I am back from a trip to China! It was such an exciting trip, and China is a such a thought-provoking country. It made me think a lot about life, people, culture, history… I will therefore post some of the thoughts I had during the trip in series WanderingChina.
WanderingChina #1 Thought at West Lake
One day during my trip to China, I was walking along West Lake in Hangzhou. I adore this place, because it reminds me of my childhood when I would walk here with my mom, feeling all happy and special.
As I was immersing myself in good old memories, I noticed a man, preparing to draw something on sidewalk. It was sunny Sunday, and being one of the most famous touristic places, there were thousands and thousands of people enjoying their afternoon at West Lake, and there really was no place for this man to draw anything at all ; it was crowded. Now, when I say “crowded” in China, it is not usual “crowded” ; with over 1 billion people sharing the land of China, “crowded” feels like “not enough oxygen”. Sidewalk at West Lake on that day was no exception. It was so crowded that I hardly appreciate its landscape, all I saw was people’s heads.
Anyway, the man started to draw something on the sidewalk, using water directly from the lake and his own enormous brush (almost the size of the man!), and voilà, there was a beautiful calligraphy in Chinese traditional style. Although I had no idea what was actually written, it was refined, and I was impressed by how quick it was for this man to draw it.
Then I realized something ; a moment ago the sidewalk was so crowded with people that I barely see the sidewalk itself, but suddenly people managed to make space for the man to draw. The flow of people continue to respect his work.
Now it may sound quite normal for you, but knowing how crowded it was that day, it is pretty astonishing that no one – even accidentally – ruined his work.
This is not the end of my story, this is actually where it begins… This little event at West Lake made me wonder what it is that makes “art”.
This man may well be good at calligraphy, but he is definitely not a famous artist. It was neither a calligraphy contest nor in a museum, but it was on public sidewalk ; it was the opposite of how we usually imagine when we think about “art”, yet, people there – who did not intend at all to see such “art” – respected and valued it.
What made people perceive it as something so valuable as to conserve it by stepping aside in such a crowded place? Whereas in some places, objects with an aim of being “art” are not necessarily respected at all…
Who decides whether it is “art” or not? People?
Does it need to “aim at being art” in order to be “art”?
Is respect a criterion, when determining artistic value?
And finally, what is “art”?
These continual questions replaced my good old memories at West Lake, and I am still stuck, especially because I was also one of those people ; I appreciated this ransom man’s work of calligraphy (I truly find it pleasant!) on sidewalk in a public place, and I considered it entirely, with no hesitation, as “art”.
So I took a photo.