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Gao Shiming: Being "Artists of the World"
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Edited BY:He Jiabei

Being the "Artists of the World"!


To 2024 Graduates of CAA



Dear teachers and students,


Good evening! To all the parents who have traveled afar to join us here, your efforts are greatly appreciated!


The 2024 graduates, you are leaving CAA, bidding farewell to this most precious period of your youth, as you step into a new phase of life. On behalf of CAA, I extend my warmest congratulations to you all! I also convey the blessings of the CAA community!


In September 2020, during your induction ceremony, I noted the essence of our education: "to help students appreciate different worldviews, understand the diversity of worlds, cultivate sensitivity, discernment and tolerance, and establish independent spirit." Four years have passed, and it is my hope that each and every one of you has enjoyed a fulfilling time at CAA, grown freely, and blossomed radiantly. I look forward to every one of you establishing an independent spiritual life, striving for openness and progress, and achieving self-reliance.


Dear students, no matter what program you have studied, I hope that the life you've lived at CAA has instilled in you the gene of art. Art serves as a unique mirror to the world, preparing you spiritually for a new life. This precious gene, fostered during your time at CAA, is invaluable. I urge you in the days ahead to guard it carefully and nurture it with diligence.


Dear students, I wish to extend my congratulations on the tremendous success of your graduation exhibition. It has brightened the city across eight vibrant venues, capturing widespread attention and dazzling all who witnessed it. To date, the exhibition has registered over 400,000 on-site visitors, while online engagements have exceeded 833 million views. Many of your artworks have become focal points of media attention, shared and praised enthusiastically daily on platforms like Weibo, Xiaohongshu, Bilibili, and Instagram. Your creations have profoundly touched and inspired countless viewers. This is your achievement! This is the pride of CAA!


I have personally visited several main sections of this graduation show more than three times. It has been an immensely important learning experience for me. Through your works, I felt the pulse of your life, shared your actual feelings, empathized with your confusions and dilemmas, and I have been invigorated by your passions and dreams. Many refer to your cohort as the most 'involuted,' yet what I see in you is not "involution" but "inner driving" —an ambition, an unwillingness to yield to mediocrity. Humanity possesses many talents, but the highest among these is ambition. Ambitions drive the will to create and the spirit to transcend, which, combined with your concern for the real world, will undoubtedly generate a powerful force capable of changing the world.


Dear students, the Class of 2024 is truly unique. During your academic journey, you have experienced firsthand two events destined to be chronicled in human history—the global outbreak of COVID-19 and the explosive rise of artificial intelligence. I believe these events provide a foundational context for our current century. You have witnessed and personally lived through these events during your university years, making them some of the most important experiences of your lives.


The global pandemic has brought into focus the concept of the community of shared future for mankind, allowing you to deeply appreciate Lu Xun's words: "Looking at the boundlessness of the distant horizon and thinking of the multitude of people, with whom I am connected." Similarly, we have all deeply realized that there is no obstacle in the world that cannot be overcome—eventually, spring will warm the earth anew.


The breakout of AI has revolutionized the methodologies of education and art, profoundly altering our understanding of human intelligence and even the essence of what it means to be human. Shakespeare poignantly noted, "God has given you one face, and you make yourself another." In this era of AI, it's as if "God gave humanity a brain, and we have crafted another."


The profound implications of these advances will become increasingly clear in the annals of history. I wish to focus here on AI, a subject that I believe holds great interest for us all. This graduation exhibition features numerous works related to AI—some utilize AI in the creative process, others treat AI as a central theme, and some explore deeply the intrinsic elements of generative AI. CAA maintains a positive outlook towards AI. Over recent years, AI has become an essential skill set across many of our new disciplines. In this context, I wish to share three insights: First, AI serves as a mirror for human self-awareness and the collective consciousness of our society. It does not merely simulate, extend, enhance, or expand human thought but plays a crucial role in advancing our understanding of human language, thought, and intelligence itself. It challenges us to reconsider what constitutes human perception, thinking, learning, analyzing, reasoning, imagining, planning, and creating—what are these cognitive processes, after all? Second, AI is not merely a tool for research and manufacturing but also for sensing and thinking. AI is an integral part of our lives and our future; it serves as a tool when actively utilized, or else, it may well become our gravedigger. Third, our engagement with AI is not aimed at replacing human capabilities but rather at creating new ones through a novel "Human + AI" entity, a form of intelligence previously non-existent.


I have repeatedly emphasized the two types of AI: Artificial Intelligence and Artistic Intelligence. I believe that as artificial intelligence becomes more sophisticated, the need for artistic intelligence becomes more critical; as digital virtual technologies and their industries of illusion advance, the experiential and emotional aspects of art, derived from such artistic experiences, grow increasingly precious.


Therefore, we in the world of art should not worry that our work will be replaced by AI—true creators will never be out of jobs, and creativity that can be replaced is not true creativity. This is why I always advocate for "evolving with AI." The result should be a new entity that blends seamlessly with AI. This new digital entity will evolve through interactions and coupling with the two forms of AI, "Artificial Intelligence and Artistic Intelligence," gradually forming a "Human + AI" hybrid that can master and even outpace algorithms. As we explore AGI (Artificial General Intelligence), this hybrid will learn and create on a scale far beyond what natural humans can learn and create, activating all human civilizational genes over the millennia, thus transcending traditional boundaries of "comprehension" and "change," "wisdom" and "knowledge."


Over the years, I have often posed a question to myself and my colleagues: "Do students come to CAA to learn a profession or to study art?" This might seem like a peculiar question, but it reminds us not to view art or the world through a narrow aperture. As a professional academy, it is all too easy to take on what is termed "academicism." However, I have consistently emphasized the importance of striving to build an academy without academicism.


The academicism approach possesses numerous merits, including a robust foundation, advanced techniques, meticulous methodologies, and a deep commitment to heritage. Yet it also has notable faults, such as a lack of diversity in its feeding grounds, being out of touch with practical realities, and lacking the raw, untamed force that is so vital. Dear students, this wild force is indeed crucial. On September 1 last year, we organized a groundbreaking "first lesson of the school year," where 20 CAA alumni who graduated over the past decade and continue to engage in painting, returned and gave a lecture to us, their former teachers. This session was not about sharing success stories; our theme was "The Rationale for Painting," which addressed both why one starts to paint and why one continues. We saw that these young artists were able to maintain their artistic vigor and carve out their niches in the art world because, during their time at the Academy, they had developed strong autonomous learning capabilities and independent creative consciousness. After graduating, they thrived like wildflowers. Years after leaving their Alma Mater, these former CAA students possess numerous insights, reflections, and critiques—rare voices within the academic setting but crucial for today's CAA. The title of my concluding speech that day was "Let Us Listen to the Sound of Wild Grass Growing." These CAA alumni brought a consciousness of independent artists and the freedom and vigor of youth, from which we greatly benefited. One day, the Academy will surely invite you back to give our faculty lectures.


The greatest peril of academicism is the propensity for narrow vision and narrow-mindedness. CAA now hosts 28 programs, 26 of which are "national first-class", encompassing domains from traditional Chinese painting, oil painting, printmaking, and sculpture to architecture, film, gaming, design, digital media, and art & technology. Each program boasts a comprehensive set of technologies, experiences, and knowledge, and has developed impressive traditions. However, each program also tends to operate in isolation, often circling within itself, creating self-imposed confines. But students, you reside in a society powered by digital intelligence, where all conventional knowledge and skills are rapidly broken down and assimilated within the reactor of big data and AI. Specific knowledge and skills no longer ensure job security; you must cultivate the capacity to adapt to changes, embrace open learning, and continually self-improve. By developing such capabilities, you will establish a lifelong learning institution, a "university of mine" from which you never truly graduate.


Dear students, through your studies at the Academy, you have developed abilities that are intrinsic to the essence of an artist. These include meticulous observation, precise depiction, the ability to conceptualize and create images, and the ability to bring ideas to life through hands-on creation, along with expansive, creative thinking. These skills are fundamental qualities for any artist—aesthetic appreciation, imagination, and creative intuition. Unlike the technical knowledge associated with science and engineering disciplines, these artistic skills become part of your very self—instinctive, indelible, and forever relevant.


What pleases me most, however, is that you have begun to cultivate what I consider an "author's heart," a spirit of creation, which represents the true essence of art. This spirit of creation fosters a life that is expansive and proactive. Reflecting on the words of Liang Qichao, "The world is endless, the seas and the skies are immemorial," and echoing Liang Shuming's sentiment, "Life has its limits but desires are endless; the heart aspires to fill the sea and move mountains."


Artistic creation is not merely the production of differences or novelty for its own sake. Creation is the creation of a new life and a new humanity, rooted in the earth and connected to the people. Thus, I continually remind you—do not just be "artists of the art world", but strive to be "artists of the world".


To be artists of the world, art is not just a "study of cultivation" in an intangible sense, but a "study of action" that opens up new endeavors. In 1938, our second president, Mr. Teng Gu, expressed his hope for the Academy to "mold a generation capable of opening up new possibilities and extending them infinitely." Over the years, we have promoted the idea of "cultivating Chinese art that is inspired by rural life," aimed at integrating internal and external knowledge—blending academic knowledge with practical life and societal understanding into a comprehensive whole, thereby constructing an art education deeply rooted in China.


During the opening ceremony of the CAA Graduation Season on June 1, President Xu Jiang and I both independently referred to Mr. Tao Xingzhi in response to the theme "World Tree." We combined two of his poems from 1931 and 1946 to articulate: "Let the universe be my classroom, nature my teacher, and all living things my classmates, together composing a poem of creation." This sentiment is meant to inspire you and all CAA students to view the world through the lens of life, understand humanity from the perspective of nature, and to approach life with a creative attitude.


Dear students, creation is not merely about lofty ideation or self-indulgence; it represents a force that is both grounded in reality and oriented towards far-reaching aspirations. Those of us endowed with an "author's heart" derive from our bustling everyday lives not only practical solutions to difficulties but also vibrancy and vitality inspired by these challenges. Dear students, art is far more than a specific skill set; it embodies the capacity to solve problems through imagination, confront life with creativity, transcend personal limits, and reshape reality. No matter which profession you choose in the years to come, maintaining a creative spirit ensures that life will never feel like a dead end. By holding onto an "author's heart," you can transform daily life into art, turn decay into wonder, and convert hardship into nourishment. In this way, you will live with awareness and brilliance, becoming both an "artist of life" and a "craftsman of living art".


Artistic creation is a lifelong construction, a journey through life itself. Art instills in us an "author's heart," while the Academy nurtures the spirit of creation, aiming not just to produce artistic works but to facilitate a life lived artistically. All great artworks are incidental to a grander purpose, fundamentally aimed at "nurturing humanity."


Art transforms life experiences creatively and the act of creating art is also a process of self-creation. Art education truly reaches its pinnacle when it transforms individuals into vivid, dynamic beings shaped by artistic influence. These individuals represent the finest achievements of art, as ultimately, it is people who constitute the most profound artworks in the world. As Liang Qichao articulated, "Although not everyone can become a 'fine artist,' it is essential for everyone to embody the spirit of art."


To be an artist of the world, one must strive to "nurture humanity," pushing forward an art that is accessible to everyone.


Art for everyone is designed for individuals worn down by the demands of production and consumption, those dulled by the monotony of daily life. It aims to unearth and unleash emotions and intellect, to inspire the courage for criticism and action, and to rejuvenate the power for self-expression and self-renewal, thereby fostering moments of artistic thought and spiritual connection. Our sensitivity, critical thinking, and creativity, alongside the latent intellectual and emotional capacities inherent in each of us, are poised to blossom brilliantly during these moments.


Dear students, this year we unveiled the "CAA Century Masters" directory, which features a former master called Zhu Jiaji. In 1963, CAA pioneered China's first undergraduate program in calligraphy, and Mr. Zhu Jiaji, at the invitation of Mr. Pan Tianshou, took up the position of professor, teaching calligraphy and classical literature, and thus became one of the founders of higher education in calligraphy.


Mr. Zhu Jiaji, born and grew up in a scholarly family, embodied the refined vigor typical of a gentleman of noble descent. He lived a life indifferent to fame and fortune, seeking no recognition, and thus remained relatively obscure in the annals of calligraphy history. Last year, I had the honor of writing a preface for his collected works. After an extensive review of many documents, I came to truly appreciate Mr. Zhu's worth. His calligraphy is marked by meticulous and fine strokes, his style distinguished and graceful, seamlessly integrating vigor with tranquility. He did not pursue skill for its own sake, yet his natural proficiency was evident. His brushwork subtly conveyed shifts in momentum and emotion, his free and vigorous strokes carried an air of nobility, truly reflecting his profound elegance. However, what touched me the most were the numerous letters he wrote to his mother.


In these letters, Mr. Zhu Jiaji employed his refined calligraphy and a relaxed tone to narrate everyday trivialities, each detail expressing profound and genuine affection. At that time, in his sixties, he was enduring significant hardships. Mr. Wang Jiying, in a memorial written years later, provides a glimpse into those challenging times: "During the decade of calamities, when misfortune was rampant and justice obscured, many were wrongfully accused, including Mr. Zhu. He suffered from a heart condition, which worsened during these years. One winter, when Hangzhou's bridges were sealed by heavy snow, he made daily pilgrimages to Solitary Mountain to 'confess,' struggling over the icy bridge, often stumbling and, out of desperation, crawling across..." Despite such adversities, the letters Mr. Zhu wrote to his mother remained buoyant and witty, filled with the freshness of spring. Upon closely reading these letters, one is deeply moved by this scholar's pure filial piety and enduring hardships. With a tone of light-hearted humor and his elegant calligraphy, he recounted moments of respite during labor, simple meals after meetings, and even the frustrations of the "Four Pests" campaign involving rat-catching. The bitterness of field labor, chronic illness, and severe poverty—all transformed under his pen into life's simple joys and mundane pleasures, providing comfort to his elderly mother. The casual details mentioned in these letters, connected to Mr. Zhu's actual circumstances, provoke deep empathy and often move the reader to tears.


Reflecting on these letters compels one to ponder—what did the act of writing these letters represent for Mr. Zhu Jiaji? What did his calligraphy mean to him in those moments?


Calligraphy is a practice that integrates both body and mind, serving as an expression of genuine feelings and a manifestation of the calligrapher's physical and mental state. Thus, we say "the style is the person" and "seeing the writing is like seeing the person." However, the content and form of Mr. Zhu Jiaji's letters are strikingly different from his actual circumstances. On one hand, he used a relaxed and effortless writing style to mask his deteriorating physical condition and harsh realities, in an effort to spare his mother any worry. On the other hand, for him personally, these letters, each line exquisitely composed, represented his moments of greatest happiness and peace. Writing these letters was a refuge for his soul, transforming life's rituals into moments like a beam of light in a weary journey, creatively transcending reality's hardships.


Sima Qian (a Chinese historian during the Han Dynasty) stated in his Autobiography: "Those who wrote the Book of Songs and the Book of History because their aspirations were unfulfilled. ... The Book of Songs contains three hundred pieces, mainly the work of sages and virtuous men expressing their frustrations when their paths were blocked." Unlike the anguish and frustration detailed by Sima Qian, Chinese literary history showcases a distinct temperament.


Ji Kang (a Chinese poet, philosopher and musician during the Three Kingdoms period), facing execution, played the guqin, lamenting only that Guangling San (The Melody of Guangling) would henceforth be lost.


Su Shi (Chinese poet and artist during the Song Dynasty), despite numerous exiles and facing severe hardships in Danzhou, a remote outpost, wrote in his poem Crossing the Sea, "I do not resent facing death in the desolate south, for this extraordinary journey surpasses any in my life."


As Zhang Huangyan (a Chinese poet during the Ming Dynasty) faced his execution, he looked out at the beautiful scenery and exclaimed, "What a beautiful landscape!" completing his life's final aesthetic appreciation with serenity.


Mu Dan (a Chinese poet in contemporary China), after surviving the brutal Yeren Mountain battle and a desperate escape through the rainforests, penned Dream Under Nature, a poem filled with the purest of praises.


These historical narratives that inspire profound reflection and purify the heart show grand openness and spiritual transcendence ignited by art. They resemble a spring breeze or the deep flow of tranquil waters, glittering subtly like dust motes in jade, reflecting the moon over one's shoulder and rivers in dreams, tapping into the nuanced sentiments of Chinese literati and demonstrating the profound impact of art on life—life is transcended through creation, and the soul is enlightened through art.


Finally, for those of you about to leave the Academy, I harbor one additional hope—I wish for you to be more realistic and more romantic in your future endeavors and life.


Being more realistic means integrating more deeply into society and living more genuinely and intensely. Only by deeply engaging with society can you truly understand reality; only by understanding reality can you truly know yourself; and only the most grounded life can be the deepest and most fulfilling.


Being more romantic means maintaining a grand passion in your heart. CAA is a community of artistic vision creation, where each individual has the potential to be a visionary, as long as you continuously nurture a profound romantic sentiment. By steadfastly embracing this grand romance and continuously nurturing an "author's heart," you can traverse life's irreversible journey fearlessly and without hesitation.


Dear students, life at CAA is more than an educational journey—it's a way of life. Through your time here, I hope you come to realize that reality is expansive, the world is rich, human nature is complex, and the self is ever-evolving.


Dear students, a few years ago, you came to CAA from all corners of the world. Today, you will step out from CAA to around the world. You are the bridge that connects the rest of the world to CAA. Remember, no matter how far you travel, CAA is your perpetual home, you are proud CAA members, and CAA's greatness is propelled by you!


We have come to this long-awaited moment. Now, I invite the Director of the Academic Board and our former President, Prof. Xu Jiang onstage to host the grand ceremony with me.


Dear students, please stand, extend your right arm across your chest, and lift the golden tassel. When we shout "CAA," you shout "Fight for art," and toss the tassels over your shoulder. You were cared for and allowed to grow freely during your school time. Now that you've graduated, you must take up the plow as your duty. You are to embrace this duty, to live vigorously, to struggle, to realize your potential! To act, to create, to change the world!