Thursday, June 07, 2007

Digging up the Graveyard

I've been itching to dish out a spoonful of constructive criticism ever since Barbara Pollack came in to share her, err, knowledge with us mere mortal students. My takeaway message from her is actually useful - even though she merely stumbled onto this particular piece of wisdom. It definitely wasn't uncovered by deep and serious study. After all, Ms. Pollack prides herself on being completely ignorant of contemporary Chinese history. My cynical side always knew deep down that it would be a Starbucks wielding westerner that would know the most about a culture and language she can't even speak. And an art series that she can't even begin to place in a historical context.

Oops, did that come out too harsh? It's probably just interference from my 'lazy American work ethic'. *ahem*

So what is that takeaway message? Derivative work can have a life and value of its own. I think this is important because it should remind everyone that all work is inherently derivative of other work to some extent. The aesthetic imperative of art in general will necessitate some degree of originality so as to claim your attention even if the work is largely derivative. At least that's how I see it.

What I think Ms. Pollack completely failed to comprehend is a way to place Chinese derivation in a historical context and I will gladly attempt to do so now. Confucius' Analects essentially say (and I'm paraphrasing here) that any work done by a master in the past should be considered to be perfect and can only change in reinterpretation. Hmm, lets put our thinking caps on. This isn't exactly a radical concept. Respect the masters of the past and attempt to append their works rather than replace them altogether. That is the key and that is what I believe that Ms. Pollack completely and utterly failed to realize in her shallow assessment of why Chinese works are inherently derivative. She made a poor attempt to prove that contemporary Chinese artists have transcended their past influences into new categorization altogether. Personally I have yet to decide, but I do know that the culturally dominant voice in Chinese society would encourage a Chinese artist to continually refer to works from the past not as a way of copying, but as a way of studying in its own way. And in this fashion I don't see how they are any better or worse than any other nationality of artist. Everyone emulates their influences, this phenomenon is nothing new and nor will it ever be new.

I guess it must be refreshing to get out of Long Island once in a while. Even if it's only to go to a very distant Starbucks.

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