Long March Project: Yan’an Forum on Art Education Summary and Closing Ceremony: Lu Jie’s Remarks


Lu Jie


Excerpt from Long March Project: Yan’an Forum on Art Education Summary and Closing Ceremony

Time: May 23, 2006, 10:50-13:10

Location: Kang Da Hotel, Nr. 6 Conference Room

Speaker: Lu Jie


In front of me today sit the invitees and representatives who spoke at today’s event. Behind me sit the artists who partook in the Long March Project and local art education workers.

Let the final part of the Long March Project Yan’an Forum on Art Education and the closing ceremony officially begin!

First of all, let us welcome Director Xu Jiang, Director Fan Di’an and Director Luo Zhongli who found time in their busy schedules to join us here today (and despite the transportation difficulties in getting here) to take part in the discussion. Then I would like to introduce a number of the projects that Long March Project is carrying out here in Yan’an.

Like the historical Long March, the artistic Long March ended in Yan’an, but for both, Yan’an represents a new start, not a conclusion. The projects being realised in Yan’an include:

  1. The Yan’an Forum on Art Education, initiated by the renowned artist Cai Guo-Qiang, organized by the Long March Project.
  2. Over 40 works/groups of works by more than 30 artists being systematically implemented/exhibited at locations across the Yan’an region. Amongst the sites are the ruins of the Catholic Church at Qiao’ergou which was once the site of the Lu Xun Art Academy, where the works of five international artists are shown. In the 11 yaodongsites at the site of the old Yan’an University 10 artists’ works are shown; at the Kang Da Hotel where we stay and hold meetings, the works of nine artists are shown, spread out across different sites. Simultaneously, numerous artists presented works mirroring the improvisational un-fixed flowing form of Xin tian you at various public spaces around Yan’an which will continue to develop over the coming one to two years. Included amongst these works is a series by Chen Xiaofeng and his long-standing project of simultaneously painting and being painted, of mutual observation in two-sided portraitures. Also, works made here in Yan’an by Yan Lei, Jiang Jie and others will continue to develop in situ for some years to come. What is less visible of Long March’s programmes in Yan’an may be the “Site Visit” component. “Site visit” here means “to experience life”.  Over time, Long March received a certain number of complaints for not inviting artists to properly “visit the site”, for not giving enough time to observe and experience life elsewhere. So this time, we invited a group of outstanding artists actively working from across the country to partake in this conference and ensuing events, to observe and provide their thoughts on the various artworks being executed here. This at the same time provided an opportunity for them to better understand Long March Project and better prepare them to take part in Long March Project’s work in the future.

In addition to these, Long March Project also has a three-year project in the pipeline that is a teacher training programme for primary school art teachers in the Yan’an region. This project fully embodies Long March’s attention to art education. Since 1998 when I began the curatorial planning for “Long March – A Walking Visual Display” through until after 2002 when Qiu Zhijie joined in on the project, whether we were in the countryside experiencing rural life or in Beijing or overseas in public discussions of our curatorial process, we could always feel that there were two faintly discernible yet unavoidable paths open ahead in the development of contemporary art: one concerned the understanding of resources in traditional and folk culture; the second, was to pay close attention to art education.

The training programme for primary school art teachers is a very tangible starting point for this. In the process of completing the Long March Project in Yan’an, we came to a profound realisation of a few key challenges:


  1. The tendency towards utilitarianism and industrialism in education has resulted in a lack of sufficient economic and political resources at the roots of society to have art teachers at the primary school level.
  2. Even in cases where there are art teachers, the prevalence of an elitist idea of career development leads those graduates from fine art academies and normal universities to tend to only spend a period of time in the countryside before wanting to return to larger metropolises and engage in elite circles of artistic creation. Of course, there is nothing inherently wrong in this, but it does create a deficit at the local level in the requirements of childhood education.
  3. Most importantly, even in cases where there is someone teaching art, they employ a generic teaching plan and syllabus for art education implemented nation-wide. This sort of generalisation disregards and does not understand local realities and specialties and contains numerous problems. This creates deficiencies in what is in truth a positive good of primary and middle school art education.

Our project came to life against such a backdrop, taking a few folk cultural forms of ethnic groups in northern Shaanxi as starting point. Papercutting for example, is one of the cultural resources children in the region are most familiar with, the artistic consciousness they are most easily able to understand. Papercutting represents a cultural practice one learns through ones’ own mother and grandmother, through shamanistic culture or symbolic culture, through rituals combined with religious and local beliefs, through which the symbols and form of visual expression are received. Such education and teaching has ceaselessly continued to develop, but how to utilise modern educational practices and experience, how to help to organise and create a disseminatable, easily defined yet vital and flexible material whilst modern education professionals and art educators retain the premise of respecting the original creative spirit and impetus behind papercutting and maintaining the essential elements of its traditional development, remains a challenge. This was the goal of the first phase of the project: bringing together the most outstanding papercutting artists who live in the villages closest to the children and summarising these artists’ experience and wisdom through modern educational methods to create a teaching material that could potentially be disseminated. Relatively speaking, such methods share much in common with previous methods once employed by local and “barefoot teachers” and has received approval by the local government and been launched at pilot testing sites with the support of the local Bureaus of Culture and of Education. This project was expected to last for three years, and here I report on the progress of its implementation.

But next, I would like to take some time to give a quick summary of the past two days of the Yan’an Forum on Art Education, leaving us enough of the precious time we have here today for a final round of discussion and summation.

Three key issues were at the centre of discussions over the past two days:

First off, the current state and understanding of China’s art education.

The board member of Long March Foundation, Director of the English-language ArtChina magazine, renowned curator and educator Professor Zheng Shengtian in his remarks earlier looked back upon the history of art education in China, particularly its transformation post- Reform and Opening, comparing the difficulties of education reform in the 1980s with the achievements of today’s Reforms. The focus of his remarks centred on the question “what is the goal of art education?” Is it to educate towards the mastery of styles and skill in the most talented, or to nurture the broader development of artistic and humanistic consciousness? The aim of his remarks was to draw attention to the limitations of the master-apprentice system and point to how art education ought to be a space for experimental creativity.

Professor Pi Daojian from South China Normal University’s College of Fine Art reviewed the past century of Chinese art education, particularly the reasons why art education reforms never came to full fruition following the discussions on art education prevalent in the 1980s. He mentioned some structural problems within art education mechanisms, noting the well-known difficulties and resistance inherent in processes of reform. The scale of art education is generally developing rapidly, but its achievements are uneven. Whether students are fortunate enough to benefit from diverse, organic, and contemporary teaching resources at their place of learning depends largely on those schools having courageous, charismatic and forward-looking directors. A number of speakers touched upon the shortcomings in the extant art education system, including but not limited to an extreme and excessive focus on technical education, challenges within the personnel and recruitment system, administrative meddling in educators’ professional work, an over-expansion and over-inflation of education’s industrialisation, the quality of the students, the pros and cons of the national education assessment and examination system, and the way in which the rigorization and graphicalization of the education system does not correspond to real and legitimate improvements in the system on a comparable level.

Faced with the range of challenges, participants in the conference often voiced a sense of frustration and pessimism. Discussions turned to how a new site of experimentation for art education ought to be created outside of the existing system; civilian, private, peer-led movements, that are freer and better reflect the reality of the era. Admittedly, such a school would face difficulties in terms of funding, receiving qualifications, and in its power to give out and award degree qualifications.

A number of speakers emphasised the need for a persistent spirit of dedication by the intelligentsia and how the responsibility, morality and methods of the educators need to resolutely continue and find creative means for contributions within the existing parameters. Professor Sui Jianguo spoke on the situation in the sculpture department at the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) where he teaches, which preserves aspects of the old system while adding a new system to remain in-step with the most cutting-edge art education systems in the rest of Asia and around the world. What this means is that within the department there are two traditional studios, two more conceptual studios, and two studios dedicated to public socially aware sculpture. These three types of studios together compose a collective, in a complementary relationship balancing opposition and harmony.

Renowned educator Mr. Yang Dongping, researcher at the Institute of Higher Education at the Beijing Institute of Technology and dean of the 21st Century Education Research Institute at Tsinghua University spoke of the broader challenges in China’s contemporary education system that are linked to but go beyond to the state of the country’s contemporary art education system, and criticised the tendencies towards utilitarianism that exist within the current system. Universities have become officialdoms, there is an overflow of pragmatism and a forfeit of idealism; but while this may be true, the accomplishments of the existing education system should be positively and rigorously affirmed. Not only is the current education system constantly thinking and analysing, progressing, and drawing in all forms of strength and suggestions, it allows space for a parallel opening up of special zones and pilot sites which can be popularised and promoted. Mr. Yang further suggested that the dedication of the sort of projects like Long March are of equal importance to the development and progress of education reforms.

Mr. Yang Dongping in his remarks voiced the need to reimagine the idea of education in the same vein as Tao Xingzhi's “Life Education” that formed a key component of the ideology of “New Democracy” that arose in the 1930s. The establishment of Life Education paid close attention to the individual development of personality as a means to improve one’s life and society through education. Closely stemming from such an idea, many of the participants in the past days of discussion noted that in discussing art education, our focus should not only be on higher education but also on education for young children and in primary and middle schools, and on the importance of art education amongst the greater population and society.

Mr. Pi Daojian and numerous other discussants repeatedly noted that contemporary art education forms a crucial resource within the wider contemporary education system. To lay fertile ground for culture, one must start from birth. Mr. Pi Daojian summarised this process as a flow of art, humanities, openness, and interaction: Art as the discipline, humanities as the foundation, openness as an attitude, and interaction as the method. At the same time, he noted that public space in society needs to be expanded, and only by expanding the space for the entire art system to accept the achievements of contemporary art, can this transform into an effective means of contemporary art education. Educating decisionmakers and the general public about the positive significance of what contemporary art has achieved would prove beneficial in promoting support within society for the creation of a contemporary art education system.

The Director of the China International Culture Exchange Centre at the Ministry of Culture Mr. Lv Jun spoke in his remarks from his work experience over many years, and explained how China and the government have recognised that an increasingly crucial moment for modern and contemporary art within China’s social life has arrived. On the international cultural stage, Chinese contemporary art has become an important symbol of the country’s creativity and become an extremely robust form of cultural competitive strength. He spoke about contemporary art in the context of China’s global rise, and how art educators and art creators should come together collaboratively as we have done so here today, allowing contemporary art education and creation a chance to continue its rise.

In his remarks, Hu Heli, Head of the Office of the National Leading Group on Science, Technology and Education repeatedly affirmed that the results of contemporary art have become positive elements of society and culture and are a driving force at the centre of creative society. But at the same time, he pointed out that from the perspective of his own work, the urgency and difficulty of education reform provides ample data and real-life examples for analysis. He presented the differences between the new generation receiving education and those of us from older generations, and repeatedly emphasized how the focus of discussions ought to be on the need to teach students according to their abilities.

The second section of the discussion focused on the question "What is contemporary art education for?"

In the written contributions Professor Zhu Qingsheng of Peking University sent as his remarks, he emphasised that contemporary art education must be firmly grounded in modern art as its ideological basis, as modern art incorporates traditional and classical ideologies and methods while possessing aspects which neither traditional nor classical art can touch upon. These aspects emerged in the new relationship between art and people in the process of modernization, and not only reflect social reality and the explosion of information but incite the originality of the individual, the elementary qualities and exertion of powers that are what it means to be human and which are equally exercised in being an artist, in the ability to hold opposing thoughts and express free critical thoughts in relation to life and the universe. He believes that the second goal of contemporary art education ought to be to utilise new technologies, new categories, and new media as the main function of teaching, using new educational methods to change students' artistic conceptions and not be satisfied with a mere training of artistic skills. His third point was that the importance of contemporary art education should be in organising the form of modern management systems. Circling around the question of what contemporary art education should be for, he noted the importance of experimental teaching in the establishment of departments.

Renowned critic and curator Mr. Wang Nanming and the director of the Fine Art Department at the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts Mr. Li Gongming in their respective speeches emphasised that individualist education and a critical free expression should thread through students' educational life, thereby allowing art to permeate into the realm of public life. It should break down the reactionary ideas of classical education and work against the exclusion and rejection of experimental teaching methods and contemporary theory that still exists within the current educational structure. 

Assistant Professor at the CAFA Department of Printmaking and the founder of the Fei Di Art Studio, Wang Huaxiang spoke about his experience and the challenges faced in his work outside of the system in an independent art education studio.  He emphasised differentiated research that affirms the benefit of the observational and generalised abilities provided by the classical training, while at the same time noting the need for an education system that emphasises risk taking and challenges. The goal of education is to rediscover the relationships and responsibilities that exist between people and society. 

Professor Ni Zaiqin, director and professor at the Department of Fine Arts at Tunghai University in Taiwan, introduced the experience from Taiwan. He noted that a scientifically vigorous education system can benefit from challenges and surveillance by education reform groups outside of the academy system, and that methods and different forms of teaching systems from outside of official academia have an important role to play in creating competition, criticism, and reforms. 

Qiu Zhijie, associate professor at the China Academy of Art and co-director of the academy's Studio of Total Art underlined the importance of the academy's tendency to self-negation. He revisited the history of modern and contemporary art in China and how the few leading art academies were able to produce so many outstanding artists and explained that the reason is that they all came from different levels within the tradition of self-negation and self-criticism inherent in the academy system. He proposed that this capacity for self-negation be systematically implemented in the founding of new academies and in the relationship between schools, between departments and be seen as positive ground not just a result of chance human interaction. 

Professor Liu Yonghua, director of the Stage Design Department at the Shanghai Theater Academy, from his unique perspective in the academy, expounded on his experience in open schooling, with diversified and cross-sectoral, multi-disciplinary and cross-professional teaching. He noted the particular importance to drive teaching through practice given the particularities of his academy and department,

Liu Dahong, professor and postgraduate tutor at the Fine Art Department of Shanghai Normal University and the manager of the Shuang Bai Fang Zhen Studio, pointed to the work of the studio using a mindset of “letting one hundred flowers bloom” as a guide to a strengthened, and targeted creative moral and aesthetic education that could be adapted into a feasibility standard and model. The concept he proposed takes society as a model, a model whose interior concerns would be the concerns of society. He proposed the need for society (as subject), not the human figure; for propositions, not freedom; for commonality, not individuality; for the collective not the personal. The concept that he proposed lead us to the third part of the discussion: “How to develop contemporary art education?” which I will summarise now, and which was tightly wound up with a question we grappled with throughout the first two rounds, namely the relationship between individuality and commonality.

In the third part of the discussion, we were extremely honoured to have received support from Yan’an University and the Lu Xun School of the Arts at Yan’an University. Lian Zhenmin, President of Yan’an University attended the meeting. Vice Principal Feng of the Lu Xun School of the Arts provided most appreciated support throughout the entire discussions and was instrumental in allowing us to hold this segment of the discussions at the meeting hall at Yan’an University. 322 teachers and students from the university took part in the entire forum and at various stages throughout the course of the project. This support allowed this conference not just to be a platform for experts and practitioners from within the art world but to be in communion with the art education ecosystem in Yan’an and its surroundings.

On the question of “How to develop contemporary art education?”, Cai Guo-Qiang spoke of his experiences in the course of his artistic creation and pursuits, and reflected on his own process of education. Standing from an international vantage point and linked with the experiences of his regular returns to China for making works and exchanges, he noted both his points of disagreement and positive responses to the first and second parts of the conference. He particularly emphasised that contemporary art education should not be systematised or pre-emptively dogmatised, noting that the need for retaining students’ independence and individuality is of the utmost importance. In his response to remarks on students’ freedom and individuality made during the previous two sessions, he responded that students are not in possession of too much freedom and are in fact not free enough. Because the contemporary art education as it exists is not open enough, there is no means for it to lead students to a true understanding of what freedom and individuality are. In their pursuit of what is only a superficial freedom and a superficial individuality, they reach only commonality and non-freedom. In his remarks, Mr. Cai Guo-Qiang repeatedly emphasised that one should not fear failure, a comment that echoed remarks by previous speakers in their emphasis on experimentality and there being no need to fear failure.

In his introduction of the disciplinary setting of the New Media Department at China Academy of Art which he leads, Zhang Peili noted the emphasis on making and learning from mistakes within the syllabus of experimental practical teaching methods which represent an important organic guarantee in a more open teaching methodology. He noted that new media is not only a media per se, but it is the understanding, skills and methods, the grasping at the discipline of creation achieved in the process of teaching a creative discipline; the means of expression and comprehensive experience in new artforms, the experience reached under a systematic syllabus led by teachers and by science.


Lv Shengzhong, director of the School of Experimental Art at CAFA reiterated that realism is part of human heritage and should not be seen as a predicament to be overcome. During other remarks over the course of the forum, discussants regularly voiced their thoughts on traditional Chinese painting, oil painting, printmaking, sculpture and other mediums. Professor Lv Shengzhong noted that the crucial question is not about realism or a given artistic media and material, but how to understand art, how to understand art in this new contemporary era, how to teach, how to learn, and with what goal. Apart from confirming that the classification into Chinese ink painting, oil painting, printmaking, sculpture retains relevance, the crux of the mater lies in employing teaching methods from different art and media, and techniques from different disciplines so as to continue to preserve and give new life to new art and new ways of understanding that form a part of humanity and human history. Additionally, he emphasized that traditional and folk customs can equally be resources for experimental art and whether art is old or new is not a question of its medium. Therefore, reforms to the understanding of contemporary art education should not over-rely on the proliferation of new media art.

Other key points from Professor Lv Shengzhong’s remarks include the need for the establishment of reason and the cultivation of humanities-informed thought, a sentiment that was also repeatedly mentioned in other speakers’ remarks; how to pay attention to the creation of historical and theoretical disciplines at schools, how to ensure that theoretical education is not uncoupled from creative teaching and basic education modules but that they are inextricably entwined together. At the same time, Professor Lv Shengzhong also noted in his speech that not only should we pay attention to cultivating elite creative talents, but also utilize the same means for cultivating such talents in order to play a positive role as an artist in society without any contradictions, something achievable only when these talents possess creativity.

Professor Yang Jingsong, co-director of the Studio of Total Art at China Academy of Art approached the discussion from an elevated theoretical viewpoint, drawing in perspectives from philosophy, educational theory and cultural studies to present a systemic theoretical analysis. He used this analysis to raise challenges brought on in the industrialization of functionalist education and the examination system; issues related to the supply and demand relationships of the art market, the contemporary art exhibition and creative systems, and other elements whose links to the contemporary art education system inevitably raise challenges including questions in the understanding of the humanities consciousness in art education that need to be reconsidered from new perspectives.

With a myriad of materials, Qiu Zhijie presented an education plan based on a research on misunderstandings and authenticity of cultural imagination in ethnic Tibetan regions, to propose what I generally would call a method of New Socialist Realism. What is meant by New Socialism here is a concern for society. Through such a realist methodology, students effectively opened schools in the countryside, and realized through teaching the most sensitive, vital, and dynamic issues and meanings facing the contemporary art world at a given moment in time. These include issues of post-colonialism, the construction of cultural subjectivity and cultural imagination and its misconceptions. Similar to what has been discussed here, his teaching method places equal importance on the contradiction between the individual and the collective present in experimental art education.

Professor Chen Danqing called in from Hong Kong to give his remarks over the telephone. He gave brief responses to audience questions during the discussion and his remarks reiterated his belief in the existence of certain flaws in the extant art education system. At the same time, Professor Chen Danqing, like the rest of the audience and speakers, reaffirmed that despite these many flaws, the shortcomings in the art education system are resolvable through positive active construction and participation.

Circling around the topics of the three portions of the conference, the final discussion reached the conclusion that those fine art academies and teaching departments and courses that already exist should not be adopted as models for wider circulation, but instead be treated as starting points to be examined, as platforms for exchange and learning. Participants in this conference came from academies from different cities, from different artistic fields, with many experts present here today. Many of the artists who partook in the Long March Project’s programmes in Yan’an also provided valuable insight during the course of the conference. The participants reaffirmed the profound significance of Yan’an as the context for this discussion, given Yan’an’s hallowed revolutionary position and its proximity with ideas of Chinese modernity. As Zhang Peili said in his remarks, the yearning for Yan’an is stronger than the yearning for New York. This jesting remark corresponded precisely with our original motivation for initiating and organizing this event. We have entered most wearily into a time in which our most recent work in the contemporary art sphere has revolved too closely around the metropolis, a moment that is admittedly full of opportunities but at the same time is permeated by functionalism and opportunism, lacking the space for analytical thought. Yan’an’s pull drew us in, as Professor Sui Jianguo noted in his remarks, the speeches at the Yan’an Art Forum of 1942 (we distributed a copy for each of the delegates as reading material) touched upon many important questions. Revealing, explaining and discussing the construction of art education still have enormous real significance in the Chinese context, and are equally meaningful in the international art environment. Professor Yang Dongping emphasized the significance of holding the conference in Yan’an and revisited the original context of the Yan’an Art Forum, underlining the connections between life and art, and between education and life.

The participating representatives affirmed that a private organization such as Long March Project attempting to undertake such a task marks an influential historical occasion. Let us hope that such work can be continued, systematized, promoted and copied so that all of society might share in the concern and discussion of contemporary art education.

The remarks I made above constitute a summary of the entire conference up to now.

Next, we hope to take this time for a final round of discussion. There are likely numerous speakers whose remarks were incomplete and have many more interesting points to add. After this summary and reflection over the past two days of the conference, I hope we might be able to commence a new round of discussion.