• [Beijing Forum 2011] Art Panel: Contemporary significance of traditions


  • Peking University, Nov.3, 2011: Between November 4 and 6, 2011, the eighth annual conference of Beijing Forum will be held in Beijing, the theme of which is “The Harmony of Civilizations and Prosperity for All -Tradition and Modernity, Transition and Transformation.” Following 2004 and 2008, with the theme “Artistic Heritage and Cultural Innovation”, Beijing Forum 2011 will establish the Art Panel again. A great number of excellent scholars all over the world will then get together, discussing the approaches that could be applied to the development of art, the ones that could assure sufficient respect and could simultaneously enable the artistic heritages to release its inherent energy, to obtain international influence, and then, to join the contemporary development of culture.


    Recently, Professor Ding Ning, vice president of the School of Art, Peking University (PKU), who is also in charge of the Art Panel, has accepted an interview from a PKU News journalist. This interview focused on the significance of the theme of the Panel and its preparation.


    Multiple Scholars, Multiple Cultures


    Under the central topic “Artistic Heritages and Cultural Innovation”, the Art Panel of this year has set four concrete topics: “Renewed Cognition of Artistic Heritages”, “Relationship between Artistic Heritages and Cultural Innovations”, “Artistic Heritages and Art Education”, “Artistic Heritage and Creative Industry” - connecting the yesterday of art with its contemporary development, and further, combining artistic heritage with reflect on the future.


    Beijing Forum is an international academic forum centering in academics and culture. Art is a conception that covers a wide range. For the Committee of Beijing Forum in choosing scholars, this can be an opportunity and at the same time a challenge. The committee of the Art Panel has made great efforts to cover all categories and subjects, including the common artistic categories like music and painting, and the newly developing fields as film and management of art. According to Ding Ning, the list of participating scholars has cost committee members much time and efforts. Striving to include all the artistic research fields, ensuring the authority and influence of scholars who are going to be present at the conference, PKU School of Art has specially organized a meeting of all its faculty, demanding them to recommend scholars in their own field.


    The world culture is multiple. Recognizing the diversity of art and culture will be of great advantage to the development of world culture. Consequently, the Art Panel of this year has invited as many scholars as possible from different states, regions and nations into this dialogue. Almost every continent has its participating scholars.


    With their brilliant topics for discussion, the most excellent and the most unique scholars and artists in each field of world art and culture are going to attend the Art Panel. Up till now, the Committee has received papers referring to multiple aspects of artistic research, among which quite a few are quite innovative - such as the cultural communication between ancient Greek and Rome and China, the leading problems in the development of world museums, etc. M. Livingston from Harvard University, an authority on art psychology, will analyze - in terms of the science of cranial nerve and visual psychology - how the glamour of the “Smile of Mona Lisa” can be appreciated to the full. Professor Michael Nolin, once a celebrated film director and film maker in Hollywood, is now engaged in the education and research of films, owning a good knowledge of the operational mode of the movie industry, as well as full of experience of film criticism and film education. The Committee has also invited a Chilean scholar whose specialty is local ethnic music of the minority, yet it is a pity that his attendance cannot finally take place for some personnel reasons.


    “Art is a great conception. Whereas, the prominence of Beijing Forum lies in the fantastic platform that it provides for interdisciplinary exchange, enabling scholars with diverse cultural backgrounds different academic specialties to come together, and making them heard. Only in such a communication can art and culture be understood deeper and more entirely,” Ding Ning said.


    A Bridge between China and the World


    In the view of Ding Ning, culture is a great conception, in which art is the marrow and representative. Considering art as an eye, we can better appreciate the beauty which lies in the diversity of world culture and history, and thus overcome our own biases. Living in Chinese culture for a long time could lead to two extreme mentalities: one is self-blocking and arrogance caused by indulging in the long history and greatness of Chinese culture, the other is blind inferiority by an infatuation in the sense of freshness and excitement that foreign culture has brought us. As Professor Ding Ning put it this way, “Only when you encounter different cultures around the world, especially the essence of various human civilizations - and then reflect on your own - can you discover the non-substitutability of different cultures, and realize the uniqueness of your own culture on the basis of appreciation of foreign cultures. To achieve this goal, however, we have a lot of work to do.”


    Ignoring and despising artistic heritages in other civilizations will not only take a part for the whole, but also lead to an extraordinary mistake. Furthermore, the same as all those nations that possess splendid artistic heritage, Chinese art has a pretty long history and is always arousing the world’s attention. But how to recognize and develop it within the whole construction of human civilization is a fresh topic. Ding provided us with some examples, “We may smile and immediately understand the charm beyond the surface of an artistic work. For instance, when admiring a Chinese wash painting, we can naturally realize the beauty of ‘vivid charm’ in our own way of thinking. When you are trying to convey the artistic perception to a foreigner, it can be pretty difficult.” For another example, Zen is full of characteristics of Chinese culture, conveying a kind of Chinese wisdom. But the reality is embarrassing that once the westerners mention “Zen”, they think about Japan first. Professor Ding believed, in the process of Chinese culture’s heading for the world, the primary consideration is the establishment of intercommunicating discourse system, “To ensure the details - that is to transform Chinese into a recognizable foreign language, which consequently convey the cultural essence successfully.” International conferences, especially those hosted by China, can push forward this process to some extent.


    In Davos Forum of this year, the topic of “What does the world really need to know about modern China” was arising. It passes on the information that China’s international status cannot be compared with the past. Under such a background, presenting and expressing the unique characteristics of Chinese culture is becoming extremely important. “We Chinese are in favor of peace, respecting and taking in essence of different cultures. Making this point known around the world is considerably essential.” Beijing Olympic Games in 2008 and Shanghai World Expo in 2010 are both conveying such a spirit. Ding Ning said, “We attempt to attract the world’s attention to China, and meanwhile to make China understandable to the world. We are building up the image of Chinese culture, and more importantly, the image of Chinese contemporary culture. Our aim is to turn the essence and vigor of culture into a universe value. A panel within an academic conference obviously cannot solve all the problems. Whereas, as art is the most important component of culture, the Art Panel is shouldering its responsibility of exchanging views and facilitating communication.”


    Exploring Heritages, Facing Today


    PKU’s heritage of art education and research is unique. To some extent, Chinese high education of art began with the University. When Cai Yuanpei served as the president, its influence of art education swept the country. The first music study institution “Music Institute” was initiated at PKU. Xu Beihong, the brilliant artist and art educator, was once a teacher from PKU Painting Research Institute. When words and music were separated in the education of Chinese classic poetry, professors from PKU Department of Chinese language and literature moved the Guqin into the class, making PKU the first university that joined words and music in education. Following such a tradition, the University is also searching for the rediscovery of Chinese traditional culture.


    Based on his research experience, Professor Ding pointed out a cognitive misunderstanding of traditional culture, mentioning that “Traditional culture is not something that can be placed into a jar and be taken out when in need. It will never belong to you forever. Time passing, the tradition will become far away. Being capable of utilizing tradition is not equivalent to possessing, unless we understand its true spirit and are able to inherit it.” He has once inquired his students about their understanding of the “Cold Food Festival”. The result shows that only a few can say something about its concrete definition. Ding Ning said that the Cold Food Festival is one or two days before Qingming Festival. Forbidding smoke and fire and only eating cold food are unique and traditional ways for Chinese to cherish the memory of the ones that have passed away. With the cold food, people can experience the life of their ancestors, which reflects deep-rooted cultural connotation. “Artistic works such as Su Shi’s Cold Food Poetry cannot be thoroughly understood until we obtain the knowledge of cultural tradition that lies under it. Tradition is being forgotten or even ‘robbed of’, for which we modern Chinese are absolutely responsible.”


    The purpose of art education is to cultivate and promote people’s understanding of traditional culture. An institution of art education should not only offer knowledge of arts to its students, but also exert influence on the public through its academic writings and conferences. Art education is actually a process to enrich people’s spiritual life and make one an individual with great culture. Just like spring rains, this process soaks people’s hearts with its goodness in a silent but effective way.


    Professor Ding Ning explains, “Tradition has its everlasting life, whose real value exists in its wide spread. Its creative innovation in modern society could only be carried out if we bring it into real life.” The opening ceremony of 2008 Beijing Olympic Games is the typical present-day demonstration of traditional Chinese culture. The scene of Chinese music instrument playing at the ceremony meant a lot to those who were familiar with the story of “High Mountains and Great Rivers”, in which hospitality to faithful friends is emphasized. For modern innovation of Chinese cultural heritage, such significant events as Olympic Games is important, but it will rely more on day-to-day based activities. Only in this way can outstanding Chinese tradition penetrate into our life and becomes part of it.


    Professor Ding also holds the opinion that creativity has root in culture. The problem Chinese creative industry faces is not in commercial development, but in art education. “This is another ‘Qian Xuesen Query’– in the field of art.” Art education has not got adequate attention in China, either in primary and secondary education or in higher education. As an influential factor on creativity, art education should be provided both by schools and the society. The setting-up and development of museums is also necessary, for they are the most wonderful places to reflect human achievements in civilization and to cultivate human imagination and creativity.


    Professor Ding pointed out, “Art is a sign of culture, not just the decoration mark of life. It is deep in our spirits, and it is the reflection of human creativity.”The real significance of art is also the theme of the Panel Session of Art in Beijing Forum 2011.


    Reported by: Fan Xing

    Edited by: Arthars

    Source: Beijing Forum