Yesterday we attended the annual Young Thai Artist awards at The National Gallery, sponsored by Siam Cement. There are six major categories recognized: 2-dimensional art, 3-dimensional art, photography, music, and film. Here we are reviewing the first three categories.
Awards are important as a motivation to any artist but we have rarely been impressed with this competition. While there is a huge pool of exciting and talented young artists, their creativity is being held back by traditionalist judges and competition rules. "Contemporary" appears to be un-recognized, to the detriment of Thailand's future as a cultural hub for Asia.
I apologizefor the layout. It's awful. To see a much better version got to Awards
Above you see some of the finalists from the 2-dimension (or painting) competition.
The objectives of these awards are:
1) discover thai youth with outstanding artistic talent and provide them with the opportunity to share their work with the public.
2) promote determination in Thai youth to produce the finest artwork so they have the chance to gain international recognition.
3) Develop links between the new and older generation of artists.
4) Develop understanding and admiration in the public for the arts.
5) Promote youth and the public as a whole to make art a part of their daily lives.
And here is the winner. Apologies for the poor quality of the picture — it comes from the official press kit! Maybe you like this. The artist is talented yes but is this the best that Thailand can produce? I really don't think so.
It is typical of the traditionalist style of Thai painting. There is nothing wrong with that and I certainly mean no disrespect to the artist, but there is much more exciting work out there.
I tend to be seen as radicalist when it comes to art. I like excitement, verve, risk, experimentation. I like art to challenge my mind while inspiring my heart.
Another dreadful quality photograph. It's an art awards ceremony and this is the quality of the press kit? Give me a break!
But I like the picture. It was not the winner but made the final. Now read what the judges had to say.
"A work that does deserve honorable mention, the subject of the piece is the effect that modern communication can have on youth. The only problem is the artist might have tried too hard to explain the details, making it more an illustartion."
Are they serious? What utter nonsense! There is real quality of style,imagination and color here. The artist conveys, meaningfully I think, the influences of modern media on kids.
It's not the best painting I ever saw but at least it is interesting, at least it makes me think a little.
The judges are dinosaurs. They may even pre-date the dinosaurs. They focus on technique, which is fine, but they appear to ignore imaginatiion, expression, originality and experimentation. If I want the best technique, and only the best technique, I'll re-birth Rembrandt to paint my portrait thanks very much.
Now many of you may disagree with me, which you have every right to do, but I do get a sense of political correctness and shackled creativity. so what do I mean by that?
This is the winner of the 3-dimensional competition. It is called "Happiness", the artist's inspiration being the happiness she has found within her own family. It's original, kind of fun and probably a worthy winner. I like it.
But what am I meaning about political correctness? It's not easy to explain but as I read all the different artist statements and the judges comments, I see again and again the words and phrases "happiness", "family", "protecting youth", "traditional values" and so on.
That is not what art is about. Art is supposed to inspire, to rebel, to protest. Art is much more about being incorrect than correct.
You get the sense, however, that unless the artists play the competition "game" they don't get the gain! They are allowed to be creative, but within defined parameters. That's unfortunate. If I am an artist I want to learn technique from my teacher but I want to draw inspiration from myself and move beyond my teachers.
How else do we make progress? Here is an excellent example of what I mean. Take a look at the sculptire below.
This piece is called "Growing". It's not that subtle, but quite interesting. Here is what the judges said.
"There seems little originality in this piece; it is more like a combination of other artists ideas and work. As a sculpture, it doesn't really promote the work and actually takes away from its overall impression."
I am tempted to say "bollocks" because it's pretty obvious what the judges don't like. The artist has dared to use images of a penis and vagina to imagine "growth". He has even had the sense of humor to make the vagina large and the penis small.
It's not the best sculpture I ever saw but it's not bad and it is technically very good. The judges let prejudice overtake them.
Aahh…another terrible quality picture!
This is the winner of the photographic award. I quite like it and the technique is interesting, blending photography with painting.
To be honest, the more I read through the awards review book the angrier I became. Do the judges and the sponsor not understand that art has to progress if it is to thrive? What I see here is the older generation imposing itself on the younger generation. I confidently predict that the "best" artists of future years will not be winners of these awards.
Ironically, the funniest and most telling comment comes from one of the review articlesof the awards directory. In a call for more investment in museums and galleries, the writer says:
"In Thailand, the first important action we must do is teach the public the value of museums; that they are not just exhibits of old things."
Sorry, my friend, but the problem is exactly that they are full of old things, even if those "things" are new.
This photograph on the right I like a lot. It's very moody. I love the color. It conveys fear, which is maybe why it is called "Fear of Deep Thoughts".
In fact this photograph, along with other work too, gives me hope that Thai contemporary art has a future. It's time to stop focusing on awards and to start focussing on nurturing talent. We need to encourage Thai artists to be…….artists.
This is the photographer of the previous picture. Khun Aum, if you are reading this please call me. I am willing to be your slave forever!!
I realise that many people may be offended by the comments I have made here. I make them because I care about the future of Thai art. In Vietnam, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, China, Indonesia, Japan and elsewhere art is alive. In Thailand art is almost inthe emergency room.
The talent is there and you have seen some of it in this post. But we need to encourage our talent to go beyond norms, to be not afraid, to challenge conventiion and to use and foster imagination.
We need to rip out the old and install the new. The Young Thai Artists Award is a wonderful idea gone wrong. I wish that I could sit with the sponsor and convince them that the ideals they have are worthy but corrupted. While the world moves on they celebrate the past.
The past, my friends, is past.