Art is a process of putting items in a systematic way that affects the senses, emotions and understanding of the viewers. In history, art was used to refer to skills or proficiency in a given field. This perception changed in the romantic period where it was transformed to be a way of communicating issues about science and religion. Ideally, art acts on stimulating the emotions and thoughts of those people who comes across it. Contemporary art in china started in the 1980’s when it was being referred to as Chinese avant-garde art. Chinese art owes its origin to the development of post cultural revolution. In china, contemporary arts incorporate video, photography, film, painting, and live performances. All contemporary Chinese artists hail from different backgrounds and communities, but they all share common memories of Cultural Revolution in china. The experiences during the Cultural Revolution, binds them together and make them produce artistic works with the same style.
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To understand the Chinese contemporary arts, one has to understand two characteristics of this group. These being: its involvement in social progress and the role of Chinese arts in the international arts market. A major characteristic is the involvement in the social progress. Contemporary art has helped in bringing freedom to and personal conscience to many people of china. In early years of 1980s decade, many Chinese suffered lack of sufficient knowledge in the art industry, a condition that developed due to wars and political instabilities. The artists of that time were only being used as instruments to pass political messages which most of them were government based propagandas. They would not have displayed or communicated their own opinions (Hong, 1899). Their creativity was limited. There was no freedom of expression; they had to do what the state wanted them to do. A new era for artists which started in 1979 was what many artists were waiting for. With this, modernism of artistic thoughts started to be seen developing. All these advancing trends have created a new breed of artists among them being Zhang Xiaogang.
Zhang Xiaogang was born in the year 1958 in Yunnan province. He studied at the Academy of fine arts where he graduated in 1982. Zhang’s artistic styles were borrowed from various famous artist; Gauguin, van Gogh and Jean Millet. He later moved from his birth town to Beijing, where he lives today. Zhang Xiaogang is one of the most famous contemporary Chinese artists. He is best renowned by his painting of family portraits. In the early 1990’s Zhang created many canvas paintings which he referred to as bloodline and that brought made him famous. Zhang’s artistic works are commonly influenced by his childhood experiences in the Cultural Revolution era (Gallery, 2008).
His artistic works were mostly inspired by the family pictures taken during the Cultural Revolution period and even the European tradition of surrealism. Basically, his works covered the family setting, that is: the immediate society, extended, and the whole society at large. His paintings describe an endless family tree of imagined ancestors and progenitors, with each painting unnervingly similar and distinguished by the difference in time. Zhang’s presented most of his works in black and white. It is also worthy to note that his portraits changed the photography into painting. The figures in his paintings are nameless and timeless: this being the best way to represent individual histories. The occasional splotches of color which interrupt his images create abnormal demarcations, suggestive of birth marks, aged film, social stigma, or a persistent sense of the sitter’s self assertion.
By borrowing from the traditional Chinese way of drawing, which is by use of charcoal, Zhang aims to shy away from animations and stoic uniformity. Zhang’s creativity is another point of concern. By creating as picture of an extended family with people with distorted figures; long noses and funny hair styles, he tried to create a multifaceted psychological dimension which the people of china should learn from the Cultural Revolution era.
In the bloodline, Oil on canvas, Zhang displays his clan. In this painting he tries to criticize or pass a message about oneness, difference, and perception. This painting clearly shows of Chinese oneness as opposed to the western views on individuality. It shows a father and his daughter with perturbing resemblance and their expressionless giving them an ultramodern air of supremacy which can be viewed as either hatred or spiritual enlightenment.
In the Image; In My Dream, he portrays an image of a boy in military uniform on the upper part but naked on the lower part, this shows the concern between public facing and private defenselessness, official principles and personal sense of right and wrong. This painting is both dull and heroic, encapsulating the optimism of a previous era and its limitations and pitfalls; the child a wistful symbol of tainted innocence, trapped between the idealistic aims of the modern (Barberi, 2007).
The contemporary artists differ a lot with the artists of the socialist period. The arts in the socialist period were mostly influenced b y a group of people in order to pass a message to the other citizens. The artists in the socialist era never enjoyed the freedom of expression, they had limited creativity. Never would they challenge the government using their artistic works. China in the socialist era was a country that experienced great poverty and hardships and hence not so many artistic developments would have taken place. Long years of war and political struggle affected Chinese artists greatly. No resources were available to help them create professional paintings; instead, many used charcoal as a tool for drawing and painting. This limited them in creating high quality products.
Chinese contemporary art has changed an elusive spirit of traditional art into a worldly spirit of the modern era. Reality is always a force that follows each and every human being. It moved the artists of the socialism era into painting of practical things that conveyed the right message to the people. In the later days, art works was used to convey propagandas. As pointed above, most contemporary works tell more or rather borrows from experiences from the Cultural Revolution. Socialists’ arts do not borrow from any period and that is why they were misused and used to convey unintended message. Contemporary arts also played a positive role in the history of china in the course of globalization.
Chinese contemporary artists have made china to become an important country to the whole word. The image of china to the international world can be connected with its contemporary artists. A large number of Chinese contemporary artists, who are experienced in using visual language in communication, have grown to be significant components in the internationally. Cultural diversity in china can also be associated to the rise of free artists who produces high quality work based on the social setting. By cultural diversity becoming fashionable internationally with both Chinese and international buyers snapping up contemporary arts from the China, Galleries, auction stalls, museums which are privately owned and art studios opening up in Beijing and Shanghai, and New York among other foreign countries, the Chinese contemporary artists have become more famous than the artists of the socialist period and have become vital elements in the development of the international art market.
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