Monday, September 12, 2011

Great Leap Forward to Make Oil Paintings in China

In Craftsmanship versus Inspiration, I discussed the art guild and apprentice system, and quoted from the book "The Renaissance Artist at Work" by Bruce Cole:
From the very first, Renaissance apprentices were introduced to the materials at the art store; in the Renaissance, most of the things used in the shop were made by the artist and his helpers.  This early -- and lasting -- knowledge of the material, physical aspect of his craft endowed the artist with an almost instinctive feeling for the most basic properties of a picture, a sculpture, or an illustrated book.  His understanding of materials and his skill in using them were extraordinary.

Any careful, first-hand examination of Renaissance art reveals that craft is of remarkable importance: paintings and sculpture from the period are among the most beautifully made objects in the entire history of Western art.

It appears that it was indeed possible to train boys, who may or may not have had much talent, to a remarkable proficiency. Of course, the question remains: Could the Renaissance system of artistic education not only train most artists to be highly competent but also teach some of them to be great? Our immediate answer is no.

We must remember that though the author argued that many people can be trained to be a decent artist without reaching greatness, he also emphasized the rigor of the apprenticeship.  In order to finished the training and become a guild member, the boys had to prove their competency according to really high standards.

The author discussed this workshop and apprenticeship in the past tense, because he believed that art making had transformed into artists' individual expressions.

However, it is interesting and disheartening to learn that this kind of training, without its vigor, is multiplying in China, in its Great Leaping Forward to make a few bucks in international art market.

People Daily reported in July that the Township of Tunchang, Hainan Province planned in next three years to invest 15 million Yuan (US$2.3 million) to "support oil painting industry, provide employment opportunities for the young people, build a platform for increasing farmers' income and establish Tunchang the hometown of oil painting".  Yes, oil painting is treated as an industry.

Tunchang is a small town and more than 70% of its population are farmers.  It has an art school, established in 1984 by a self-taught painter.  Within 27 years, it has trained more than 5,000 painting technicians.  The school has six teachers and more than 100 students at the reporting time.

The master plan also including building an "oil painting" walking street and promoting it as a tourist destination.  Though there were very few visitors, a gallery manager told the reporter that she made transactions online and they had sold more than 6,000 "commercial paintings".   The reporter also saw more than 40 women technicians copying "commercial painting" in a classroom, including a 28 years old woman painting with one hand, while holding her one and half years old son with another.

Women Painting Technicians of Tunchang Township Making Copies of "Commercial Painting"

It was reported that in 2010, Tunchang has sold more than 30,000 such locally made "oil paintings" to markets in Beijing, Shanghai, etc., including  many to Europe and Americas.  The average monthly income for an "oil technician" is about 3,500-5,000 Yuan (USD548-783).  In 2011, the total "oil painting" output has reached the value of 3 million Yuan (US$470,000).

I was intrigued by the concept of "Commercial Painting" and did some search on Chinese website and found some information on website promoting such activities: 
“商业油画” 以商品的性质来定位,画出来的目的就是投放到市场用来卖钱的。 这种画是按市场 的变化来变化其价格的,这种画是有价的,就跟一般的服装鞋子一样的属性。 虽然也是画,但不是画家本人精神思想 的表现,完全是投其市场的流行信息来生产的。


从当前来说,商业油画市场需求很大。欧美文化消费占人均消费比例较大,家中的油画作品装饰几乎属于生活的必须品,而且每年不断更换,所以属于重复消费品。 根本不需担心没有订单。而画画的收入也是各行业相比较高的,一般画师一个月能有两三千元的月收入。而高级画师一个月都有七八千元的收入,有的达到一万多 元。只要你掌握几种绘画风格,完全可以在欧美画画,并拥有更高的收入和更广的见识。

Commercial oil painting" is commodity by definition and the purpose of such painting is to sell and make profit. The values of such painting is based on market demands, just like shoes and clothing. Although it is painted, it does not exhibit the spirit of an artist.  It is produced entirely based on market demand.

Commercial painting has hundreds of years history in Europe.  Many world-class artists began with copying masterpieces.  In 1960s to 1980s, Hong Kong, Singapore, South Korea were major commercial painting producing countries and regions.  This industry has nearly two decades history in China and is relatively new.  Such painting workshops of varying scales emerged first in coastal cities in Fujian and Guangdong Provinces, then gradually spread to all over the country.

Currently, commercial painting is in high demand. European and American consumers spend large proportion of incomes on culture consumptions, and home decorative oil paintings are almost mandatory.  These paintings got changed every year, so there is no need to worry about demands.  Income from painting is high comparing to other industries -- in general, a technician can make two to three thousand Yuan (US$313 to $939) a month . Senior technicians can have seven or eight thousand Yuan (US$2192-2505) monthly income, and even 10,000 Yuan (US$3131). Once you master several painting styles, you absolutely can paint in Europe and America, and have even higher incomes and gain broader knowledge.
I have no idea that Europeans and Americans consider oil painting decoration a must for their homes and these "commercial paintings" should be changed every year.  True or not, however, I shouldn't worry because I won't be able to make a penny from that type of painting.

And I'd better stop writing, since I am about to puke.

Related articles:
--> Craftsmanship versus Inspiration
--> More on Craftsmanship and Inspiration

No comments:

Post a Comment