It is the process, and not the result, of an artist's contemplation that marks the maturity of his style. This is because what is contemplated does not produce results in a given time span. Such thinking takes an open course; it generates new dynamics, with analytical, and possibly historical, significances.
We have become accustomed to smoothness in writings and images in our historical/empirical tradition, something like readability in the quality of translation. However, there are things that do not offer smoothness, especially as in the imageries produced by what has by-now become much avant-garde contemporary Chinese art. We may start off our criticism from either a psychological, historical, or logical, point of view, or from the ontology of art, and are still unable to combine phenomenology, semiotics and psychoanalysis into one critique. It is therefore impossible for our language to be smooth and readable.
Phenomenology has opened up a dimension which was not seen in Western languages ever before, such that even cultural gaps show up for the first time among the major languages of the West, and non-translatability between them has become a problem, not to mention between them and the vastly distant Chinese language and culture; semiotics has also pushed language to its extremity so that its innermost bone marrow is revealed in the form of thinking, mathematics and logic; whereas the developments in psychoanalysis have forced language to a corner and turned it into sickness. The languages and arts of the Western cultures have lost their familiar demeanor, lost their smoothness and their transparency. The multi-cultural phenomenon has become a major feature of the twentieth-century humanities.
Our language, the modern Chinese, for lack of the backing by a corresponding thought system, or preparation by a similar "thought revolution," has not seen an equivalent extension. This is an undisputable fact, one that is not affected by any value judgment; it comes as a result of the time and culture, and not to be faced independently by any individual cultural entity. Consequently, it should not be surprising that our analyses of individual artists may be scattered and unsystematic. What we can do is just picking up and listing only those valuable and significant processes to extents where possible, and linking them up so they become leads to our logic and imagination. These are nevertheless the key tasks and responsibilities of criticism.
Chen Jiagang's empirical world consists of a history and reality in which all of us contemporary intellectuals have shared. To discover the truth and substance within this world, we might want to devote more observation to his personality and his love...
Knowledge and experience are the basic passages through which the personality of our times is formed. No one can proudly claim his innocence from it. In this rapidly changing society, there are unlimited obtainable values and numerous and variable practicable ways to obtain them. Imageries in our times are displaying their magical powers and complexities that act on the society and on ourselves; they develop empirical relationships between variables, and construct the personality and love of our times.
With his "Third Front," Chen Jiagang started his empirical narrative, in vision. And then "DiseasedCity," "Temptation," "SmogCity," "Diaoyutai" followed, till he turned to his "Trilogies." Intertwined in his empirical space are industrial history, social changes, sicknesses in the city, life and culture, power and politics, history and ideologies, nation and world, which altogether extend a grandiose vision of the world. The pathos and compassion contained are full of contemplation and observation. Historiography tells us that all forms of experience contain judgment. Ruins and wastes, filth and poverty, blankness and paleness, vacancy and pathetic flashiness, complexity and heaviness, mental and actual, these are all part of Chen's esthetic lexicon, testimonies to his global generalities. They awaken our memories of the classic human personality: justness, bravery, compassion, and caution.