Wednesday, February 24, 2010

New Year art's renaissance

New Year painting Good Luck from the Qing Dynasty.
 BEIJING, Feb. 24 -- With a large-scale exhibition of Chinese New Year paintings being held at the National Art Museum of China, interest in the Chinese folk art has been reignited as thousands of art lovers flock to enjoy the ancient art genre that has been slipping into relative obscurity for several decades.
The exhibition presents nearly 300 Chinese New Year paintings, among which more than 200 pieces are from bygone eras such as the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911), while the rest were created after the founding of New China, altogether offering a panoramic view of the development of the folk art.
A wide range of pictures with diversified content such as stories from traditional operas, Chinese folktales and scenes expressing Chinese people's life after the founding of New China, are all being showcased, selected from a large collection of more than 3,000 pieces of New Year paintings.
As a folk art form with the functions of both decoration and expressing people's greetings for the New Year, the New Year paintings on show feature auspicious and joyous subjects, with concise lines, bright colors and happy atmospheres combined to reflect people's best wishes for the New Year.
The displayed pieces include almost all of China's most well-known production locations of New Year paintings, such as Yangliuqing of Tianjin, Taohuawu of Suzhou in Jiangsu, Yangjiabu of Weifang in Shandong and Wuqiang of Hebei, making the exhibition an exciting feast of the art genre.
"It is a very rare chance to see so many pieces of precious New Year paintings together," commented Han Pu, a researcher at the Beijing Research Institute of Culture and History. "Such an exhibition does not only add atmosphere for the New Year, but also helps people know more about the declining folk art."
Han said that except for hanging or pasting New Year paintings on their front doors and interior walls, Chinese people have various customs during the New Year, many of which are of crucial importance in observing and protecting traditional Chinese cultures.
"Such an exhibition would undoubtedly boost the audiences' understanding about this traditional art genre and is an effective way to help revive the folk art," Han added.
A unique art form in Chinese folk culture, New Year paintings are a type of picture that were often hung or pasted onto walls and doors during the Spring Festival both for decoration and to express people's greetings to the New Year. The custom is widely regarded as originating in the Tang Dynasty (618-907), with a folktale explaining that Emperor Taizong (599-649) asked art master Wu Daozi to paint the image of the ghost buster Zhong Kui and then hang it on the door to ward off evil.
With the advancement of printing technology in the Song Dynasty (960-1279), New Year painting developed significantly as the production of woodblock painting became easier, more contents were depicted in New Year paintings and they gained popularity among everyday people.
However, it was in the Qing Dynasty that New Year paintings reached their peak, as various subjects were included in the folk art.
Aside for the depiction of Chinese gods, such as the Gate God repelling ghosts and the God of Wealth helping attract wealth and prosperity (widely calledCai Shen Ye), the images of happy children were also largely depicted, as in traditional Chinese culture people believed that "happiness lies in having many children."
Also, scenes from folk tales, famous books such as Romance of Three Kingdoms and A Dream of Red Mansions and Chinese traditional operas, all enjoying great popularity among Chinese people, were also reflected in New Year paintings, thus to a very large extent enriching the art form.
However, despite New Year paintings' prosperity in the past, today there are few people paying attention to the art, according to Wang Yupeng, director of the New Year Painting Museum in Wuqiang, Hebei Province.
He said that today hanging a New Year painting is no longer a custom in many parts of China and the folk art with old contents seems outdated as people are embracing various kinds of new lifestyles during the New Year.
"In Wuqiang there were dozens of family workshops producing New Year painting in 1950s, but now only a few existed," Wang said.
"They have had to find other ways to make a living as the market is not as prosper-ous as before."

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