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Reconstruting "Visual Code"

  

The emergence and eventual acceptance of new meticulous brush painting have not been accidental, but the necessary result of the transformation of Chinese painting. As we all know, the 20th century has been a period when traditional Chinese painting has been forced to change. In the tide of western culture, it has become the goal of the modernization of Chinese painting to replace the linguistic aesthetic of Chinese painting by realistic forms. However, such a change has not brought nice surprises for Chinese painting, but has been largely debated because it lost the poetry of detachedment. After the cultural revolution, new academic painters have started to reflect about this phenomenon and tried to resort to tradition, forming the so-called "new literati painting". However, on the one hand, the disappearance of traditional literati environment has failed such an attempt, which simply recreated classical forms with quick, humourous modern lyrics. On the other hand, promoters have not undertaken strict theoretical work. They merely gathered young painters of the academia and used one noun to include all kinds of works. Their efforts finally led to disorder and chaos. Of course, besides new literati painting, experiment ink painting and urban ink painting have been efforts and experiments of Chinese painters to break through. However, while some of them fell into the trap of formalism, others became direct depiction of urban sceneries which were very hard to penetrate, even unrelated with traditional resources. They ended up being orphans left by Chinese and Western visions. I have not made this judgement to deny entirely the role Chinese painting played during special periods, but to clarify the internal skeleton of the transformation of contemporary Chinese paintings, i.e. under what kind of clue did new meticulous brush painting change.

Compared with the former ones, the attitude of new meticulous brush painters toward China and the West has been more relaxed and free. They did not burden themselves with the responsibility of self-proof, nor did they follow others simply out of pressure. Yet they started with their own experiences and "reconstructed codes" of senses with related visual sources. Such "reconstruction" required a certain confidence in culture. Of course, the so-called confidence does not mean guarding tradition in an insular way, because such "confidence" is in fact "defidence" in culture, the result of which would block the advancement of traditional visual sources, not the initial start. Then, what is the representation of an open-minded confidence in these artists of meticulous brush painting? Through reading this book series we shall discover that they have adopted an open and tolerant attitude toward various visual experience, instead of a simplistic "yes" or "no". This allowed them to possess an active creative path, one that was not limited by a fixed idea about the past. They chose visual materials freely out of needs and reconstructed new sensual images. Therefore, their works seemed like a new comprehension and reconstruction of visual codes, infused with the artists' own understanding of those materials, making them integral constituents of the picture. What merits attention is that the artists' appropriation of these visual information is not a simple appropriation of the form, but a comprehensive understanding of the spiritual experience behind forms. Therefore, though their works were created out of the diversity of formal experiences, yet their representation had an anti-formalism pursuit. To be exact, their "reconstructing code" is making delicate formal feelings into the experience of private subjective ideas, hence reconstructing visual logic, construction and narrative modes. This method is a subjective stand that originates from current spiritual experience.

Because they have their own stand, their visual experiences about China and the West are not formal repetitions, but a spiritual transformation. They then seek their starting point out of complex visual images and create visual forms of pictures, revealing descriptions about human living experiences. Thus, they are more direct and contemporary than those new literati seeking the representation of modern emotions out of classical forms. Meanwhile, compared with experimental and urban ink painting artists who seek eastern values out of western visual logic, they demonstrate a natural connection with Chinese tradition. They are no orphans. Thus, new meticulous brush painting has demonstrated to us a new possibility, a direction for traditional Chinese painting to break through under contemporary context.

To certain extent, such a breakthrough is reflected on two aspects. On the one hand, traditional spiritual experience is emphasized on the linguistic aspect, instead of mere technical imitation. These works transform eastern painting language into a "distant" rational observation, conveying a spiritual connection with tradition through a tranquil and slow air. On the other hand, new meticulous brush painters have assumed the premise of contemporary stand as "sense reconstruction", transforming traditional nature-oriented observation into subjective ideas. Their descriptions of natural phenomenon are not lyrical self-indulgence, but a visual coding resulting from cognition. The internal logic of their images has the feature of anti-naturalism and is in accordance with the philosophical trend that values transforming ontological perception. Thus, from two clues, painters of new meticulous brush painting have completed the systematic construction of self and tradition. Based on this, they have completed their re-discovery of existing visual achievements, as well as reconstruction, so that they have synthesized the universal achievements of the current breakthrough of Chinese paintings.

Therefore, faced with works of new meticulous brush painting, we have found that traditional visual sources are no longer barriers on the road to modernization of Chinese paintings. On the contrary, while painters reconstructed visual codes, they have been given a chance to be re-discovered and reevaluated, so that they could become unique spiritual pattern for our living experiences and significant phenomenon for the self-discovery of Chinese culture. This is a cultural sovereignty western-styled arts find hard to possess, and significant factor for Chinese culture to rewrite itself in the cultural pattern of the world.

                                              

                                                                                                                                                                                    May, 21st, 2010