The Shanghai Art College, 1913-1937

Zheng, Jie Jane 鄭潔
Supervisor: Prof. Q.L. Wan, Prof. G.M. Thomas and Prof. David Clarke

Art schools and the modernization of Chinese art is one major topic in twentieth century Chinese painting studies. Art schools are viewed as evidence showing Chinese art responded to the ‘Western Impact’ and were an integral part in the Westernization process of Chinese art. Grounded on solid primary sources, this research looks at the first 25 years’ history of the most important and influential art school in Shanghai, the Shanghai Art College, by focusing on the art school’s interactive process with the modernization of Chinese art. It argues the Shanghai Art College did not only respond to modern conditions but also contributed to the modernization process. It created a new mode of art education institution, new form of art education, new artists and through art education and artists it also changed art. A theoretical framework is formulated by taking approaches including Functionalism in Sociology of Education, micro-economics, an art historical approach and an art institutional approach in Shanghai visual culture studies. The art school is viewed as an organization that had operational goals and two most direct outputs of art education and artists.

The first chapter views the organization as a whole. It shows the emergence of private Shanghai art schools as a result of public demands for art and Liu Haisu created the typical Shanghai private art school mode with a ‘market character’: the school followed and mastered free market principles and the only operational goal was seeking survival and development. Chapter Two argues that under the influence of the operational goal, the school created a new form of art education. It created a popular mode of Western painting education and commenced modern research on art-related subjects. Chapter Three shows the Shanghai Art College modernized artists by incorporating them into public space. It moved artists’ teaching and learning into the public environment, incorporated artists’ economic mode into the public fabric and provided a shortcut for artists to achieve fame. It also expanded the public space for artists’ activism and assisted women artists in entering public space. Through art education and artists, the Shanghai Art College also modernized art by broadening the practice and study scope of art and ‘socializing’ art. It developed more social functions of art and exposed art to more social influences. Besides, it also participated in the modernization of literati painting, a process that scholarly thought was dismissed from painting.

The conclusion is that modernization in the Shanghai Art College was not a simple process of ‘Westernization’. The Shanghai Art College contributed to new meanings of modernity.