My days are filled with English Literature, and the more I know about it, the more contradictory I feel. On the one hand, it's nice to know stuff. Knowledge stuff. On the other hand, I could care less. I've never been into what other people have created--it's just not who I am. Less so am I interested in the written word, understanding the written word in a particular way. But I persist still filling my mind with what soon will be forgotten, I hope.
Recently I visited a friend's studio, and before getting there was diverted to another artist's studio where I found two types of paintings: medium sized landscape paintings, completed out of doors, expressive and strangely hinting at neo-classicism, particularly the works of Fragonard, yes, haunting in that way that all of those fru-fru paintings seem to be, but not haunting in any describable way. Haunting, perhaps, like clowns at a circus.
The other paintings were large mixed media works consisting of old Qing books, or copies of, taken apart and pasted down and then painted over with glazes. And then some period figures on top of that, or old Chongqing houses hanging on the sides of cliffs. The atmosphere in this one studio was schizophrenic.
So I asked the artist, "If suddenly someone came in and told you that you must burn one series or the other, which would you burn?" He looked confused and said that was impossible. I said, "I'm just saying, 'What if'." Well, he continued, nobody could do that. Well, lets say there was some movement (China's history is full of them) and suddenly some authority ordered you to make this decision.
Now, the question should never have been this hard, this confusing. I immediately regretted having proposed such a thing and began to get a bit unnerved at his seemingly belligerent refusal to take it on. My wife butted in and said, "He means hypothetically speaking." Didn't help much. So then I suggested that what he was saying is that under no circumstances would he choose, but would jump off the bridge into the Jialing River before burning any of his work.
He then started a rambling soliloquy about how he was a man of freedom. Truly it seemed an act, a facade, unchallengable at any rate. He would do what he wanted to do at any given moment and so had no problem painting these two very different kinds of works, nor did I, but wanted only to know which was closest to his heart, a question he was unable to address. Or, he was taking the defensive figuring i was up to no good asking him such a sudden, strange question.
On the way out I spied a painting in the corner behind several canvases and half of the opened double doors that had brought us into this uncomfortable meeting.
"Oh, that's nice," I said.
"Yeah. This is a strong piece," my wife agreed.
"Oh," said the man with a chuckle. "But there's no market for this type of work. People want something more delicate, more refined."
That free I thought.
But this is everywhere here. Nobody paints freely. Nobody gives that much consideration to their inner feelings. There is always some ulterior motive to creative effort. And economics might in many cases play into this. In this case, and in the case of my neighbor who seems to think nothing more than how he can score in the circles of culture while at the same time beating his chest in agony, wanting to be a free artist--both of these men have retired early. That is to say that people who don't have money already, simply don't begin to paint. So, in my mind there is nothing to keep them from just doing whatever comes natural. For example that painting behind the door that is no longer pursued because there is no market.
I would think more about his or roll my eyes more or be frustrated more, if it really mattered. But it doesn't. I know that China never had an Enlightenment or a Romantic Period. Nor have they discovered their form of Anglo-modernism, for better or worse. So expecting great value to be placed on the inner womb is wrong. Let them place their value where they want to place it.