Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Up Close and Curious

A warm and welcoming voice beckoned me in after I knocked lightly on the turquoise wooden door. As I opened the door, I caught eye of my interviewee and the desk he was sitting behind. After seating myself in the seat offered to me, I was able to see clearly the stacks of paper, books and photographs stacked on my interviewee’s desk. Amazement was my first impression. How could someone manage to have the room to write in such a chaotic sea of papers and books? Casting aside my bewildered admiration, I began my interview.

The person I interviewed is Professor Sun Naishu of ECNU. Professor Sun is the professor and vice president of the School of Art at ECNU. The primary courses that Professor Sun teaches are Research of Western Art History, Research of Chinese Art History and Selected Readings of Art History Masterpieces. His areas of research include Chinese art history, Western art history and art theory. Professor Sun has also published many books in recent years, of which include Chinese Traditional Art, Western Art and European Art Tour.

To start the interview off after exchanging pleasantries with Professor Sun, I asked my first question, “What do you think of Chinese contemporary art?” With a proud smile he answered me, “Chinese contemporary art is definitely lively. As with other aspects of China, there is a lot of Western influence in Chinese contemporary art. For a developing country like China, it is absorbing and learning what successful predecessors did and still does. China is trying to develop in the same successful direction; Chinese contemporary art is the same. China is no longer an isolated country. It is communicating with the world; through the economy, technology, and art.”

Professor Sun’s description left me fervently desiring to better understand the current conditions and characteristics of Chinese contemporary artists. As the professor has mentioned in his first reply, the rapid economic development in China is like a rock tossed into a placid river and causing the giant and frequent ripples to expand outward. Other aspects of Chinese society and culture are influenced by the economic growth and gradually become an influence of their own. Contemporary Chinese art is a perfect example.

Professor Sun explained that two primary factors influence Chinese contemporary art and Chinese contemporary artists. The two factors are money and passion. After China opened up for economic reform, many artists recognize the potential patronage from Western collectors or buyers and have produced art work with the desire to appeal to wealthy Westerners. “The auctions last year were especially good, this year the trend seems to be downhill.” Professor Sun replied as I inquired about the financial situation relevant to Chinese contemporary art. Not all Chinese contemporary artists are motivated by financial return for their art, they do it for passion. Professor Sun remarks that “These artists are very admirable. They observe foreign art and transform it into their own. Many artists that are not driven primarily by money are pioneers to explore modernity and philosophical questions through art. They are portraying the modern and sometimes the post-modern in their works.”

As Professor Sun mentioned, two characteristics of Chinese contemporary art are money and passion. Hopefully Chinese contemporary art can continue to develop and expand, ascending to new heights. But to do this, I believe that a balance between finance and creativity is reached so that artists can understand both perceptions—the financial perspective and the artistic perspective—and produce art that reflect the success of uniting money with passion. And after today’s interview, I believe that even I desperately desire for a successful future for Chinese contemporary art and that Professor Sun’s words could reach a wider audience and gain support.

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