; nor does it deal with the profound changes in the climate of art from the optimism of the ‘eighties to the cynicism and commercialism of the ‘nineties and first years of this century.
          Had I taken the story up to the present, I would have  been faced with two challenges. The first was the sheer number of artists emerging  and the ever-increasing complexity of the art scene in China, which would have made any generalisations about the state of art very difficult.  
          The second is a problem which faces many people who have lived as long as I have: my inability, or reluctance, to come to terms with things that many of the younger generation accept without question, such as the more extreme manifestations of the Avant-Garde. We all know about the shock of the new.  That is in itself nothing new. Remember that Signac thought Matisse’s Joy of Life “disgusting”, and Matisse called Picasso’s Démoiselles d’Avignon “an outrage”. For even artists reject what they find unfamiliar.  But. as the American critic Leo Steinberg put it, “At the present rate of taste absorption, it takes about seven years for a young artist with  a streak of wildness to turn from an enfant terrible to an elder statesman – not so much because he changes, but because the challenge he throws to the public is so quickly met. So the shock value of any violently new contemporary art is quickly exhausted. Before long, the work looks familiar, then normal…. finally authoritative. All is well, you may say. Our initial judgement has been corrected. If we, or our forefathers, were wrong about Cubism, that is all changed now”.
           We must acknowledge that, as Steinberg reminds us, “it is in the nature of contemporary art to express all the stress, anxiety, tensions of the world, because art is supposed to be the mirror of life”. This is not the traditional Chinese view of the purpose of art, which is – with rare exceptions – to express a holistic sense of harmony. But it is the view that an increasing number of people, in China as in the West, have come to accept of the place of art in society.
..            When I finished my book in the early ‘nineties I was aware of the profound changes in the direction  in which Chinese art seemed to be heading.  “Late in the century” I wrote, “just when Western art seemed to have been successfully absorbed and traditional art reborn, there came from the West the wholly new question of the nature of art itself….”, making some repudiate  all that had been achieved since 1900. “At the time of writing” I went on, “it is too soon to say how far these new concepts of the nature and purpose of art will take root in China, or how enduring they will be. But that they will become a destabilising force is certain”.
Yet we must remember that the enduring values survive – above all in   calligraphy, an art of pure form, that expresses the very essence of Chinese spirit and sensibility. Indeed, it is the interaction of the Chinese aesthetic ideals, expressed through calligraphy and the art of the brush, with the plethora of media and techniques imported with the ‘International Style’ from the West, that makes modern Chinese art si uniquely vibrant and fascinating.
..   Finally, I have sometimes been asked: from what theoretical position have I approached the history of modern Chinese art.: is it Marxist or Maoist, Freudian or Jungian, Post-modern, Lacanian, or what?  I have no theory.  I believe with the deepest conviction that theories, far from revealing the truth, can even be a hindrance to the discovery of it.  Theories are  like succession of coloured filters that we hold up to reality – they enable us to see some things in a way we have not seen them before –and so they have their uses certainly -  but they obscure others, and make it impossible to see the picture whole,  as it really is. Since I do not have a theory – and would strongly advise budding art historians to keep theory firmly in its place, as an aid to the understanding of the history of ideas.  – what, you may ask, motivates my study?  I can only say that my motives are an intense curiosity, a longing to understand, and the application, as far as I am able to do so, of informed common sense.
April, 2005



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