Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Maple Fights Her Art Teacher in Shanghai

My younger sister, Maple, who did not get a chance to go to college in her youth, is taking an art class in an adult school in Shanghai. It was a big decision for her, but she is enjoying it. One day last week she reproduced an oil painting as her homework and submitted it to her art teacher. At the point the following dialog took place:

Art Teacher: Where is the original from? That doesn't look like ours.
Maple: I bought it from a bookstore. Our school's oil painting selection is all bold strokes. I prefer the fine, smooth, classic kind.
Art Teacher: There are many in that style, why did you single out Pan's?
Maple: Is he not good? I felt his Chinese landscape paintings intimate, pretty and realistic.
A Classmate: I, too, think he's good.
Art Teacher: His work indeed sells well. But his taste is a bit low.
Maple: (smile) Then my taste is low as well. Does your low opinion come from his high market value?
Art Teacher: Not that. There are high sales with high taste. Like Chen Yifei.
Maple: Could you teach me how to tell whether a painting has high or low taste?
Art Teacher: That is a complex issue. For instance Pan likes to paint beauties, make you feel that…something.
Maple: Didn't Chen Yifei often paint beauties too? Is it because Chen is famous, a so-called "great master," that your assessment is different?
Art Teacher: It is different. Look at it as you would a portrait, Chen uses much more refined composition and color, while Pan always likes bright, cheerful colors, catering to the market's popular flavor.
Maple: Speaking of color, I rather like bright and simple primary colors, or secondary colors. Didn't Van Gogh and Gauguin both like bright cheerful colors? Who would say they have low tastes?
Art Teacher: That's because they played the refined for too long and got tired of it. You as a beginner should practice more with the greyer tone of composite colors. That's the right thing to do.
Maple: Exactly because I'm a beginner, I have no idea where to start my brush with the gloomy complex colors. I also love Cezanne and Levitan, but their works can only be enjoyed but not copied. That is an artistic mood, I just can't copy.
Art Teacher: You are not old, how can you be so obstinate? You’ve seen lots of paintings have you.
Maple: I'm a lot older than you are. Even if I don’t eat pork, it doesn't mean I haven't seen pigs running.
Art Teacher: (laugh) Your temper does suit an artist. Do you know about He Duoling and Zhou Chunya in your Sichuan?
Maple: Heard some.
Art Teacher: Do you like their works?
Maple: I liked He Duoling's early works. His new works I can't comprehend. The infants floating in the air? Don't know what it means.
Art Teacher: Then you must like his "Spring Breeze Has Awoken"? That's too old fashioned clodhopper. Changing means making progress. Some modern works, you have to use more brain to be able to understand.
Maple: I can understand Dali, looking at his works is like looking at nightmares. But some works of so-called post-modernism or surrealism are so hard to understand, like emperor's new clothes, still you don't dare to say you don't understand.
Art Teacher: (laugh) You saw my works in my studio, do you think they are good?
Maple: You are my teacher, of course I don't dare to say they are not good. But I didn't understand them.
Classmate: I didn't either.
Art Teacher: How depressing!
Maple: (laugh) If your goal is to have nobody understand them, so they are no longer clodhopper, and that means success, then you have already succeeded!
Art Teacher: Did you go see the galleries on Moganshan Road? You must like them?
Maple: Those are commercial goods, not art. No point to say I like them or not.
Art Teacher: Goods and art shouldn't have strict boundaries, don't you think? I sell my paintings too, but I invest lots of emotions in my work. Even artists have to eat rice. Maybe you are too rich so you talk like this?
Classmate: This I agree. You must have lots of money to talk like this.
Maple: I thought real artwork is for collecting? This is a confusing topic. Lets stop here. Would you like a cup of coffee?
Art Teacher: I especially dislike coffee; it is bitterer than Chinese herb medicine.
Maple: Your taste is a bit low.
Art Teacher: (laugh loudly) Revenge comes real quick!


bevjackson said...

This is amusing, but I would tell your sister not to worry too much about "judging" high and low art at this point. Her teacher's job is to teach her what she knows, but that is going to be limited and filtered like any other person. One must only use what is usable in a teacher, and toss the rest away. Taste is, of course, a very personal matter. What a silly woman the teacher appears to be. And your sister seems to have a mind of her own, so no risk there!

Xujun Eberlein said...

You make very good sense, Bev. Thanks. I'll tell my sister what you said. BTW, the art teacher is a man in his thirties.

Anonymous said...

We all have very different tastes on things and people, especially on art. Nobody is definitely right. Yet, we are all critics and defends whatever we deem as right. It really doesn't matter who's won the arguement there between Maple and her teacher. She eventually will leave and paint her own paintings, and the teacher will surely have more arguments like that.