Young artist, an ancient art form, and its young crisis

It is challenging for young artists in the ancient art field to break the stereotypes that only elderly people are interested in calligraphy and traditional paintings. Mark Chan is a 23 years old landscape architecture student at UNSW, and he is also the youngest members in the Chinese Calligraphy Association in Sydney.

Mark Chan doing traditional Chinese calligraphy in his studio.

Mark Chan and a few artists represented the Chinese Calligraphy Association to participate in the 24th World Peace Calligraphy Exhibition that took place not long ago. The event was mainly focused on cultural communication between Chinese and other cultural backgrounded artists, it is a global art exhibition and will hold in different cities and different counties every year, this year, the World Peace Exhibition was held in Sydney. As one of the youngest members in the Chinese Calligraphy Association in Sydney, Mark Chan had two of his paintings displayed.

He was born in Hong Kong and now studies at UNSW, and this provided a chance for him to experience the cultural differences and apply them into his creation for the painting. “It is not just to capture the view on your canvas, it is more about the perspective,” Mark said. 

Mark’s painting when he was still in Hong Kong.

By combining the feature of traditional Chinese paintings and the western oil paintings, Mark found out his way to make it through the art community as a young artist with dual cultural backgrounds. He explained that he’s been in the field of traditional Chinese painting since he was in year 10. Before he came to study here in Australia, to his cognition, the traditional Chinese Painting can be defined as “By using the ink and water, to discover and explore the natural landscape”, but when it combines with the details of realism in western oil paintings, a whole new kind of expression is made.

Connie’s painting for 24th World Peace Exhibition

The elder artists in Chinese Calligraphy Association described Mark Chan as an extremely talented young artist with high potentials in creations. Connie Tse is also a member in the association, she’s in the calligraphy field for over 35 years. To her understanding, this association is more like a hobby group, they gather people who are interested in Chinese Calligraphy and share their experience in arts. Some more experienced artists can pass their knowledge about calligraphy to the young artists just like Mark Chan during this kind of rally.

By learning western oil painting, Mark started to focus on details in his painting.

Mark is bringing new ways of creation of painting to this ancient art form, but he also forced the all the members have to face a 21-century crisis, that is, the battle with digital devices and social media.

Connie has been in the field for a long time, and she considered the traditional Chinese Calligraphy as an essential part of her life, even a calligraphy enthusiast like her can only do the calligraphy once or twice a week. Connie explained the surprising story behind the scene, she said, calligraphy can be a complicated form of arts, during the practice and creation, it takes more times to set up the table. A painting might take over 100 hours of works to finish, some can say that painting and calligraphies can be a way to practice the patient.

It is not hard to find out that patience is a rare quality in a society filled with “Fast-food Culture”, to get people actually sit down and focus for hours on one paintings seems become mission impossible, more important, to get more young people in to the relevant area is an common obstacle in every traditional field.

Connie stated that this kind of calligraphy is prevalent and well-known in China, but in a western country like Australia, traditional Chinese calligraphy is still lack of awareness and popularity. Though the events like the 24th World Peace Exhibition can help to increase the exposure to the general public, Mark found that most of those who came to the exhibition are not young people, because the authority in their field did not realise the importance of social media exposure.

It is true that keeping the younger generation away from media is a hard task, and it is also true that traditional art forms required more attention to avoid becoming one of those “dying arts”. So the key question to this situation is, how to get more young artists into the field? Connie Tse stated that the interaction of the experienced artists and young people is essential, and they can help to fix the stereotype that calligraphy only belongs to old fuddy-duddy. This kind of interaction can let people understand the energy and the passion they have in the field, slowly but forcefully, ripple the impression of this art form. 

In another way, Mark represents the young minds in the art world, he suggests increasing internet exposure on social media platforms, targets the young viewers. In this case, the rise of calligraphy and painting’s popularisation will be inevitable. Besides the internet exposure, he also stated that the support of government and other organisations is necessary if they require more attention, interactive events that are backed up by authorities can help them make it through the 21st century’s digital media crisis.

In their words, it is thrilling to see the thing they love slowly become popular, but in a way, it makes them realise the heavy responsibility they have as the cultural promoters in a western country. Just like Mark said, “I am proud to be a Chinese, but Australia is like a second home to me, I will do my best to spread the thing I love in the country I love”.