To me, art is a form of expression and a form of documentation.
I read bits of Chairman Mao’s book and he has a few lines about art. He says something like (I’ll replace this with the direct quote later) art for art’s sake does not exist. The highest form of art is art used for political use.
In my experience here in China so far art is seen as either a form of leisure, or a luxury, or (in my opinion at its worst) as a way of showing off a person’s status and wealth.
Which generally annoys the hell out of me.
I tried to connect it with the fact that China has gone through such sudden explosion of wealth and advancement in the past 50 years or so that many of the people are still connected to older ways of life where “art” was not something anyone could afford, financially or time wise. I contrast, I come from Los Angeles, a place epitomized for its entertainment industry. For many in LA, art is both life and how to make a living.
But then I thought back to America’s younger days. Didn’t blues music, one of the most celebrated roots of American music, basically birth itself from people in slavery? Singing was a form of communication even way back then in US history, art woven throughout the backbone of American life.
In Thailand, King Rama 9’s jazz influence is everywhere in Thai culture. The Queen enjoyed photography and is often seen in photos with a camera around her neck. Thai history of rulership is recorded in a variety of forms, one is in the story played out in Thai dancing.
In the example of Thailand, art came from the top. In the US, art came from the bottom. And China? I believe there is no specific way to change China’s attitudes about art, but if it is going change then it has to be big and has to start from somewhere.