China Academy of Art
Draw from the Sources, Venture with the Greats
Speech delivered at “CAA Launch” on the China Academy of Arts' 95th anniversary in 2023
Dear alumni, friends, and fellow peers,

Ninety-five years ago, on this particular day, Mr. Cai Yuanpei delivered a speech at our academy's opening ceremony. He said then that the mission of the National Academy of Art (later renamed into China Academy of Art) was for our people to enjoy true life through the love for beauty. During a time marked by cultural clashes between the East and the West, when we stood on the brink of a national crisis, Mr. Cai set his sights on the future − on the cultivation of future generations and the betterment of people's lives. The China Academy of Art is the product of the New Culture Movement. A century ago, New Culture academics believed that the key to solving the nation's challenges started from the reconstruction of our lifeworld, upon which Chinese people will realize self-awareness, autonomy, independence, and self-empowerment.

Ninety-five years have passed. Today, art is no longer the exclusive property of the Chinese literati. Instead, it has evolved into a theoretical and practical instrument in the championing of social innovations. Similarly, art education is no longer solely concerned with the cultivation of the individual mind and spirit, going on to become a successful academic field deeply rooted in the land of China. Today, CAA stands as the world's largest art academy that boasts an unprecedented organizational scale, comprehensive academic disciplines, and diverse programs. Its societal involvement and public influence are without parallel.
In recent years, CAA has been emphasizing the "empowerment of culture and tech education". Our aspirations go beyond the fusion of technology and art. We wish to build an engine that drives the dynamic interaction between art and technology as well as science and philosophy. Why should an art school pay attention to technology? Nowadays, digital technologies and artificial intelligence have transformed the way we teach and learn, the way schools function and work, and the significance and value of art. I believe that with advanced AI technologies, art will become increasingly important. The tasks that AI technologies like ChatGPT can take over lie in the domains of modal knowledge, derivative wisdom, and repetitive labor. However, they can never replicate actual human sensibility and creativity. That is why I am not worried that AI will ever replace a human creator. That which can be replaced is not genuinely creative. Human art is guided by purposes and driven by desire. That is why great artworks are the byproducts of trying to achieve some other grand ambitions.
Artificial intelligence is the yardstick by which creativity is measured and assessed. It is a tool that helps us understand what true creativity looks like and what true art is. It is passion, emotion, imagination, artistry, and expression that can never be replaced by something else.

CAA's legacy spans close to a century, filled with generations of masters who left indelible marks in China's history of contemporary art, who defined CAA and built the academic foundations of the Academy. This year, we will formally launch "Grand Master of the Century", a five-year research program whose conclusion in 2028 will mark CAA's centennial. We will host a symposium commemorating the 120th anniversary of Lin Wenzheng's birth, an exhibition commemorating the 120th anniversary of Wu Dayu's birth, a centennial exhibition on Zhao Wuji's masterpieces during the Asian Games, and other academic events, which will provide us with opportunities to dive into the history and philosophy of Chinese contemporary art and art education as we celebrate and commemorate the masters and artists of the past.

On every anniversary, we take the opportunity to retrace CAA's history and revisit its former glory. We do this not only to celebrate our achievements but to preserve CAA's legacy and to continue CAA story, in which we explore new pertinent topics in art and art education, and set new visions. This is because since its establishment, CAA has always aspired toward lofty educational heights and grand artistic ambitions. Back in 1928, our three key educational objectives had been clearly stated in the Organizational Framework of the National Academy of Art: to groom professional artists, to champion art movements, and to promote social aesthetic education. For the founders of this academy, CAA is the birthplace of art movements. To them, 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 the people as well as to drive social progress and personal improvement. It uses art to nurture individuals and their creative, free minds.

Ninety-five years have passed since then. Today, CAA has grown into an institution with five campuses and ten thousand students and faculty members − an achievement hardly seen in both Chinese and international history. Most do not realize that the scale we have reached is in itself an unprecedented accomplishment. We have positioned our five campuses clearly:
  • Nanshan Campus: A modern art education center that connects the contemporary and classic, east and west
  • Xiangshan Campus: A progressive public art space by and for the people
  • Liangzhu Campus: An international innovative design hub that bridges science, art and business
  • Xianghu Campus: An institute of classic Chinese art, which passes on the legacy of the Chinese culture and paves the way for a better tomorrow
  • Zhangjiang Campus: An international, trans-disciplinary innovation hub and business incubator
Through the clear positioning of our campuses, we define CAA's current educational goals and academic aspirations. Over the past two decades, CAA has grown tenfold in both size and essence without losing sight of our original aspirations and vitalities. CAA never stops responding to its educational ideals and artistic ambitions.

We endeavour to build a “Campus Realm” while championing the co-shaping of physical spaces and individual spirits. We uphold the artisanal spirit of "thinking as philosophers and acting as craftsmen", thus creating an Eastern Vision comprising a whole series of artistic disciplines masterfully performed by harmoniously combing theoretical knowledge and practical action. On the cultural dimension, we pursue "diversified yet harmonious multicultural exchanges". Where education is concerned, we are "driven by global and domestic vision" and "integrated by humanities and technology". We are committed to nurturing individuals accomplished in both character and knowledge, versed in arts and science, in classical and contemporary learning, and in Chinese culture and global vision”.

There are numerous new challenges ahead of us in the new age − the commercialization and politicization of art across the globe, the increasing prevalence of artificial intelligence in technology, the deterioration of human sensibility, and the withering of creativity. In the face of the AI's ability to generate innumerable superficially derivative work and visual content, how do we transform AIGC's infinite but directionless productivity into a controllable one? In the face of the new media that grows more automated and intelligent with each passing day, how do we use art to reconstruct a sensibility-based education and a guiding star for the human souls? In the face of an education system where disciplines are more segregated, how do we transform art education into a successful domain that moves with the times and drives societal innovation?

In the year of 2023, the dawn of a “Post-pandemic Era”, as CAA celebrates its 95th anniversary and hopes to attain even greater height by the time of its 100th anniversary, we must decide how we shall embark on the new journey that lies ahead. In the face of such questions, our answer is to "get firsthand knowledge from the masters" and "follow in the footsteps of the great".
Every artist must seek firsthand knowledge from the masters. We must retrace our steps to the very beginning of a civilization so that we may relive the earliest moments of creation and nourish our art with primordial creative energies. Every artist and art educator must follow the footsteps of the great. CAA's history is filled with great mentors and art masters who brought pride and glory to this place. However, to merely follow the suit of them and constantly walk in their wake is to be cast in their eternal shadows. We must stand shoulder to shoulder with them if we wish to behold the views they once saw and walk alongside them. If we have sufficient courage, wisdom, and luck, we might even end up standing on the shoulders of these giants and open our eyes to further, greater sights.

We must get firsthand knowledge from the masters and follow in the footsteps of the great. We must retrace our roots, preserve what is good, and constantly innovate. The works of great artists are responses to the works of their predecessors. They resonate with the masterpieces of the ancient and, together, form a seamless tapestry of a greater tradition. Each work is the product of an honest dialogue with past great works − originality and ingenuity born from a marriage of understanding.
The great traditions of Chinese art lie neither in clinging to the broken and flawed, nor in stagnancy. It is not enough to just uphold lofty ideals and be friends with the ancient. In fact, we must pit ourselves against them and reinvent what they have already created.
To get firsthand knowledge from the masters and follow in the footsteps of the great, we must adopt a dialectical approach combining the study of the source and course, preserve our legacy, and pave the way for a better tomorrow. The great traditions of Chinese art lie neither in clinging to the broken and flawed, nor in stagnancy. It is not enough to just uphold lofty ideals and be friends with the ancient. In fact, we must pit ourselves against them and reinvent what they have already created.

In The Great Learning, it is written, "In all things, there is a cause and an effect; in all events, there is a beginning and an end. In knowing which is the former and which, the latter, one becomes one step closer to enlightenment." We must examine and never forget where we started and how we got here. Scholars must delve deep into the minds of our ancient sages. They must make sense of the challenges the sages faced during their times and the solutions they employed by examining their words as well as deeds. We must go beyond learning the philosophies, practices, and total personalities of our ancient sages. In fact, we must view through the historical lenses presented by life and social histories and take into account the problems and challenges faced by modern people when we examine the evolution of philosophy or art in the past. That is because our present circumstances are the result of our predecessors' labors. Just as we reap the fruits of past labors, so do we sow the future fruits of our current work. To get firsthand knowledge from the masters and follow the footsteps of the great, we must pay attention to how past and future events unfolding throughout the river of time affect and build upon each other, examine them meticulously, and analyze them logically in order to establish the facts and seek the truth, achieve mastery of the past and present, and go far in our exploration.
Dear friends, time is neither a river, nor a one-way street. It does not forge on relentlessly in a linear fashion. Time is an ocean. “The present” is just its surface and underneath of it are countless turbulent currents. This means we have been floating in the same ocean with the great masters from time immemorial all along − with Homer, Sima Qian, Li Bai, Du Fu, Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, Cezanne, Picasso, Beuys; with the Four Great Artists of China during the Five Dynasties (Jing Hao, Guan Tong, Dong Yuan, and Monk Juran); with the Four Great Artists of the Song Dynasty (Liu Songnian, Li Tang, Ma Yuan, and Xia Gui); with Zhao Mengfu, Dong Qichang, Huang Binhong, Pan Tianshou, Zhao Wuji, and many others. All of them are in fact our "contemporaries". The ideas, images, icons, techniques, and everything that we believe defines an artistic style and which sprung into existence over the course of human history are also in this same ocean.
Let us nourish ourselves with these nutrients and grow even stronger. Let us trawl the oceans for these fragments of history and build ourselves a new vessel of art for the new era. Let us embark on a new journey across this vast ocean.
Let us nourish ourselves with these nutrients and grow even stronger. Let us trawl the oceans for these fragments of history and build ourselves a new vessel of art for the new era. Let us embark on a new journey across this vast ocean.

Let us cast all prejudices and hostilities asides and transcend all differences and huge gaps. Let us embrace new technologies, novel findings, disruptive knowledge, and strangers from afar with openness, sensitivity, sincerity, and goodwill.

Let us bring together the power of societal ideas, artistic designs, intelligent technologies, and the digital economy and transform CAA into a collaborative, exclusive and open space for innovation and the catalyst for creating a future in which philosophy, art, technology, and industry coexist, co-create, and share the fruits of their labors.

Let us dream of the future and reflect on the past, find a new place for art and design in the latest exchange between science and technology, retrace and revive our artistic roots, reawaken our creative sensibility, expression, and ability, and embark on a new journey toward the survival and evolution of humankind.

To everyone at CAA and to our friends, let us join hands and make this happen!