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Where does it come from?

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Where does it come from?

Mesaj  Admin la data de Vin Feb 06, 2009 11:03 am

February 6, 2009

I'm laptopping you from a shady spot beside a placid lake on the Royal Palace grounds in Hue, Vietnam. King Tu Duc (1829-1883), whose tomb lies behind a nearby wall, retreated here for most of the 36 years he was on the throne. It was a tough time for Vietnamese royalty. Vietnam was then French Indochina, and the colonizers were building Western-style railroads, opera houses and government buildings.

The king, a poet, playwright and author, kept 115 concubines, who inspired him daily and kept him busy in rotation every night. While closely monitored by the palace eunuchs, the king couldn't produce any kids.

Attracted to French ways, Tu Duc saw that some high-ranking Confucian scholars were sent to Europe to learn Western painting. It's been my observation that scholars, Confucian or otherwise, don't always make it in painting, but painters sometimes make it as scholars. In any case, not much art came from those wise Confucians.

Later, the French instituted an art school in Hanoi. Instigated by the French painter Victor Tardieu, 128 Vietnamese students graduated from the opulent facility from 1925 to 1945. Those years produced some stylish woodblock prints, hybrid watercolour silk paintings, lots of Chagal/Miro/Monet-influenced canvases, and not a few Neo-Impressionists.

Tardieu's school set the groundwork for the gentle humanism of today's Vietnamese art. In Vietnam there are no widely-based amateur groups. Art school graduates dominate the scene, both here and internationally. Individualist painters provide a unique blend of Buddhist sensitivity and Western capability, with strong tendencies toward story, intellectual understanding and personal point of view. Often spacious, moody and delicate of colour, Vietnamese art today has little of the anger and bitterness one might expect from a nation so frequently torn apart by war.

Sitting here watching the occasional carp break the surface of the lake, in a place where Tu Duc sometimes cast his line, I'm thinking art can be a certain sanctuary in a time of absurdity and injustice. Art can be quietude in a place of noise. Art can inform and show other possibilities.

Best regards,

Robert

PS: "Real knowledge is to know the extent of one's ignorance." (Confucius)

Esoterica: Last night we dined in the home of Phan Thuan An, who just happens to be married to one of the remaining Vietnamese Royals. Well-travelled, well-read and well-published, he has the sweetness and refinement that lie within the hearts of the Vietnamese. Overrun successively by the Chinese, French, Japanese and Americans, and now officially Communist to the world, Vietnam, like China, is witnessing growth and prosperity. "Vietnam has great gentleness to offer the world," says Phan. "A wonder, really."

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Read this letter online. And please comment or give your own ideas about how, in a place that has experienced great injustice, the people's art shows little anger and bitterness, but instead reveals their gentle humanism. Illustratable comments relating to this letter can also be made at rgenn@saraphina.com. We look after the illustrating by going and finding your work online or using what you send to us.

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