I started a five-week course today under the expert guidance of art educator Sheila Greenspan who visits Shanghai annually to give the art appreciation course in cooperation with Eastlink Gallery. I signed up with the hope of accomplishing several things. First, I wanted to gain a better understanding of which Shanghai art galleries are worth visiting in the first place. Second, I hoped Ms. Greenspan would spoon-feed me Chinese contemporary art - a topic I fail on many levels to understand. My approach to art is one of quick decision and taste - do I like it? Would I hang it on my wall? This doesn't seem very educated; and I admit, I'm also lazy.
Ms. Greenspan hails from Hamilton, Ontario and has years of art education experience in galleries and museums. Her annual visits to Shanghai provide her with an understanding of the trends in contemporary art and the themes that wind through pieces. The students in her course are largely Western by background/education and the real value I found in her course today, was her pointing out the perspective that the Chinese collective experience brings into play when creating art.
An example she gave as we were discussing several large format paintings in black and white in Eastlink Gallery was the fact that the use of black and white is very prevalent in Chinese contemporary art. Ms. Greenspan challenged us to figure out why. The answer? The history of calligraphy and the use of black ink on white rice paper that has been a tradition in China for thousands of years. Now, whether this backdrop plays out as a conscious choice for the artists or a subconscious sub-tone that is revealed in the artists work remains unknown. But approaching Chinese art in this way has opened for me - in one day - a whole new fascination with artists and their work here. It creates a challenge for me, as a viewer of art, to figure out on some level where the piece fits in to Chinese culture as a whole. That's a tall order obviously, but it does present an approach - one approach - to the artwork which for me, is better than having none at all. And no, I wasn't spoon-fed, but of course having to work through your experience with a piece of art is much more interesting than being told about it.
Photos: top - our group at the Eastlink Gallery; middle - discussion photography exhibits at M97; bottom - the current installation work at Shanghart. © 2012 Sara Naumann, licensed to About.com.