A comprehensive study of art education in China is the focus of the April 2011 issue of LEAP, a free bilingual magazine that covers Chinese contemporary art and culture. We have, of course, read the whole issue and pull out (and link to) the best parts below.

Mu Lei, ‘Convection’,oil on canvas, 160 x 220 cm. Image courtesy Robinsons Art Gallery.

Mu Lei, ‘Convection’, oil on canvas, 160 x 220 cm. Image from Robinsons Art Gallery.

LEAP magazine’s April 2011 edition is a richly illustrated treasure trove of China’s art education system, covering the broad spectrum of arts education and throwing a spotlight on cram schools, leading artist-educators, new campus buildings and much more. The strength of this special issue lies in its diversity and thought-provoking content, which ranges from in-depth features and first-hand narratives to sector overviews and reports.

Yang Na, ‘Hibernation in the coin pupa’,oil on canvas, 160x150 cm. Image courtesy One Art World.

Yang Na, ‘Hibernation in the coin pupa’, oil on canvas, 160 x 150 cm. Image from One Art World.

Click here to read the issue in its entirety on the LEAP website.

Art Radar takes you through some of the highlights, summarising what is said by LEAP and linking you to each article so you can read more.

Art, artist and educator

Art becomes all the more powerful in the hands of educators. This article explores the dynamic issues related to the teaching of art in China, a country now in the throes of rapid transition, a result of its booming globalising economy.

Currently, there are six schools and one college under the umbrella of Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA): the School of Fine Art, the School of Chinese Painting, the School of Design, the School of Architecture, the School of Humanities and the College of City Design, as well as the School of Continuing Education and the Affiliated High School of Fine Art.

Professor Pan Gongkai, director of CAFA, opines that the art teaching programmes have to keep pace internationally. “We now have every major that exists at mainstream art schools in Europe and the United States. In the Nineties, we were doing ten to twenty percent of what the West was doing, but now it’s ninety percent.”

Click here to read the article, titled “The Educators”, in full.

Pan Gongkai, ‘Blend’, installation. Image courtesy

Pan Gongkai, ‘Blend’, installation. Image from

Anxiety, oppression and cram schools

Art education in China undergoing an upheaval. According to online magazine The Tyee, “In less than a generation, China could be turning out the brightest, most original thinkers on the globe, with 200 million students and 12 million teachers leading the way.”

Art education in China has gained tremendous momentum over the years, resulting in a mushrooming of cram schools: specialised schools that focus on a single subject and aim to aid students in passing entrance examinations for high schools and universities. These much-sought-after “testprep” schools are fast turning into a big business. For about 1,500 US dollars (RMB 10,000), one can easily enroll in a six-month course in Hangzhou aimed at getting you through all of the general exams and entrance tests that you would need to get into a good university.

Huang Yin, ‘Fight against mosquito no 1’,oil on canvas, 90x90 cm. Image courtesy artist’s website.

Huang Yin, ‘Fight against mosquito no 1’, oil on canvas, 90 x 90 cm. Image from artist’s website.

If you assumed that the students at cram schools learn the fundamentals of art, and related intellectual attainments, you are sadly mistaken. Rather than developing enthusiasm about art, the overburdened pupils in these cram schools are taught how to ace the examinations and impress the examiner. There are even pigments that are specially designed for students taking university entrance examinations, the colours of which are tailored to the perceived tastes of various academies, notes LEAP.

Should China be preparing pupils for a test without developing their deeper understanding?

Click here to read the article, titled “Stuck in the middle: Inside China’s art cram schools”, in full.

The “China Academy of Art Gray” series of pigments specially designed for students taking the entrance exam there. Image courtesy LEAP magazine.

The "China Academy of Art Gray" series of pigments specially designed for students taking the entrance exam there. Image from 'LEAP'.

What is in a name?

What is more important: the quality of art education or the name of the art department? Art academies in China have traditionally been organised according to the medium they specialise in, but of late they seem to be picking up the prefix “studio” or “mixed” in an attempt to showcase a streak of innovation.

As art departments across China are being rechristened, what do the experts have to say about the new wave nomenclature?

Click here to read the article, titled “Making schools for contemporary art”, in full.

Reflections on new beginnings

The pioneering work of young art graduates of the 1980’s was the driving force behind the ’85 New Wave Movement that brought Chinese contemporary art into the international arena. These artists, present at the moment when China first began to open its gates and its mind to the world, bridged trends in Western modernism with Chinese traditions of Zen and Taoism.

These early 1980s graduates of art academies were the driving force behind the ’85 Movement, and they mounted a major attack on the history of Chinese contemporary art.

Written from first-hand experience and with great enthusiasm by Fei Dawei, who was admitted to the Central Academy of Fine Arts (CAFA) just after the Cultural Revolution, this article explores some of the factors that brought non-Chinese theories, philosophies and practices into art academies across the country. While much of China and its education system remained conservative, the ideas being discussed in lectures and read about in university libraries were not.

Our curriculum was quite comprehensive: ‘History of Chinese Art’, ‘History of Western Art’, and ‘Art Theory’ were the three main components, and we had three years of each. ‘History of Western Art’ continued up to the pop art [movement] of the 1970s, which counted as quite ‘advanced’ in comparison to art history educations in other countries at the time.

Huang Yong Ping, ‘The Nightmare of George V ’, concrete, reinforced steel, animal skins, plastic, wood, and cane seat, 96 x 140 x 66 in. Image Courtesy Walker Art Centre

Huang Yong Ping, ‘The Nightmare of George V ’, concrete, reinforced steel, animal skins, plastic, wood, and cane seat, 96 x 140 x 66 in. Image from Walker Art Centre.

Some of the Chinese art world’s most influential artists are mentioned, Huang Yong Ping, Gu Dexin and Yang Jiechang. Huang in particular stands tall as the founder of the Xiamen Dada movement – a collective of avant-garde groups of artists interested in creating a new Chinese cultural identity and artistic practices.

Click here to read the article titled “Once upon a cloud: our 1980s art school lives” in full.

The business of art education is a serious one in this booming economy. For anyone interested in learning more about China’s art education system, the April 2011 issue of LEAP is a must-read.


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By Brittney

Brittney is a writer, curator and contemporary art gallerist. Born in Singapore and based in New York City, Brittney maintains a deep interest in the contemporary art landscape of Southeast Asia. This is combined with an equally strong interest in contemporary art from the Asian diasporas, alongside the issues of identity, transmigration and global relations.

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