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Traditional art loses youth
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09:15, August 12, 2009

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As many young Chinese artists turn to modern art forms such as oil painting, sculpture, installation and photography, the future of traditional Chinese painting, despite its history of thousands of years, is facing a crisis, with few young people taking up the art.

According to art critics and collectors, the current situation is partly a reflection of modern day trends. Many people prefer to hang contemporary art in their homes rather than traditional Chinese landscapes. Exhibitions of traditional Chinese works are also witnessing a decline in attendees while new-media shows are often packed with visitors. Many art colleges have even cancelled traditional Chinese painting courses.

An important part of China’s cultural heritage, traditional Chinese painting differs from its modern-day counterparts both in materials and technique. Traditional Chinese paintings are created using brushes and ink on rice paper, almost the same as calligraphy.

“Today’s young artists in China are unwilling to be engaged in such a ‘cold’ art form,” said Shen Hu, director of the academic department of Liu Haisu Art Museum. With this attitude becoming more prevalent, Shen said that a question mark hangs over the future of the ancient art.
Shen is also one of the judges of the Shanghai Grand Fine Arts Exhibition of Young Artists, a biennial event that has been credited for its achievements at selecting and promoting promising young artists since 1986.

Shen said that in recent years, the event has seen an overall decrease in the standards of traditional Chinese painting, in terms of both quantity and quality of works.

Tree in Bloom by Yuan Peiying. (Global Times Photo)

“It is hard to pick out even one good painting this year,” said Shen, standing in front of over 400 pieces of traditional Chinese painting submitted by young artists from across the country. This year’s exhibition will run from October 20 to November 11 and at present the job of selecting works is underway.

“Most of these works are poor in quality. A large number of participating artists don’t even know the basic skills of traditional Chinese painting,” Shen added.

Compared to nearly 2000 submitted oil paintings, among which many display excellent skills and creativity, the traditional Chinese paintings pale in comparison, Shen explained.

According to Shen, in 2005 and 2007, traditional Chinese paintings constituted less than a quarter of the number of oil paintings exhibited and this year the situation will be even worse. “It’s definitely true that traditional Chinese painting is now no longer the main art form in China,” he said.

Among the reasons behind the fall in the popularity of traditional Chinese painting is the overwhelming success of the Chinese modern art market, according to Chen Jialing, one of the few artists who has remained committed to traditional painting.

“It is much easier to make money by creating an oil painting than traditional Chinese painting, because the contemporary Chinese art market is booming,” Chen explained.

Modern works by big names such as Zhang Xiaogang, Yue Minjun and Fang Lijun are selling for millions of dollars at international auctions with young artists encouraged to follow in their footsteps.

On the contrary, except for classic works by several late art masters like Xu Beihong, Li Keran and Fu Baoshi, traditional Chinese paintings are not commanding the same prices, with many traditional painters forced to look elsewhere to make a living.

Chen said that traditional Chinese painting also demands peace of mind and patience and for many young artists living in a fast-paced world, there is almost no time to stop and ponder like their predecessors.

“That’s part of the reason why there are not many traditional works being created today,” Chen said. “The spirit of the art form isn’t in accordance with today’s society.”

Source: Global Times

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