Words are the cornerstone of human connection. Without them, we’re unable to understand each other and even more unable to relate to each other. With words, we peer into each other's hearts and souls. We feel anger that is not ours, pain that doesn’t belong to us, and love that we didn’t know before. However, even words are not enough to truly understand one another. Our minds are the source of our words. The proficiency with which we articulate these words is reliant on our communicative abilities, while the comprehension by the listener hinges on their mental capacity to understand. Emotions are complex, absurd, and downright scary. Half the battle for those struggling with mental illness is conquering this giant game of telephone. We need someone to relate to but don’t know how to call them. Artists’ like Zhiyonh Jing answer this call.
Jing is an oil painter living in Beijing, China. He graduated from the Tianjin Academy of Fine Arts and now spends his days, as he puts it, painting “dreams, hopes, and an absurd world.” He captures the complexity (or perhaps, absurdity) of human emotions, sometimes hopeful and inspiring, sometimes dim and bleak; at other times, both. His art depicts events that make little sense at first glance, but viewers intuitively understand upon a deeper look.
Jing curates a community on social media of those who relate to his art. Through his art, he creates a voice that hears them and speaks back. His art emerges as an interesting commentary on the human condition that feeds into the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, namely Good Health and Well-being. The goal encompasses not only physical health and well-being but mental health as well. It aims to diminish stigma and discrimination around mental health as well as foster environments where communities can support each other through mental health challenges.
Jing comments about Mr. Curt and his friends on his social media, “You have forgiven the world. Will the world be kind to you?” Can you play your song peacefully while the beasts around you burn? Through the smoke, can you keep going? Many may find this portrayal of forgiveness and acceptance strange, but so are our minds.
North City Past depicts a normal suburban bus stop; something familiar to many. Yet a man stands, warding off something in the distance that the viewers cannot see. Jing comments on North City Past, “That was a long time ago, but it’s wrong what they say about the past, I’ve learned, about how you can bury it. Because the past claws its way out.” Jing shared on Instagram. Every day, people fight battles they know nothing about. Perhaps they feel alone in this fight. Perhaps they are close to laying down their weapon. Perhaps this painting showed them that there are others out there fighting battles just like them and gave them the courage to keep fighting.
A man can be seen crashing down an icy mountain, in Jing’s artwork, Remember That Blizzard Winter. The man’s car jostles him around and other men surround him on snowboards firing bullets relentlessly adding insult to injury. Despite this, the man fires back without giving up. However, it seems unreasonable to suggest that someone going through such difficulties should take time to admire the view according to the artist. “Often, we are so busy fighting battles in our heads that we forget to appreciate the beautiful mountain right in front of us,” Jing shared on Instagram.
Sometimes people who struggle with mental turmoil desire an understanding more than uplifting words which can also be seen in Jing’s work. Not all of his art carries a message of hope. The artist pours his pain into his work and puts it out there so others may join and understand that they are okay to feel that way.
“I feel as if I’m in prison. The inmate is me. The guard is me. The cell is me too!” from Jing’s Instagram.
Sometimes many people lock themselves away, no longer able to handle the world and what it has done to them. Through his work, the Beijing artist shows that it is okay to do so. Fear and the inclination to withdraw are inherent in human nature.
Artists like Jing are invaluable In an era where mental health challenges are increasingly acknowledged yet still misunderstood and stigmatized, personal battles are being fought in the shadows, and the cry for understanding and empathy is loud.
Jing’s paintings are not just visuals; they are conversations, deeply rooted in the complexities of emotional experience and the absurdity of our inner worlds. Through his vivid and sometimes startling imagery, Jing not only reflects the nature of our psychological landscapes but also provides a space for connection and understanding that words often fail to achieve.