Ming vases…

Wen Zhengming painting

Even in childhood I was baffled as to why oil paintings sold in auction houses for countless millions, while equally exquisite works of art from other cultures seemed lucky if they fetched thousands. One exception is the ubiquitous ‘Ming vase’… examples of which appear in everything from Tin Tin to baroque palaces across Europe. Another are ancient artefacts, though these again seem to be valued less for their aesthetic qualities than for how close they fall to the traditionally accepted path of ancestry of Western culture.

Surely, what this is all about is some kind of bigotry? There are schools of painting in China that are as sophisticated, as accomplished, as those in Europe, and yet – though most people will have heard of Van Gogh or Rembrandt – who among us can name any Chinese painters?

The strange anomaly of the Ming vase perhaps only helps to further make this point. Chinese porcelain as an object of admiration and desire dates from a time when Europe was somewhat in awe of China – and it seems to me that human beings, when they respect others – and nothing breeds respect quite like perceiving that the other appears to be rich and successful – that they also respect their art; what is art after all but an incarnation of a people’s soul?

Well it seems that, as the ‘developing’ world becomes richer, people there become interested in reclaiming their heritage. Nothing draws attention to something quite as much as someone paying a lot of money for it. No doubt Western art critics will now begin to ‘discover’ this other art and their reappraisal will see it slowly raised to a comparable status with Western art. About time!

(there is a related point on ‘manners’ in an earlier post.)

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