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Draw from the Sources, Venture with the Greats − Speech at the 95th Anniversary Celebration of CAA
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Draw from the Sources, Venture with the Greats − Speech at the 95th Anniversary Celebration of CAA

Gao Shiming, President of CAA

November 10, 2023

Distinguished guests, colleagues, teachers, students, alumni, and friends,

Let not the finest days of spring and autumn pass in vain;  the hardest is for the old friends to visit amid winds and rains.  Today, we gather at the new Liangzhu Campus to celebrate the 95th anniversary of China Academy of Art (CAA).  On behalf of CAA, I extend our heartfelt gratitude to all the leaders and friends from all sectors of society.  May special thanks go to university representatives who have traveled from afar.  This time, we have the honor of hosting colleagues from 42 Chinese universities and 19 international academic institutions.  Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to be here.  My deepest gratitude goes to our sister universities.  Over the years, we have joined forces in the journey of art education, weathering storms together.  Without your unwavering support, CAA would not be where it is today.  Thank you.  My special thanks also go to our dear media friends.  Your long-term recognition, care, and strong support for CAA have been instrumental.  It is because of you that CAA has been able to make itself known outside of fixed circle in various influential ways to some extent.  Thanks to you, CAA has been able to make its voice heard in society and around the world, albeit sometimes in a slightly capricious manner.

Most importantly, we owe our gratitude to the entire faculty, students, and alumni of CAA.  To all the endearing and respectable members of CAA, thank you.  As I mentioned three years ago, members of CAA are not limited to the current more than 10,000 teachers and students, nor to the 50,000 alumni we have trained over nearly a century.  CAA is a community of scholars and a community of shared values.  Anyone who participates in and identifies with CAA's mission and values is part of our family.  To all of you, thank you for your diligent efforts in braving the winds and rains, and for your outstanding contributions to the development of our academy and the cause of art education.

The founding day of CAA falls on April 8.  Ninety-five years ago, on that day, Mr. Cai Yuanpei delivered a speech with a calm tone and profound intentions.  He said: "To awaken the human heart with pure beauty is to replace religion with art...  This art academy is established beside West Lake for the purpose of creating beauty, so that the current and future generations could get rid of superstition, harbor the love for beauty and eventually obtain a true life."  He believed that "CAA is purely for the sake of art and for students having talents and being capable of creating, whether it is one or ten thousand, each is significant."  Since the turn of the century, under the leadership of President Xu Jiang and several generations of our community, CAA has truly grown into a large university with an unprecedented scale, a comprehensive range of disciplines, and a rich variety of educational programs.  Its degree of social engagement and public influence is also unparalleled.  Although we have achieved remarkable accomplishments in the development of disciplines and programs over the past decade, my deepest wish is for our ten thousand students to fulfill Mr. Cai Yuanpei's vision of "having talents and being capable of creating," and to embrace artistic creation as their life's work.

Pursuing art as a vocation doesn’t necessarily mean becoming a professional artist.  Over the years, I have repeatedly emphasized the need to be not just "artists of the art world" but "artists of the world."  The art world is a beautiful garden, but beyond it lie grand mountains, vast oceans, and a magnificent universe.  Art is a transcendent force in our lives, a power that creates works and transforms the world, elevating ourselves and rejuvenating the world around us.  In this regard, Mr. Cai hoped that art would help to "truly complete people's lives," encompassing both the cultivation of the spirit and the construction of life.

Ninety-five years ago, led by Mr. Lin Fengmian, the first generation of artists at CAA initiated a new chapter in higher art education in China, inspired by Mr. Cai Yuanpei's vision. Amidst the great upheavals of cultural exchanges between the East and West, they forged an artistic path that integrated Eastern and Western philosophies, traditions and artistic principles. In its founding year, the National Academy of Art (now CAA) launched the "Art Movement Society," bringing together a group of elite artists from across the nation, including Qi Baishi from Beiping (now Beijing), known as the "foremost genius of the Republic," and the thinker Zhu Qianzhi. The well-known "Four Teachings of the Academy" − "Introduce Western art, review Chinese art, integrate Eastern and Western art, and create art of the era" − were the manifesto of the Art Movement Society. This advocacy and spirit represent a splendid chapter in modern Chinese art, profoundly influencing the art history of 20th-century China.

Ninety-five years later, the legacies of CAA's founding generation continue to enrich our souls. In this new era, as we go on the "Journey of CAA," it is imperative that we undertake, embrace, and promote the spirit of our founding generation.

We must undertake their cultural mission. In October 1928, in an art manifesto published in the inaugural issue of Apollo, Mr. Lin Fengmian powerfully declared: "We shall start by advocating the art movement, to rebuild the Chinese Renaissance in literature and art!" During the fires of the Anti-Japanese War, the aspiration of our second president, Mr. Teng Gu, still resonates − "to mold a generation capable of opening up new possibilities and extending them infinitely…" This was the cultural mission of that generation, and it is in this spirit that the "Journey of CAA" represents a continuation and advancement of the national cultural and artistic renaissance.

We must embrace their innovative spirit. Over a century, generations at CAA have opened up new horizons for "creating art of the era," through broad perspectives and open-mindedness, amidst the collision and dialogue between Eastern and Western art. They embraced an extensive range of cultures and epochs, from the Pre-Qin period (before 221 BC), the Song Dynasty (960-1279), to Greek and Roman civilizations, breaking traditional boundaries in painting, sculpture, architecture, music, poetry, and drama. Drawing nourishment from all cultures and artistic genres, they sought to revitalize the great traditions of Chinese culture through the expressiveness and thoughtfulness of modern art. This is the innovative spirit of CAA, guided by this spirit, the "Journey of CAA" represents a journey of autonomous innovation in Chinese art."

We must promote their educational ideals. To Mr. Cai, aesthetics, education, and ethics are the three essential pillars of China's modernization drive. Aesthetics provides the method, education, process, and ethics, the foundation, to achieve the common objective of nurturing an individual at the personal, social, and national levels. Art is the common denominator that marries aesthetics, education, and ethics and through which an individual is nurtured. For the founders of the Academy, the ideal education is one which produces people of virtue, which neither employs a top-down pedagogical approach nor does it stop at grooming professional artists. It leverages art movements to inspire and enlighten people as well as to drive social and personal advances. It uses art to nurture an individual and their creative, free minds. This was their educational ideal, and it has shaped the "Journey of CAA" into a journey of cultivating virtue and enlightening the soul.

On the 95th anniversary of our founding, revisiting the cultural mission, innovative spirit, and educational ideals of our founding generation is an endeavor to cultivate a new ethos and establish a broad and far-reaching vision. Our aim is to resonate and harmonize with the exceptional spirits of a century ago, to invigorate and rekindle their aspirations, ensuring that the path of autonomous innovation in Chinese art, the path of cultivating virtue and enlightening the soul, and the path of continuing the renaissance of national literature and art, are passed down and expanded upon.

Today, this "Journey of CAA" extends to Liangzhu − the cradle of five thousand years of Chinese civilization and likewise the origin and beginning of Chinese art.

In the new century, CAA has established a new tradition. Anniversaries ending in "10" are celebrated in the first half of the year, that is, on April 8, focusing on reviewing the Academy's historical context. Anniversaries ending in "5" go beyond CAA itself, exploring common and global cutting-edge issues. For us, each of these gatherings and actions is not just for commemoration, but a re-launch towards new horizons.

The theme of CAA 95th Anniversary is "Draw from the Sources, Venture with the Greats." As artists, we must draw from the sources, for only by tracing back to the origins of civilization can art draw strength and capture the spirit of inception. Whether as artists or educators, we must venture with the greats, treating the most enlightened and profound traditions in human civilization as our subjects for creation, the soil for our art, and the foundation of our spirit.

This past week, CAA teams have been fully engaged. From the "Proposal to Leonardo da Vinci" to the "The New Liberal Arts Forum," from "The Way Is Infinite" to the "Mutual-Learning of Civilizations", from "Reports from the World" to the "Synesthesia & Liberal Arts International Forum"... more than a dozen high-quality academic events have been dazzling and overwhelming. Frankly speaking, we are quite exhausted, but it's all worthwhile. Everything is done in pursuit of one concept − "tong" ("通" in Chinese character, which means to understand, integrate, connect, master, and more).

The "Centennial Retrospective Exhibition of Zao Wou-Ki" showcases how this modern art master bridged Eastern and Western artistic traditions. The "Synesthesia & Liberal Arts International Forum" explores the convergence of various human senses and different artistic modalities. The "Proposal to Leonardo da Vinci" aims to invite Leonardo da Vinci, the most outstanding "Renaissance Man" among artists, to join us as a contemporary, exploring the phenomena and concepts of the 21st century together, confronting the rapidly evolving technology and reality, contemplating the consequences and visions of the human world, and probing the future of science, technology, and art.

"The New Liberal Arts" series of forums, which started on November 6, opened with the theme "Renaissance Man for the 21st Century," to examine these questions: Can we still envisage a whole person and a whole world in this new century? In the era of AGI, or Artificial General Intelligence, is it possible to practice a holistic approach to learning? With the division of disciplines and fragmentation of methods, can the classical tradition of Liberal Arts, commonly interpreted as a broad education, maintain its intrinsic value?

Friends, "integration" has always been the essence and commitment of CAA. President Xu Jiang's concept of the "spirit of erudite craftsmen" embodies the pursuit of "integrated pathways in art and philosophy." CAA's long-standing advocacy of "Four Masteries" in education refers to "mastery of character and knowledge, of arts and sciences, of the classics and the contemporary, and of everything Chinese and beyond." The key to being a "Renaissance Man" lies in integration and transcendence; it's the principle of "unifying knowledge and action." This principle is what's often overlooked in today's liberal arts and general education. Faced with the narrow-mindedness brought on by specialization, people seek breadth but neglect integration. In the trend of interdisciplinary and cross-disciplinary studies, there's a pursuit of "linkage," "comprehensiveness," and even "peripheral connections," yet the essence of "integration" is often forgotten. Only through integration can "one connection lead to a hundred," and the essence of this lies in what is called "transcendence" − as Zhuangzi said, "If we can achieve perfection in a particular area of skill, we come close to the great Way itself", representing this "transcendence."

The Song Dynasty's Neo-Confucianism held that the principle of Heaven is dispersed in all things and returns to itself through them. Thus, understanding objects leads to knowledge, and applying principles leads to appropriate action, deriving the way of "unity of knowledge and action." The historian Sima Qian said, "To explore the interplay between Heaven and man and to understand the changes through the ages" is to reach the Dao and the Great Path through history and the Book of Changes. In Changes of Zhou − The Great Treatise, "endless coming and going is called integration" and "to advance and to practice it is called integration," speak of the world's infinite variability and the ways of adaptability and comprehensiveness. The saying "Change will in turn lead to an unimpeded state, and then lead to continuity" embodies the Chinese way of ceaseless renewal.

In the 21st century, with rapid technological advancements and ever-changing daily life, art education must not only be adaptable but also capable of "change-integration." More importantly, it should seek an upward integration on the basis of adaptability. The 5th National Art Education Forum this afternoon will discuss a series of issues related to this.

The core academic event commendating the 95th anniversary of CAA is "IWV2023: Mutual-Learning of Civilizations," aimed at this upward integration. The English title of this project, "Inter-World-View," signifies both a "dialogue among worldviews" and an "interview with the world" − that is, "Inter-World-View." Since the beginning of this year, we have launched an "Education-Creation-Action-Communication" initiative, sending 12 teams around the globe, from the Lufeng Dinosaur Valley to the Amazon Basin, from Volcanoes in Iceland to Silicon Valley, from Athens to Dunhuang, from Leonardo da Vinci's Residence in Milan to Katsura Imperial Villa in Japan, from the Moscow Workers' Club to Yangjialing in Yan'an... all to witness the subtle pulse of the evolution of human civilization on site. Tonight, we will hear their reports here − "Reports from the World." Additionally, there is an exciting special exhibition at Workshop Space 21, where I specially invite everyone to visit and provide guidance.

"Inter-World-View" is a long-term project that aims to reconsider the fundamental issues of art education from the perspective of world civilization history. This is a post-pandemic era "Academic Initiative" and also a part of the "CAA Journey" towards the centennial of our founding. Our goal is to transcend existing concepts of art history and professional views, to reopen the vistas of art and the concerns of the Academy − interpreting the history of civilization through art and understanding art from the height of civilization history. Through this "Academic Initiative," we may soon be able to develop a new form of art and envision a new paradigm of education.

At the 2020 Erudite Craftsmen Award of CAA ceremony, President Xu Jiang delivered a deeply moving speech titled Take Good Care of This Tree. I know his reference was not limited to the award itself.

In the southern mountains of the Xiangshan Campus stands such a tree, a large camphor tree. Surely the oldest living being on the Xiangshan Campus, it has witnessed over 500 years of worldly changes, yet remains vibrant. Beneath this tree is an inconspicuous stone tablet inscribed with a passage from Zhuangzi's Free and Easy Wandering: "Now you have this big tree and you’re distressed because it’s useless. Why don’t you plant it in Not-Even-Anything Village, or the field of Broad-and-Boundless, relax and do nothing by its side, or lie down for a free and easy sleep under it? Axes will never shorten its life, nothing can ever harm it. If there’s no use for it, how can it come to grief or pain?"

At the northern foothills of Xiangshan, there is another tree, Elaeocarpus decipiens Hemsl. On April 8, 2005, our anniversary day, Mr. Xi Jinping, the then Secretary of CPC Zhejiang Committee, planted this tree. Eighteen years later, the tree has grown robustly, surrounded by a lush forest of its kind. On February 23, 2006, Mr. Xi Jinping chaired a meeting of the CPC Zhejiang Committee to specifically support CAA in establishing a first-class university, emphasizing the need to "accelerate efforts to become a world-class art academy that embodies the highest level of Chinese culture and art research and education." For 17 years, we have kept this trust in mind, actively exploring and developing a path of art education with a global perspective and Chinese spirit, advancing art as a discipline rooted in Chinese soil and contributing to social innovation.

I understand that when President Xu speaks of the tree, he refers to both of them. The large camphor tree represents the essence of art: natural and uncontrived, useless in its utility, success and failure determined by nature, living for oneself and others, and existing with a focused heart. The fundamental purpose of art is "the discovery of the world and of people," and that of education is "the preservation and development of people." Today's art should return to the exploration of sensation and the world, and today's education should be able to settle the mind and body, and thereby establish life... The key to all this, in an era of big data, artificial intelligence, and mixed reality, is to re-establish the connection between heaven and humanity for the 21st century.

The tree represents the entrustment of General Secretary Xi Jinping, embodying the challenges of our times and the responsibility towards our nation's greater cause. On one hand, we strive to "reflect the highest level of Chinese cultural and artistic research and teaching," and on the other, to achieve "world-class" status. These are lofty aspirations that bring immense motivation and pressure. To meet the expectations of General Secretary Xi, the key lies in our ability to awaken the true essence of Chinese culture and create a new paradigm for future art and education.

Therefore, we come to Liangzhu, the cradle of five thousand years of Chinese civilization, to plan and set forth anew in future design; hence, we have developed the Xianghu Campus as the Gate of Classic Chinese Art; thus, we propose "Draw from the Sources, Venture with the Greats," tracing back to the classics, embracing a wide array of knowledge, turning the history of civilization into a toolbox for artistic creation, and making the masters of all ages our partners in art education, to "renew the ancient in the exchange and mutual learning of world civilizations."

Colleagues, in this new era, there is no need to overly favor the ancient over the modern. As long as we remain rooted in Chinese soil while embracing the world's ancient and modern times, as long as we grasp the pulse of the era and resonate with the hearts of the people, we will surely create cultural achievements that honor our ancestors and our times, nurturing the splendid blossoms of modern Chinese civilization. Together with all colleagues in the fields of art and education, we, members of CAA, will strive to construct the grand framework of the Chinese national cultural and artistic renaissance, allowing the great spirit of Chinese art to continue from the past into the future and resonate with the world.

In the farthest reaches of the natural world, the universe's wonders are infinite and unending; in the deepest realms of the human spirit, the secrets of creation are ceaselessly reborn. Friends, let us join hands to provide artistic solutions for the free and comprehensive development of humanity, contributing to the prosperity of a shared human destiny.

Colleagues, let us embark on this journey together − Draw from the Sources, Venture with the Greats!