Despite its title Art Memoir of Chien Mei-yu, this is not a typical publication about an artist’s art and creative thought. Rather, it is the artist Chien Mei-yu’s honest account of her 30-year-long artistic journey through Chinese painting.
When writing a “book”, principles must be adhered, and the subject matter must be chosen with discretion to avoid derision. Writing a book on art is no exception. In addition to a carefully crafted text, a serious and ambitious esthetic philosophy should also be introduced to affirm the quality of the book.
However, Chien has tried to set this strict literary framework aside. Her ambition was not to write a “book,” but to pen a “record” of her long, artistic journey. For this end, “being truthful” is of the utmost importance.
Facing one’s own past with honesty is easier said than done. It is especially difficult for an artist like Chien, who has dedicated her life to art. Every time she completes a work, she has never a moment to stop making difficult choices and decisions. In appearance, the stylistic changes are apparent in her works, but inside her heart, an endless battle of artistic ideas is raging.
With every new creation, what the audience sees is the material result of a long, selective esthetic process. They know little of the artistic struggle. No matter how brilliant, a new work is just a short-term victory, the outward expression of the ongoing creative battle within.
The writing process becomes another challenge when Chien tries to look back and describe her past in words. How is one to deal with “truth” in an autobiography? How is it possible to prevent hindsight from disguising, rationalizing, or even idealizing past events, choices, and judgments, or even failures?
Retrospective distortion is often proof of arrogance in an author, and is of course very far from truth.
Chien has used her old diaries and notes as aids to recollect her past. She would add new ideas and reflections only to change everything back to the way she remembered it then. Indeed, she did so relentlessly, changing the content back and forth countless times. However, she did this to keep her recollections as accurate and authentic as possible.
As such, the account presented in Art Memoir of Chien Mei-yu may be considered as an alternative “work” to her flower-and-bird paintings—they complement each other. The paintings of flowers and birds are evidence of her devotion to Chinese realism and the school of fine-brush technique, which, in our day and age, is a very lonely path.
Although creation of natural, “realistic” images has been an artistic imperative throughout her career, her sketching is not mere imitation of nature, nor a matter of showing off her skills. To her, the most important thing is to return to a state of contemplation of her inner self, and from there to reach a transcendental reality.
In earlier paintings, such as Bamboo and Sparrows, Lotuses, White Camellia and Green Birds, as well as recent works like Cranes, the “natural” or “realistic” element is ever-present and prominent.
These works are rich and meaningful images that unveil the mysteries of the stages of life, and it seems that these artistic accomplishments can be arranged chronologically without much effort. However, they are the rewards of constant pressure, frustration, loneliness, and an unfaltering insistence on the power of realism, and the school of fine brush art.
Art Memoir of Chien Mei-yu is about the often unforgiving journey of art and is proof that through persistence, we can achieve great things. This is why its “truthfulness” is particularly significant.
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