NOT TOO LONG THE SINGAPORE ART MUSEUM (SAM) presented An Unbroken Line: The Wu Guanzhong Donation Collection (April 9-August 16, 2009) which showcased 114 works by one of China’s most respected artist, representing five decades of his creative oeuvre. I had expected to see traditional Chinese ink landscape paintings from a Master but what struck me instead was a man unafraid of life and totally open to its expression, liberal yet respectful. Thus in the midst of steep Chinese tradition was that splash of colour – amazing – how did he do that? It was here that I saw a man of vision and understanding, Not only was he an artist in the truest sense of the word but also a bold thinker who expressed his deep views of life, art and creativity through essays.
Wu Guan Zhong saw Singapore as a unique place “…positioned between the east and the west with regards to ethics and quality of life; it is close to China, as it is close to the west; the virtues of both sides are concentrated in you.” It was in Singapore that he made a generous donation of 113 works to SAM. His life was one devoted to the development of culture, arts and education. His is the highest valued donation presented to a public museum in Singapore. During the exhibition as I walked through his pictures and words, his thoughts on “Synthesis of Oil and Ink Practices”, particularly struck me. It said:
“[…] Oil and ink painting are like the two blades of a pair of scissors cutting out a new outfit. The two blades may not necessarily be of the same length, and the ways of using the scissors, exerting different strengths, for example, may also differ from time to time. Hence, when I feel that I have come to a deadlock in oil painting, I will choose to paint in ink. However, I will revert to oil when I feel that my dabbling in ink has come to a deadlock.”
Synthesis in the Creative Process – How We Can Learn to Work Together
Evident in Wu’s work is an innate tension that exist between different elements, for example, the art forms of oil and ink, Chinese and Western traditions, historical and contemporary expressions, notions of the individual and community etc.
However instead of chaos, these diverse elements are synthesized and become part of the creative force which he uses to build a work that becomes uplifting and beautiful. Wu is able to cross over areas and make connections that would have been daunting for most, and he does this in bold strokes which reflects strength of vision and faith. I made a note of the above quote from the exhibition because of the masterful insightfulness in which the creative process and its elements are explained.
In the above quote, Wu has provided a beautiful analogy of how different elements could and should work together to produce new realities. Art is a medium that expresses the spiritual through movement of lines and colours. Different mediums are necessary to express different thing, however, even then, there are limitations to each art form.
Wu’s insight is that new realities can be forged into existence when different elements, though limited in themselves, come together in an interplay of different strengths working to create an effect that each by itself, would have been incapable of achieving.
In the realm of ideas, this also holds true. No two persons think alike in form, style and structure but when they are able to come together, like two blades of a pair of scissors, they have a power to cut through old thinking and realities.
Cutting through Creative Impasse
From my personal experience, I have found that when a certain thought or idea comes to a deadlock, often it takes another person with a different view coming alongside with his “blade of thought” which makes the difference in cutting through a conceptual impasse. Two blades of thoughts in dynamic interplay much like blades of a pair of scissors, have the power to cut out new realities, that a person by himself, may never be able to do.
I’d like to think that Wu’s insight on the creative process explains well why working together is the best way to get to real solutions. That is why the Kingdom of heaven that the Bible speaks of, and a reality that is to be established on earth, can only be “cut out” through the dynamics found in a body of different parts, yet moving in tandem, like blades of a pair of scissors. Each role, when it comes to a deadlock, finds a breakthrough through the thinking or action of another person. The beauty of this is that the “blades” need not be of the same length nor strength, just the will to work together in harmony for the same objective. Wonderful isn’t it?
To see more of Wu Guan Zhong’s works and that of other Chinese Masters, I’d recommend the website chinaonlinemuseum
[first draft June 2, 2009]