Someone commented, “Chien Chung Wei truly has a solid foundation in art. He is one of the top drawing and watercolor artists in this country worth learning from. However, he seems rather full of himself, and lacking the humility that true masters possess. There is always someone better than you. It is good to have confidence, but I am afraid that his self-conceit may eventually imprison himself….
My reply to this:
A few days ago I purchased an interesting second-hand book by Mishima Yukio titled Lectures on Unethical Education (Fud?toku Ky?ikuk?za), which I highly recommend to everyone. One article in this book is called “As Proud and Boastful as Possible.” The opening paragraph says, “Life has no fun without self-conceit.” and “Eight or nine out of ten people who are considered humble are actually hypocrites.” Another marvelous paragraph states, “Boastful people usually believe that they are excellent. Even those less excellent ones usually do things to their heart’s content without mincing matters, which often attract hatred and detestation. At least they are honest people who don’t speak against their hearts, unlike those humble ones who are good at pretending and lying.” Mishima pointed out that the nature of humility has a large portion of hypocrisy. To put it in plain language: humility is but a socializing tool far from the general public’s understanding of it.
In reality, in the realm of artistic creation, there are no humble masters—
Michelangelo was not, Caravaggio was not, Salvador Dali the Surrealism master was even the quintessential master of self-conceit! Though Ludwig van Beethoven once said, “ There are many emperors, but there is only one Beethoven,” he was willing to trade his entire works for Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 20. This is not because Beethoven was humble, but because of his sincere admiration for a true great piece of work.
There are no humble masters; only sincere masters. The bottlenecks that an artist is bound to encounter on his journey have nothing to do with his confidence or conceited remarks, as long as he keeps making breakthroughs by maintaining a strong curiosity and desire to learn in every stage of life. I often tell my students, “If you consider yourself one unrivaled genius, announce so loudly, but you would be a fool to pretend to be a genius when you know deep in your heart that you lack that substance.”
Some people think that I am rather proud—“Oh he’s but an art teacher confined to his studio, what’s to be so proud about?” I agree. Probably very few would agree that I am a humble person. However, in my Masterpiece Appreciation classes, many of my students would remember me saying things like, “In front of this piece, I stand at absolute attention.” or “This artist achieved this level at such a young age, my little ability is really nothing to speak of.” In my opinion, self-awareness is the mother of both humility and confidence. Confidence without self-awareness is self-conceit!
Maybe I can put it in this way: the external humility is a good manner, but the internal humility is self-awareness and the source of true confidence.
I know that I am a very confident person; I never hide my confidence from others. My confidence comes from my self-awareness, and my self-awareness comes from “not lying to the true voice in my heart.” What is the foundation of painting? Five hundred years of painting tradition. I am honest with myself. I don’t conceal my heart. I know there are always superior talents, so I never stop learning. My hope is to excel beyond these talents. Though the chances are rather small and I have only one life, I will follow this path for as long as my confidence will carry me.