top of page

Home is where the art is - Zhu Guanqian

Wait. What is Art? What is the purpose of Art? Is art really concerned about its outlanders? This may sound cliché, yet these are the essential reflection that everyone, not only the artists, usually stumbles upon when they have an opportunity to explore the art world and are often left perplexed by the ostensibly elliptical context complicated by the often radical conceit afterwards.

Zhu Guangqian (1897-1986), the renowned Chinese aesthetician and educator focusing on aesthetics psychology and Republican literature and one of the most important forerunners to define contemporary aesthetics in China, addressed the classical questions of art in his book On Beauty completed in 1932. The book, in the form of letters to childern and adolescents, decomposed unfathomable questions into plain language, ultimately leading to an accentuation of the relationship between art and life. Written in more than 70 years ago, it is a profoundly phenomenal publication that sets forth the cornerstone for Zhu's aesthetics theory which still prevails upon many of us today.

The book positioned itself in the unceasing hassle between the influx of Western art values and traditional Chinese culture, coupled with the unsettling political situation and the rising spirit of selfishness in early 20th century China which is still, unsurprisingly, echoing with the social condition nowadays.

To Zhu, art is the plainly intuitive perception of experience, which stands absolutely independent from any interesed concerns. The pursuit of art should be purposeless, retreating from established cognition and realistic measurement. It is not a bridge to achievement or fame, but instead it shall remain as a pure pursuit of passion. Only with this singular attitude could the aesthetics exposure be maximised. Only if all the logical and functional consideration are banished could one truly understand the original beauty of life. Indeed, only with this pure aesthetic experience that one life could be freed from environmental constraints and completed as an extraordinary art piece, in the same vein as fulfilling the Maslow's 'Hierarchy of Needs'.

From the perspective of art theory, Zhu's advocacy is interestingly a stark contrast to conceptual art, which dematerialises the form of the art and centralises on every conceptual association from the visual. There is no right or wrong in the discussion of art. Regarding the relationship of art to the wider audience, however, it is a refreshing point of view to abandon every realistic concern and just indulging oneself into the broad realm of art, such as visual art, music, poetry, etc. and to be naturally thrilled from the most pivotal senses.

There is no particular artwork to be featured this week. The "Art" has been revealed to us, through Zhu's inspiring words, in the incredibly rich conceptual context. As the famous saying from the Italia journalist, Italo Calvino, goes, "a classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say". Flipping through the chapters of On Beauty, one would not stop being enchanted by the fluid implications that seem to stand timeless in the historical discourse.

bottom of page