Mian Situ: Plot in Painting

Word Of God, oil on canvas, 2004

The importance of the story, or the plot, or the theme itself in painting has always been debated. But such arguments, like other arguments about art, will never come to a conclusion. Painting works on the visual, and it is through the viewer's visual perception that it triggers itself to be moved. Stories and plots depend on thinking, knowledge and the help of experience to be fully experienced.

A Short Respite, Central Pacific Railroad, Sierra Nevada 1867 32inchx40inch

This sometimes diminishes the purity of the visual element and affects the extreme play of vision. Some abstract art seeks visual purity, while the subject matter, plot, and story are somehow limiting the arbitrary play of visual elements. This brings us back to the discussion of kites and strings. When abstract art is completely free from these restrictions, some abstract artworks start to look tasteless, at least that's how I see it. The challenge for realistic painters is to find a balance of their own in between. The kind of painting that starts entirely from the plot is often uninspiring. No matter how complex a story you have in your work, the visual element still has to come first.

Twilight Crossing 24inch x 36inch

An episodic painting without visual elements is like a laundry list. Here is an interesting phenomenon related to it. In the early years of the founding of New China, there were a large number of paintings related to revolutionary themes, which were associated with a specific period. With time, the general trend of the times and people's views and perceptions have changed so much that the contents of some works have become unimportant or have been rejected by history. However, in some works of that period, people can still find the glitter of art. These glimmers come more from the art form itself, the artistic expression part of the work, and the content has become unimportant instead.

Clearing a passageway for the western end of the transcontinental railroad 36inch x 48inch

There is still a large market for episodic paintings in the United States, especially in the field of so-called “Western Art”. The collectors in this field are mostly successful people with good economic status, and their deep feelings for the pioneering history of the American West make them like to own vacation homes in some of the development areas of the West, whose buildings imitate the style of the pioneers of early natives, and collect artworks with Western themes in the interior, to achieve the satisfaction of historical tracing and the overall harmony of the living environment. This is also the driving force behind the enduring popularity of Western realistic paintings.

Almost Home 14inch x 20inch

The painters who worked on these paintings generally had a very dedicated spirit, and their attention to historical detail often puts me to shame. The collectors of these works are also very demanding about the correctness and accuracy of the details. In the course of my contact with them, I discovered that Americans are generally very knowledgeable about history and nature. For example, if you paint a landscape, you can't add plants arbitrarily, they will probably find that the plants you add should not be in the landscape at the height of the sea level, or that the weapons held by the figures in the painting do not match the period of the painting, etc. I sent a picture to a museum for an exhibition last month. After sending it, I remembered that I had forgotten to draw the collimator of a gun. When I went back to make up the picture, I chatted with a staff member nearby. He was very familiar with weapons. Then he took me to the Weapons Department of the museum and showed me the structure of weapons in different ages.

A Touch of the Market 23inch x 20inch

This is a very interesting phenomenon. The difference between American painters and Chinese painters is sometimes like the difference between Western medicine and Chinese medicine. Americans pay attention to accuracy and specificity. For example, when painting a mountain, you must know where the mountain is and where the sea is. Chinese painters like synthesis, the background in the painting may be only synthesis, and the time and space may also be abstract. The titles of American paintings are often directly the names of places, people, or events themselves. The selection of titles of Chinese paintings is more general, and it is probably just an artistic conception. There is no good or bad here, just that the East and the West do have very different thinking.