Excerpts from “Vietnamese Art: a passion for painting”

Excerpts from "Vietnamese Art: a passion for painting"

by Nora Taylor

"... Historically speaking, Vietnamese painting is still very young. A mere 70 years have passed since Hanoi's first official art academy, the Ecole de Beaux Arts opened its doors to local students, who there received their initial lessons in setting the brush to the canvas. But the cultural origins of painting in fact go back much further. Vietnamese people have created art for as long as they have existed. When the first classes in line drawing, anatomy and landscape painting were offered in the early decades of the twentieth century, art students drew on their rich religious and cultural background to execute their works. They incorporated views of their home villages, portraits of farmers in the countryside and techniques of lacquer and silk which had been used for centuries in temple decorations. During the French colonial period, these art students took to painting very rapidly. They already possessed the material needed to create painting, but had lacked the means to convey it. Today, artists in Vietnam still draw on the past to express themselves, but their vocabulary has expanded and their vision of the past has changed.

0utsiders to Vietnam are often perplexed by the fact that, to their eyes, much of Vietnamese painting still resembles European painting. Some viewers are also bewildered because Vietnamese artists still choose to paint, when much of the world has moved on to digital imagery, multimedia installations and performances as a means of expression. Yet, if one examines the context in which artists live and work in Vietnam and the means available to them, it becomes clear that painting not only suits the sensibilities of Vietnamese artists because it can easily incorporate centuries of cultural motifs and religious iconography, but it is also the most immediately available to them. The European look that Vietnamese painting has is not accidental, it is often deliberate. It is not to be mistaken for imitation or copy. Most Vietnamese painters admire Western art, and it is a sign of their desire to be treated as serious painters that much of their work borrows from Western art techniques. The content, however, always refers to the complexities and intricacies of Vietnamese cultural life past and present. Like other artists in the world, Vietnamese painters are moved by their environment and have chosen a particularly sensitive way of displaying their identities, histories and beliefs that combines color and poetic imagery..."