Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Yun Gee in China Monthly

China Monthly
February 1948

The Chinese Artist and the World of Tomorrow
By Yun Gee

The art of a nation must necessarily be based on three principles. First, the creator of that art, the artist, must choose, from tradition, the highest aesthetic standards and must interpret them in the best sense; that is, in the attainment of the highest art. Second, he must examine all sides, races, nations, regions, etc., and draw from them reason, understanding and truth. He must, so to speak, bind them together, remove what is undesirable, and mesh them into a successful whole by means of subconscious or intuitive creative power. Third, he must form his art into an aesthetic, spiritual unity so that nothing interrupts the rhythm and inspiration of that truth. Through scientific improvement he will absorb the Western influence, but racial characteristics will remain forever. In accordance with the above principles, we must introduce the Chinese metaphysical character to the whole universe, so that all will understand the reason and truth our past offers. It is up to the artist either to help interpret this national heritage, or to isolate himself in an ivory tower.

From ancient times until now there have been only two schools in art: One art, for art’s sake; the other, art for the public’s sake. It is up to the artist to choose the one best suited to himself.

Of the first school we find the leading exponents to be Kant, Goethe, Schopenauer and the other philosophers who recognized the absolute spirit and who deemed that art, religion and philosophy are holy. For through human expression, the deep interest, mysterious importance and unlimited truth of art, the artist, like a leader of birds, might lead people to the true universe, past many oceans of suffering.

On the other hand, those who believe in art for the public’s sake, with Tolstoi as a leading exponent, regard it as the artist’s duty to use art as an educational means. The value of art is judged by this school, according to the degree of mass understanding and popular appreciation of art, in the interest of simplicity and publicity.

The first school disregards imitation and is interested in the expression of personality; the latter school looks down on personality and is interested in popularity. The first school regards absolute art as the highest, and its form must express individual truth. This is similar to Lao Tsz’s aesthetic truth, “What everyone knows as beautiful, must be ugly.” (The American version: “Every eye forms its own beauty.”) This school is interested in religion and in conscience, for each advocate is himself a subjective creature. The first school expresses subconscious beauty and the latter displays popular public consciousness. But these two schools are not sufficient for Western society , unless combined with modern science. One school conflicts with the other, and thus shows the attempts at social improvement.

Today we have Scientific Theory, Classicists, Realism, Romanticism, Dadaism, Naturalism, Impressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Fauvism and Expressionism, in contrast with Idealism. The artist who completely understands all these trends, will surely arrive at the ultimate goal, during this period of resistance and reconstruction.

The school of art for the public’s sake is against personality and tries to create subjective forms and this is not applicable to the art of China. The quality of art in China from the Sung Dynasty up to the present period, has been very poor. A particularly weak period has existed since the Manchu Dynasty, as the interest has been centered in “Ink Amusement.” It denotes a lack of appreciation of aesthetics and encourages the people to be blind and exist only in the material life. That is the difference between the Han and Sung Dynasties, “Spirit of Six techniques,” consciousness and the sincerity of action.

Somehow we can never forget this—the greatest offering of Chinese aesthetics to the universe. After all, China has had the utmost creative success in the principles of both art for art’s sake and art for the public’s sake. The experience of these, principles hangs like ready ripened fruit particularly with our character of the Confucian Middle-ism culture, which is an interest in beauty and goodness resting in one place.

Confucious once went to the Chin Palace and saw the brilliant court with its huge doors and murals painted with portraits of Emperor Yu and Emperor Shu and the Emperors Gan and Kou, which all showed various traits of good or evil, their peacefulness or their aggressiveness. There were also murals on which were painted the Premier Chiu Kan and the Premier of Emperor Shin, holding their official standards and attired in their glorious robes. And Confucius looking at all these, said to his disciples: “Behold, that is why the Chin Dynasty is great and powerful.” The brilliant magnifying crystal makes you analyze the form of things. Showing you the past makes you understand the present.

Besides the aesthetic spirit, what can we do to improve the art with scientific knowledge? The great masters of the Western world. Tiotto in the 13th century and Titian in the 15th century, used tempera in their works, like the great Chinese master Kou K’ai Toh; a technique which still prevails. Chinese landscapes, which were satisfactory in this composition with its sensitivity of depth, would be improved, by the substitution of oil on canvas, as done by the Western artist. This medium, with its everlasting qualities, has the possibilities of giving to a new art a new sap, helping it to retain all its racial character, if not its primitive force. In this medium the Chinese contemporary art, oil paint on prime canvas, would be displayed in the leading art galleries of the world.

We have the examples of Leonardo Da Vinci with his scientific inventions and with the application of certain of their principles to painting. He said, “The whole heart of art makes your heart like a brilliant glass to show every color and every action and yet remain yourself.” We must make art become of real value and be in step with Dr. Sun’s Three Principles. Therefore we need a new aesthetic form to become universal. Is this not what Dr. Sun said. “To save the world with art?”

In conclusion I wish to introduce to my readers my theory of Diamondism, which Pierre Mille claims serves as an “Agent de Liaison” between East and West.

Diamondism in Art

Diamondism fulfills all the requirements of a good picture. Let us examine what may be called the nine imponderables of painting, one by one, classifying them into three groups.

1. Physical. a—Color; b—Form; c—Light.
2. Celebral. a—Times (period); b—Moral (philosophy and politics); c—Purpose.
3. Psychological. a—Mood; b—Desires, dislikes; c—Observation.

These nine factors inevitably influence the creative process. Some schools have deliberately ignored their presence, but they were there nevertheless. Various schools of painting can be easily classified and explained when identified with any one of these factors:

Latin, color; Northern, form; impressionist, mood; Surrealist, desires, dislikes; etc., etc.

Painting tries to find an adequate expression of its time. It endeavors to portray what things people look at and how they look at them.

Modern civilization forces people to make the most of everything: love, work, entertainment. We look for the highly concentrated essence. We want everything bottled up, labelled ready for immediate use. That goes for material as well as abstract matters. We want the red-hot inside information, the lowdown on life in the 20th century.

Empress Yang Kwei-fei at Bath. By Yun Gee

Thus Diamondism in painting is the supreme “inside information” about objects reproduced. It is the real spirit of this century.

The diamond acts as a prism, a “one-way” glass. It is nothing but a medium; not a cause or power. It is up to the artist to use it. Up to the spectator as well.

When a picture is being painted, the diamond assures that all nine basic factors are represented. The artist turns the diamond so that all creative forces, which ofter paralyze themselves, are transposed into one wave length: The creative power.

As for the spectator, he does the contrary—turns the diamond backwards to detect all the nine factors separately.

Cubism sought to give inside information, too. Why was it a failure? Because it did not tune in all the factors. It proceeded to slice up the objects. In the end things did not look as they really are. Nobody

We despise those horrible electrics which tried to be like horse carriages. We like a clock of glass that shows the mechanism, but still it must look like a clock and tell time at first glance.

Diamondism, in fact, is comparable in painting to the famous “Man of Glass” at the 1937 World’s Fair in Paris. Everybody recognizes the shape of a human body; still it does not resemble any human you know. It shows the inside of man without being ugly or unrecognizable. That is Diamondism in Painting.

(This essay was based on several shorter essays, some of them appear in Yun Gee Poetry Writings, Art Memories (2003).)

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