Throughout history the injustices saw in the world were painted onto canvases, molded through sculptures, photographed and re-depicted through films, and books. Art has served as an outlet for the oppressed and silenced, which has resulted in some being silenced themselves. However, art is not solely a form of activism, but it also serves as an outlet for entertainment, therapy and consumption. The inclusion of art into mass consumption is also reflective of a country's development.
When China reopened its doors to the world several changes occured, which included the art scene. Propaganda art was slowly coming to a halt and contemporary art began to take the lead into a new era of art in the country. Of course an artist must tread the line carefully on how far they took this radical new art form in the Middle Kingdom. The introduction of contemporary art has brought a new sense of speech by blending Western techniques with aspects of traditional art and history.
Now Chinese artists in an age of mass consumption and social connectivity face a new dilemma. Should they stay true to the stylistic and individual voice in their art or adapt to the era of consumption. The artist's dilemma has always been to remain passionate while putting bread on the table, and for many this is possible with some sacrifice. China has gone through great lengths to back the art scene with capitalism as the primary object and this has pushed artists to rethink the direction of their artwork.
The East Bund in Shanghai has played a particular role in the government's initiative to revitalize and capitalize on the growing art scene. The East Bund is pristine with several art galleries, and museums lined up and down Longteng Avenue. Several of these galleries and museums showcase international artists, as well as, Chinese artists that are more so reflective of the government's perception of art. Some galleries along the Bund are also catering to their visitor's tastes curating and commissioning art work and installations. Their art work changes into a prop or backdrops for visitors to have photoshoots to later share on Weibo or Instagram. There's also the rise of galleries curating luxury brand products for exhibitions even if some of these brands have held a controversial past with China.
These prestigious galleries and museums make it challenging for emerging artists to make their name especially if their art is not toting the narrative they are seeking. At other times artists come together to collaborate on an exhibition and split the costs of the gallery, but sometimes at a higher risk if the gallery fails to garner the attention needed from curators, collectors or the public when competing with the marketing and networking platform of more prominent galleries.
Competing against other artists in an already competitive field is stressful enough. So how can emerging Chinese artists retain their voice through their art while resisting to conform their art for pure consumption? I believe artists should retain what is important to them in expressing their art, and not change too much of themselves for the sole purpose of capitalism. I've met several individuals over the years there's the one character seeking the glamorous life of an artist socialite, another seeking to make a name for themselves while still remaining passionate about their work and one who just wants to make art while not having to worry about putting bread on the table. Perhaps they can do both retain their individual style and continue to create while also creating an aspect of their art to help them keep the lights on and food in their bellies. In this regard it is a double edge sword.
关系 (guanxi) in my definition refers to who you need to connect with in order to move towards where you aspire to be. For some of my artist friends social connection and networking is not their cup of tea, and their talent is not gaining the recognition it needs. However, there are some smaller galleries whose sole purpose is to seek the emerging artists and give them a platform to launch from. While these galleries are on a smaller scale their guanxi is what artists need in order to begin climbing the ladder without sacrificing too much of their artist voice.
As lovers of art, collectors, curators, fellow artists and friends we can actively support emerging artists. As an art enthusiast I actively engage in consuming art, however, I think we should seek in helping to focus our consumption of art to help emerging artists. Follow them on social media, meet and connect with them. Create a space to help support these artists so they do not have to completely sacrifice their artistic voice in order to achieve their ultimate aspiration.
Never dilute your vibrance,
*all photos and videos are taken by me please link my website if you choose to use them, thank you.
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