Yang Ding-Xian 楊鼎献 /Autobiography
Yang Ding-Xian was born in the simple little village of Houli on the banks of the Dajia River in 1966. I have no memory of my biological father from my youth. He passed away when I was very young. Later on, my mother remarried to my stepfather, who came to Taiwan from the mainland with the army. My stepfather treated me as if I were his own child, working hard in life to support us. In the 1960s, Taiwan was in a rebuilding phase. The average family was desperately poor, and the living room would also serve as a factory. My childhood memories are filled with the poor economic condition of my family and the hard work of being a child laborer. Because life was hard, as far back as I can remember, I had to help my family manufacture things. Back then, working at home felt like working overtime at a factory every day, and I still have vivid memories of that period in my life. My first job was to attach gold leaf to gold paper. At that time, I was only 5 or 6 years old, and I always had to work until I couldn’t keep my eyes open or stop yawning before I could go to bed. Perhaps this is the early maturing of an only child. From a young age, we began to learn to contribute to the household. I was often still attaching gold leaf even in my dreams.
That age is the time when children are the most active, but I was able to sit on a stool and attach gold leaf all day. However, children have tender skin. The rough gold paper often wore down my skin until I started bleeding. Usually, when my middle finger was hurt, I would switch to my index finger. When my index finger started to hurt, I would switch to my ring finger. That time was truly miserable, but when I think of it now, this kind of repetitive, monotonous training gave me the ability to persevere through loneliness and hardship when I began painting later.
Different types of family work gave me a massive physical burden, and it pained me to not be able to play with children of the same age when I was growing up. However, this experience also helped me a lot in my professional career afterward. When I began elementary school, I switched to stringing to tennis rackets. I became so adept at the job that I could eventually finish stringing a tennis racket in three or four minutes with my eyes closed, relying only on touch. This job truly affected me and ingrained within me the concept that a person attains mastery only through many repetitions of simple tasks.
My mother’s education method was typically to use punishment in place of rewards, regardless of how well I performed. When I was growing up, I never heard my mother praise me. Even when I began winning awards at school for painting, she never showed any happiness. Perhaps she was afraid that I would become arrogant because of this, so she continued to severely punish me. Therefore, when I was young, I had a deep inferiority complex. If, as everyone says, childhood is the time with the fondest memories, then my fondest memory is painting. When I took painting class in school, even if it was just a piece of B4 drawing paper, I saw it as an endless prairie. My brush was like a steed, galloping through this broad expanse. There was no gold paper, no tennis rackets, and I didn’t have to do repetitive, monotonous work to support the household. This was my personal world, my land of freedom. I think that if I had not found an outlet for my life during those years of pitiable child labor, I may have lived my entire life in a state of sadness.
Another encouragement in my life was my “fighting spirit” of relying on myself instead of anyone else. On a cold winter night when I was 8 years old, I was working in our home, dying to taste a bowl of the piping hot noodles that my classmates would often eat at roadside stands. My mother promised that I could have a bowl if I finished the work for the day. This was one of the few opportunities for “eating out” in my memory. With a goal in mind, I strived to finish my work. But when I happily finished, my mother refused to buy noodles because she said it was too dark and cold outside and she did not want to spend money. I silently walked back to my room. In the dark night, two lines of tears fell down my cheeks. It was cold, and my heart also became cold. I told myself that no matter what, I had to rely on my own effort in my life to achieve my dreams. I was unwilling to let despair, disappointment, and regret become my life, and I was even less willing to let my negative emotions become the entirety of my life. Therefore, I took up my drawing books and comforted my broken heart by turning all of my feelings and grievances into art on the pages. For the first time, I felt that I was no longer alone and sad. I seemed to have found a motivator for my life. That night, when I originally thought my hopes were dashed, was also the night where a new door officially opened up in my life. I am grateful for all of the struggles that gave me the blessing of having positive personality traits later in life.
In my third year of high school, I was inflicted with glaucoma. Because of this, my mother hoped that I could become employed as soon as I graduated from high school to help the household. In addition, my father and mother were in poor health, and I was the family’s only child. Therefore, I listened to my mother’s words and went to work. Nevertheless, the desire to paint never vanished from my heart. The more time passed, the more intense it become. Half a year later, regardless of my mother’s opposition, I began to prepare to retake the examinations. In that year, I started university studies after obtaining a nearly perfect score on the national technical subjects in the entrance examination and formally took my first step to becoming an artist.
Studying in the university was another test. Because my mother opposed me starting on this road that seemed to lack career prospects and I had neither relatives nor friends initially in Taipei, for several months I could only afford a bowl of NT$5 misua for almost all of my meals until I found opportunities to become a tutor and work part time. As a young and wild man, I believed that there were no teachers who could teach me, thus I decided to join the design group of my department. After I joined the design group, I discovered a whole new world outside of my comprehension. I found that what I had learned was limited, and I had countless deficiencies. Therefore, not only did I have to work part time, but I also had to strive to learn. With the hardworking spirit I had acquired through child labor, I continually encouraged myself to keep moving forward. During my studies, I always spent all of my time either working or studying. I am grateful for my time in the design group for giving me a greater recognition of creative thinking, becoming an inspiration for my later creative thinking. Although the path of art is rough, it is also a path of beauty that I cherish.
Art is a kind of attitude toward life, living in a way that expresses the true you. Attitude toward life fuses with creations. I continue to use a sincere attitude to live and experience life. The various emotions, energies, and experiences that I obtain via living life this way become important fruits of life. I use a sincere and persistent attitude to practice being an artist who continues to paint regardless of what happens.
In the contemporary digital, virtual era, it is not always the new things that provide inspiration and sustenance. I use my own cultural perspective and utilize Western painting tools to express ancient Eastern wisdom, emphasizing my own life and culture through local cultural traditions. Only by truly being myself can I let my own unique side be seen.
This is the root of art and the only way to give others my most powerful strength and blessing.
The goal I am chasing is not to be the best, but to be unique.