You Are Not Alone: In Response to the "Renewed Three Realms Art Exhibit"

Meng Shentian

PureInsight | August 18, 2003

[] Many years ago I returned to China for an art exhibit. A story written by an art critic said that I am very devoted and attached to my art. The comment was meant as a compliment. It is true that for the longest time, I had been very attached to my art. Someone once said that a genius is someone who is also crazy and has extreme attachments. Before I entered into the cultivation of Dafa, I did not consider extreme attachment to art as something negative. What modern art is trying to present today is precisely this kind of attachment.

When I commenced my cultivation, I heard fellow practitioners commenting that I had "attachments." Though I did not say it out aloud, in my heart I retorted silently, "At least having attachment is better than a person without morals!" I had always thought that only a person who is steadfastly attached to one's goal will be able to succeed. I never bothered to stop and think about what the things that I was trying to accomplish really were and what the significance behind the success that I was trying to achieve was. Later on, I finally realized that things that are very important to ordinary people seem very insignificant when compared with Dafa. This is very similar to the state that modern art is in.

Four years had gone by since I started cultivation. For a long period of time, I could not produce any painting. Sometimes I would raise my brush to paint only to put it down again, feeling that I had nothing to depict. In the art community, people were asking me when I would be exhibiting my work. My friends who were concerned about me inquired as to why I had stopped painting after I started to practice Falun Gong. They thought that my career in art had ended. I spent this period of time doing design work and photography, but I could not face the canvas like I did in the past. Painting is like the foundation of a house. It is the thought and concept of the artist being expressed. This is a lesson that I need to enlighten to and I must be thoroughly clear about the relationship between art and myself, and what attitude I must approach art with as a cultivator who has obtained the Fa.

After the information regarding the "New Three Realms Art Exhibition" was released, it was not possible to avoid this problem anymore. Because it was something that I was very much attached to, it was a very difficult thing for me to handle. I spent the next several months pacing up and down in my studio, and I found it to be a struggle. Because fellow practitioners and colleagues encouraged me, I will briefly discuss my experience in creating work for the New Three Domains Art Exhibition. If there is anything inappropriate, I request that my fellow practitioners to point it out to me.

In 1981, I told my father that I was going to America to study industrial design. In fact, my aim was to study painting. After working for a year and having saved some money, I commenced my studies in the art department. When I was young, I was influenced by Chinese thinkers such as Cai Yuanpei and Lu Xun. They had a common view; they believed that art could save China. At that time, I agreed with their viewpoints. After I learned how to make pictures from engraved or etched plates, I studied oil painting. This was in anticipation of teaching the younger generation of artists when I returned to China. During that period, photography as a realistic painting medium was in vogue. Though the sun was setting in the West for this trend, it was being replaced by the new expressive doctrines from Germany. My professor, Robert Bechtle, was the father of using photography as realistic painting. Although I learned a lot from him, it did not satisfy my aspirations towards art and photography, as a realistic painting was only a stream of art using mechanical means; it was far from my ambition to use art to redeem the nation. I went to Germany, the birthplace of realistic painting. I felt that being in such an environment, I could be criticized and would ponder the criticism I would receive from my peers and it would affect me in my art. I studied art at the Berlin College of Art for six years. Every day I worked very hard painting. If I ever had the opportunity to visit other countries to study their artistic environments, I would do it without a second thought. I visited Moscow, Leningrad and Kiev, and found that the art institutes there were only teaching the painting of live models. They were only painting materials for the propaganda of official organizations. There was nothing creative in such paintings. Yet there were many underground artists who painted what they wished to paint, rebelling against the officially designated subjects to be painted. But they were all following the popular American trends and their work exhibited their yearning for the capitalist westerner style of living. Even though they were all filled with enthusiasm and quite talented somehow I sensed something was missing and felt quite melancholic. That was when I first began to question my attachment to art.

The curriculum of an art institution is as organized as any scientific theory. In America, the teaching method used is to give instructions on how things are done and not how to resolve problems. They use all sorts of mechanisms to plan for a group as a whole, but in Europe the realistic mechanisms of the education system thoroughly penetrated the art institutions. The professors would not tell you what is right or wrong, but the students are given many problems to be solved themselves. Because of this creative work, they discover and expose problems even to the extent of creating questions when examining the problems. Therefore, very few people face the problems directly. As I see it, this is the special characteristic of modern art. The condition here and the art environment from where I came from, where the paintings contained nothing of religious belief or sentiments and, furthermore, there were no spirited comments except commonly offered flattery, it was like being at the other extreme. In the last fifteen years, because of the liberal reformation in the art sector there have been major changes. The criticisms and strength of destruction have sunk to the worst level.

Recollecting the path I had taken, having managed twelve large and small personal exhibitions and numerous joint exhibitions, every exhibition was a result of my individual spirit and strength. It was not because of commercial considerations. Although I earned many art degrees and also had a certain level of mastery and I could return to my country to teach, I was reluctant to do so, no matter how much my father asked me to return. It was because deep down in my heart, I knew that these things cannot help anyone, no matter how many sacrifices I've made for them, how attached I am to them, and how hard I've worked. It is because those things didn't come either from the gods or from the special universal principles of Truthfulness, Compassion and Tolerance. They were just like the ants that were alive in the morning and be dead by nightfall or like the wisp of smoke across our view. In retrospect, if I had not stepped into Dafa, I would not know how lost I would be and where I would end up.

But Dafa is not for people to use as an evasion or as a temporary place of rest. As the notice for the New Three Realms Art Exhibition was announced, I had no alternative but to face the problem directly.

I have always thought that I was very sentimental. In fact there are many painters like me. Two months ago the New York Guggenheim Art Gallery held a big exhibition. I went to see the exhibition with a friend who is an artist from Brazil. The New York Times lavished praise on the exhibition and the artist whose work was being shown is one of the most famous and important artists in the 20th century. My friend came a long way to see the exhibition so I went with him. After being in the Guggenheim Art Gallery for an hour, my body and eyes became uncomfortable. I thought the reason why I was having such a strong reaction was that I had lost touch with the art world for so long so I did not pay much attention to it. As I passed through the last room in the exhibition, I saw many young children seating in a huge room covered with black velvet. They were looking intently at the large screen at the center of the room. At that moment I could no longer endure the suffering and said to my friend beside me that I could only see a bunch of hollow living corpses. I was very angry with the gallery that was wasting so much money on such an exhibition, especially when there were so many innocent children in the audience. My friend enthusiastically agreed and we left the gallery together. Originally, we were both hesitant to speak up about our feelings towards this sensational exhibition as it might have revealed we were too old-fashioned and out of touch with the latest trend. But it turned out that we were not alone; there were perhaps many who thought likewise. This was the first time I felt that art has arrived at the final stage of destruction after going through the process of formation, stasis, degeneration and destruction.

Thinking back during the time when I was filled with enthusiasm for working as an artist, traveling from Asia to America and from Europe to Russia and back to New York, looking for the true essence of art, traveling alone, doing it wholeheartedly, didn't I have nothing but the most noble goal and the best intention? There were some fellow practitioners who viewed my paintings and shook their heads and could not understand, some asked if what I painted was seen with my celestial eye. I could only smile bitterly and avoided talking. Sometimes I asked myself if I were wrong. There were times when it would take me several years to complete a painting. Common people and fellow practitioners are difficult to understand, and at times I wondered if I should look for a job that did not require using the brain! I didn't even want to do any design work anymore. Right before the announcement for the art exhibition came out, I found a gardener's job. I spent the next several days pacing up and down while watering the plants. I knew that it was a precious opportunity for me to figure out my problems. But what was I going to paint? After direction from Teacher and through experience sharing with fellow practitioners, I have gradually realized that this isn't just my personal problem but it involves the whole environment. The whole human society goes through the process of formation, stasis, degeneration and destruction, and it is inevitable that art is included in the process as well.

It cannot be denied that art has visibly or otherwise affected the lives of every person in the world. Some people have substituted going to church or the temple with visiting art galleries. Even the grandpas and grandmas who tour Europe or New York arrange a round of visit to the art galleries. But what is being exhibited at these galleries? And what do they convey to the people? If you are immersed in it for such a long time, you will understand that when Teacher pays close attention to artists who face these problems, it is the manifestation of His great mercy. My understanding is that the New Three Realms Art Exhibition is not just one exhibition, but an opportunity to let all Dafa disciples who work in the art sector, especially those who do modern art, to deeply contemplate the basic problems of modern art. In respect to how and what to do, I think the only way to figure this out is by continuously understanding the Fa and the universal principle of Truthfulness-Compassion-Forbearance along with receiving the grand mercy of Teacher.

Translated from:

Add new comment