Lydia Duanmu

You are an artist. You are open spiritually and have achieved all-round development in fields of painting, music, calligraphy, history, philosophy, literature, and etc. What is the source of your philosophy of an integrated world?

Yuan Daxi

It is rooted in the “spirit of scholar” of traditional Chinese culture. As early as 2,000 years ago, Confucianism (Ru), represented by Confucius, has required scholars to master six practical disciplines including Rites, Music, Archery, Charioteering, Calligraphy and Mathematics, which are called “Six Arts (liuyi).” The involvement of different disciplines means a qualified scholar must be equipped with all-round abilities and pursue superb thoughts. The requirement for comprehensive abilities and longing for high spiritual state have been a conscious pursuit of the self-cultivation of Chinese literati over thousand years. It is not difficult to observe how those top artists live up to this spirit in their creations via appreciating outstanding art works of different times, which from my point of view still has strong appeal and positive reference to us and our creations of arts in the 21st century.

Lydia Duanmu

There is a line between metaphysical and physical in the field of philosophy, and art works are different in terms of their states. How do you view the differences and line between these works?

Yuan Daxi

We can better understand this issue with music as an example. Once my friend asked me how to distinguish the states of a musician and a performer. I responded that there are five different states. The first one is performing, which means to blindly play to the audience. This is the lowest level. The second state is self-expressing that no longer focuses mainly on pandering to others. Rather, the stress is on one’s self. Of course, this is not a high level as well. The third state is expressing the music that is

oblivious of oneself and devoted to presenting the nature of music. Artists at this level can be regarded as masters. Last year, I listened to the Violin Recital by Itzhak Perlman at Shanghai Oriental Art Center. He was already in his 70s, sitting in a wheelchair, poker-faced without any body language and just concentrating completely on expressing music itself, which touched the audience deeply. Tears came out of many people’s eyes when he was playing the sonata by Richard Strauss. While coming to the fourth state, what is expressed is the pure and noble spirit of an artist. It can only be achieved when a person is highly cultured with pure heart to express the heart and soul. This is the level of great master. Indeed, there is a higher state since what the fourth level presents stays at the individual level whereas a higher one expresses a greater self, which is the emotion and heart shared by the entire humanity. This is the fifth state. For instance, it can be said that works of Bach and those of Beethoven in his later period are a display of the highest level of human civilization.

Different states of paintings and calligraphy works are like that of music. The lowest level refers to those that blindly pander to the audience. For example, Prosperous Peonies and portraits that are really true to life fall into this category. Then comes self-expressing works such as some abstract expressionist paintings. The third level means to take pure art form as the object to show. I think many impressionist works belong to this state as they merely manifest the id of colors and paintings. The fourth level is to express the heart and soul of the painter with Van Gogh as the most quintessential. The fifth state expresses the common heart and soul of the humanity including works like La Pietà by Michelangelo, The Last Supper by Leonardo da Vinci, landscape paintings by Dong Yuan, Juran and Fan Kuan during the Song and Yuan Dynasties, and Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountains by Huang Gongwang. These outstanding art works have achieved the state of unity of nature and man, so they can strike a responsive chord in all humanity.

Lydia Duanmu

It can be felt from your painting and calligraphy works that you pay much attention to meditation. What is the relation between meditation and your art life?

Yuan Daxi

Traditionally, Chinese scholars have been paying much attention to self-meditation, which is mainly reflected in daily life and happens to coincide with the “living Zen” and “Zen life” highlighted by the Chan sect. The ultimate purpose of taking life as a spiritual practice is to wean oneself off poor taste and reach a high level of spiritual state. In this process, art creation serves as an instrument as well as a way of expression. As we talked about previously, no matter it is brush painting, oil painting or calligraphy, multi-pronged creation practice is in itself part of the scholar spirit, which can improve everyday spiritual practice. Moreover, through art practice can this spirit and spiritual practice be better expressed and presented.

Lydia Duanmu

It can be seen that you are able to paint traditional Chinese brush paintings, have achieved high attainments in the field of calligraphy, and can also express thoughts through oil painting and ink and color painting in a series of your art creations. How do you shift as you want in different ways of artistic expressions? Is it an active pursuit or a result of instinct?

Yuan Daxi

This is about the question of what high-class art is and what a high-grade artist is. In my view, it can be simply concluded by “extreme delicacy and subtlety, and extreme breadth.” It should be the ultimate goal for all top artists.

So-called “extreme delicacy and subtlety” requires your art to attain certain depth, and “extreme breadth” means to equip oneself as multiple abilities as one can. We mentioned the “Six Arts” proposed by Confucius. It is a requirement of “extreme breadth” for a qualified scholar while high-level of any art must be based on “extreme delicacy and subtlety.” It can put in this way: “extreme delicacy and subtlety” is a self-request, and “extreme breadth” is one of the traditional Chinese culture for scholars. Only by combining these two requirements can a person become a high-class artist.

It is easy to see that many artists have multiple abilities throughout the Chinese and Western art history. Both Zhao Mengfu and Dong Qichang excelled in calligraphy, painting, poetry and songs, and verses. The sculpture, painting, architecture and design, and even poetry and literature works by Michelangelo topped his times. And the oil painting works by Picasso have different looks in different times that can be of delicate classical style or bold abstract style. He has high attainments in pottery and art designs as well. Admittedly, these all-round abilities will make the final breakthrough through one point and then reach another state, which is the “extreme delicacy and subtlety” after “extreme breadth.”

Although I think myself lagging far from ancient masters in terms of talent and spiritual state, I hold that “if you want to achieve the superior, you will only end up being at the medium level.” Artists are supposed to aim for the highest, so I have always been pushing myself to achieve the corresponding height in my creation. And no matter it is daily spiritual practice or attempt in multiple art forms, I always try to make my works in line with my disposition and the reflections on life at the moment. I may not be able to blend all these together until I grow to certain age with a hope to achieve the state of so-called “maturity of both myself and my works.”

Lydia Duanmu

What contemporary Western art pursues is the fission of ideas and technique innovation while whatever changes in contemporary Chinese brush painting, solid basic skills are needed. Could you please talk about your view and understanding of contemporary art and artists?

Yuan Daxi

The core of art, be it contemporary or traditional, oriental or western, lies in the evaluation criteria of art works and artists. From my point of view, the criteria, be it for art works or artists, can be divided into three categories, namely basic skills, originality, and spiritual state.

Basic skills involve many aspects. For students in the college of fine arts, sketch is their basic skill; and for those who are learning traditional Chinese brush painting, calligraphy is their basic skill — a basic consensus is that people with poor calligraphy skill can hardly be good at brush painting. In this regard, Chinese art shares something in common with traditional Chinese martial arts in that art works without basic skills are unqualified and artists without basic skills cannot be qualified artists.

Then comes originality. After mastering basic skills, artists should pursue originality. Otherwise, even if they have top skills, they cannot create top-class arts by only imitating others. This is quite common in this contemporary era. Someone once said that in China, there is a figure of Western artist behind most of the famous Chinese contemporary artists. Originality is a reflection of the creation ability, aesthetic ability and taste. The best artists in history are all those who could set up their own styles and influence the future generations.

The third is the spiritual state. The spiritual state of art works embodies the self-cultivation, height of heart, soul and thoughts, and even rich life experience of an artist. People who lack thoughts cannot produce art works of thought depth. Only those artists excelling in basic skills, originality, and profound thoughts can create art works of high spiritual state.

Contemporary art works meeting these three criteria can be regarded as high-class ones, and artists living up to them are really excellent ones.

05/April /2018 BEIJING

Chinese / Lydia Duanmu

端木雅莉

您是一位艺术家,精神层面上也是非常的全面和开放的。不论是艺术创作还是兴趣爱好,均涉猎广泛,绘画、音乐、书法,历史、哲学、文学等等,各个门类均有所会通。您的万物同根的源泉是什么?

圆大西

这都根源于中国传统文化中士的精神。早在两千多年前,以孔子为代表的儒家就要求士子们掌握礼、乐、射、御、书、数等六项技能,称之为六艺。这六项技能涉及礼仪、音乐、艺术、骑射甚至数学等不同学科,其实就是要求一个合格的士人必须具备综合的素养,并在此基础上追求上乘的思想。这种对自身全方位能力的要求,对自身达到高级精神层次的渴望,几千年来都是中国文人艺术家修身求道的自觉追求。通过观察历代杰出的艺术作品,我们并不难察觉那些一流的艺术大师们是如何在他们的创作中去实践这种精神。我以为,这对于身处二十一世纪的我们,对于当下的艺术创作,依然有着强大的感染力和积极的参考意义。

 端木雅莉

哲学有形而上、形而下之别,艺术作品也有境界之分,您是如何理解这其中的区别和界线的?

圆大西

我们可以音乐为例来理解这个问题。曾经有朋友问我如何区分音乐家或演奏家的境界,我说有五种境界:第一层是表演,就是停留在一味迎合观众的层次上。这是最低的境界。第二层是自我表达,进入这个阶段,就不再以取悦他人为主了,而是关注在自己身上,当然这个境界也不是很高。第三层是表现音乐,处在一种忘我的状态,全心全意表现音乐的本质,到此境界就基本算大家了。去年我在上海东艺听了伊扎·帕尔曼小提琴独奏音乐会,他已经七十多高龄了嘛,坐在轮椅上,面无表情,也没有什么身体语言,只是全神贯注一心表现音乐本身,大家都深受感动。在演奏理查·施特劳斯奏鸣曲时,很多观众都流泪了,这是被音乐所感动。而到了第四层,表现的是艺术家内心纯洁高尚的情怀,这只有个人修养达到极高程度、内心澄澈空明的人,才可能真正做到表现心灵,这是大师级的。当然还有更高的境界,因为第四层表现的终究是小我,更高级的是表现大我,也就是表现全人类共有的情感与心灵,这是第五层,如巴赫的作品,贝多芬晚年的作品等等,可以说是人类文明的最高境界。

书画作品的境界高下,其分别一如音乐。最低层次是一味迎合受众,比如富贵牡丹图、极逼真的肖像画之类。然后是自我表达,如部分抽象表现主义绘画,第三种是把纯艺术形式作为表现对象,我认为印象派很多作品都属此列,单纯表现色彩以及绘画的本我状态。第四种就是表现画家心灵的,最典型的是梵高。第五种就是表现全人类共有的心灵,如米开朗基罗的《哀悼基督》,达芬奇的《最后的晚餐》等作品,还有中国宋元时期董源、巨然、范宽的山水作品、黄公望的《富春山居图》等等,这些人类最优秀的艺术作品,无一不是达到一种天人合一的状态,所以能引发全人类的广泛共鸣。

端木雅莉

从您的绘画和书法作品中,可以感受到您在日常生活中十分注重禅修,禅修与您的艺术生活是怎样的一种营养关系

圆大西

中国的传统士人始终注重自我修行,这种修行主要体现在日常生活之中,与禅宗所提倡的生活禅禅生活不谋而合。把生活当成一种修行,其最终目的就是让自己摆脱低级趣味,达到高级的精神境界。而在此过程中,艺术创作是一种工具,同时也是一种表现方式。正如我们之前聊到的,无论是水墨、油画还是书法,多方位的创作实践本身就是士人精神的一部分,它们能让日常的修行趋于完善,另一方面,通过艺术的实践,这种精神和修行也能得到更好的表达和呈现。

 端木雅莉

从您的一系列创作中可以看出,您既可以画中国传统的水墨画,书法也达到了一定的造诣,还可以通过油画和彩墨画来表达思想,您是怎样做到在不同的艺术表现方式中随心所欲地转换的?这是一种主动的追求,还是天使然?

圆大西

这涉及到艺术家的自我追求,同时亦是天性使然。在我看来无非六个字:尽精微,致广大。这是所有成熟境界艺术家所应该追求的总目标。

所谓尽精微,就是要求你的艺术必须达到一定的深度,而致广大,就是让自己尽可能具备多方面的能力。前面我们聊到孔子提倡六艺,其实就是对一个合格的士人致广大的要求,而任何一种艺术要达到一定的高度,则必须建立在尽精微的基础上。可以这么说,尽精微是对自我的要求,致广大是中国传统文明对士人的要求,而只有将自我要求和传统文明的要求结合在一起,才可能成为一个高级的艺术家。

纵观中西方艺术史,不难发现很多艺术家都是多能的。如赵孟頫、董其昌,都是书、画、诗词、歌赋样样精通。米开朗基罗的雕塑、绘画、建筑设计、甚至诗歌写作,都是时代的高峰,毕加索的油画在不同时期有不同的面貌,可以是精细的古典风格,也可以是大胆的抽象风格,他的陶艺和艺术设计,也都达到很高的造诣。当然,所有这些全方位的修养,还是会通过一个点取得最后的突破,从而达到另外一种境界。而这,是致广大后的尽精微

虽然我自以为天赋与精神境界与古代大师相距甚远,但“欲求乎上,仅得乎中”。艺术家理应志存高远,我一直要求自己的创作不断提升,而且无论是日常的修行还是多种艺术形式的尝试,都尽可能与我的秉性和当下人生的感悟相契合。或许到了一定年龄,才能将这一切融合贯通,以期望在艺术上达到所谓”人书俱老“之境。

端木雅莉

西方当代艺术追求的是观念裂变和方法创新,而中国当代水墨艺术,再怎么变也需要艺术家具备扎实的基本功底。可否谈谈您对当代艺术及当代艺术家的看法及理解

圆大西

艺术无论是当代的还是传统的,东方还是西方的,问题的核心还在于怎样评价艺术作品、怎样评价艺术家,其标准是什么?在我看来,无论是艺术作品还是艺术家,评价的标准离不开功夫、原创和境界三项。

功夫是包含多方面的,美院的学生,素描是要学习的功夫,学习中国传统水墨画的,书法便是功夫——一个基本的共识是书法不好的人很难画好水墨画。在这方面,中国的艺术跟中国的传统武术有着十分相像的地方,没有功夫的艺术品,首先就不是合格的艺术品,没有功夫的艺术家,也不可能是合格的艺术家。

其次是原创。有了功夫还要有原创,没有原创,只是学了别人的样子,功夫再好也不是上乘的艺术。这种现象在当代很常见,不是有人说过吗,在中国,部分成名的当代艺术家,背后都隐藏着一个西方艺术家的身影。原创的能力,反映的是艺术家创造力,审美高度以及独特的品味,历史上最好的艺术家都是能开创自我风格并影响后世的人。

第三是境界。艺术作品的境界,体现的是艺术家个人修养、心灵和思想高度,甚至涵盖了他丰富的人生阅历。缺乏思想的人不可能产生有思想深度的艺术作品。只有具备过人的功夫和原创能力,并且拥有相当思想深度的艺术家,才可能产生有境界的艺术作品。

具备了这三个标准,当然就是高级的当代艺术作品,也是真正优秀的艺术家。

4月2018年 于北京