Recently, for the first time ever in the UK, a stunning collection of traditional Chinese flower and bird paintings, spanning 600 years, were on show at the National Museum Cardiff.
Chinese scholars have been painting birds and flowers for centuries and this exhibition shows the treasures of Chinese culture dating back to the late Ming dynasty of the 16th century.
There are ‘Four Treasures’ of traditional Chinese painting and calligraphy, these are: ink stones, ink sticks, brushes and paper. With the right artists, these can make up a vision of nature in which we can imagine the fragrance of flowers and the chorus of birds.
These paintings have a less decorative and more realistic value. It is not intended to be an imitation of nature, rather flowers and birds were given a symbolic meaning and different styles of painting were used to convey an artist’s personality and ideas.
Many of the greatest artists were also scholars and through time they developed a new freehand style of painting as a way to express their emotions. Scholar painters consider the arts of calligraphy and poetry as integral parts of flower and bird painting, giving their art a deeper spiritual meaning.
However, the exhibition was not just a room full of paintings of flowers and birds, it was an aura of soft music and dim lighting – almost like stepping into a room of emotions through visual art.
Come to think of it, would I have been able to experience this new perspective of culture if it wasn’t for museums and the arts? Being in this room made me consider the actual importance of arts to the community.
“Arts and culture make considerable and necessary contributions to the well-being of communities.“
The arts and culture are powerful tools in which to engage communities in different levels of change. There are 5 roles of the arts that particularly stand out:
1. Arts and culture are means to public dialogue
Arts can raise awareness to important issues facing communities and educate the public in powerful and creative ways, they make considerable and necessary contributions to the well-being of communities.
“Art is a unique form of communication that takes as its subject the whole of human experience and that often engages an individual at the emotional and intellectual as well as the aesthetic level.” – McCarthy, Ondaatje, Zakaras, & Brooks, 2004
2. Arts and culture contribute to the development of a community’s creative learning
There is a strong relationship between arts, cultural engagement and educational attainment. For example, literacy, drama, library activities, maths and languages are improved when young people take part in structured music activities.
“Artistic activity that embraces the ideas and visions of different cultures can lead to new and innovative ideas and inventions.” – Voluntary Arts Network, 2005
3. Arts and culture create healthy communities capable of actions.
Participation in arts activities can reduce isolation in rural and urban area and help community members to reach out and socialise beyond their family boundaries.
“Arts involvement creates opportunities for people to develop positive social contacts in pro-social environments” – Department of Justice Canada, 1999
4. Arts and culture provide a powerful tool for community mobilisation and activism
The arts help reach out to many people in communities who are otherwise not being contacted. In most cases, the arts are the primary motivation for some to engage in a community activity or issue.
“The arts can reach people … the vital ingredient to any effort to build community capacity to act.” Rogers & Spokes, 2003
5. Arts and culture help build community capacity and leadership.
Getting involved in community-based arts projects may help people feel better connected and inspired to get involved and make a difference in their communities.
“Arts involvement opens pathways for citizens to make contributions and connections to their communities” – Department of Justice Canada, 1999
Art and culture simply make life better, as it helps to build diverse communities and improve the quality of life.