In term of the visual arts, painting is the most significant one. Historically speaking, Vietnamese painting is still very young. However, the cultural origins of painting, in fact, went back much further.
Vietnamese people have created art as long as they have existed. When the first classes in line drawing, anatomy and landscape painting were offered in the early decades of the twentieth century, art students drew on their rich religious and cultural background to execute their works. As a result, you can see in these paintings, the combination of the views of their home villages, portraits of farmers in the countryside and techniques of lacquer and silk which had been used for centuries in temple decorations.
Like other artists in the world, Vietnamese painters are affected by their environment but they have still found a particularly sensitive way to convey their identities, histories and beliefs through color and poetic imagery. Vietnamese artists have now become more exploratory and go-ahead, tried to attune themselves to international trends. A powerful upsurge of new art forms and revitalized traditions are moving Vietnamese art forward. Young artists are seeking their hallmarks based on their own experience and personal vision, increasingly the showing of self-confidence and audacity in their work.
Western style in technique and the use of color was what the first student generation trained in their school. The techniques, however, were employed by the graduate artists to depict the aesthetic essence of Vietnam, especially the freedom and generosity of an Asian soul. Such fundamental beginning had laid the foundation for the younger generations to follow and again, lead to their success.
In the 1930s, 1940s and 1950s, the first modern artist generation joined in the international field of art and was highly evaluated in Vietnam as well as overseas. From then on, many of them gained good reputation and were honored as the masters of Vietnam's modern art such as To Ngoc Van, Nguyen Phan Chanh, Nguyen Gia Tri, Bui Xuan Phai, Le Pho, Tran Van Can, Nguyen Do Cung, Nguyen 'I'ien Chung, Nguyen Tu Nghiem, Duong Bich Lien and so on.
The wars against colonialists and the U.S. imperialists unintentionally divided Vietnamese modern art into various styles, each of which has its own way to proceed toward perfection. This could most clearly be seen in the works of artists from the North to the South where the fierce struggles as well as realism-criticism, romanticism, and escapism into the dream of peace are described.
Traditional Vietnamese music is extremely diverse, consisting of many different styles varying from region to region. The widely known is Imperial Court music that was performed in the Vietnamese Court during feudalistic times from Tran Dynasty to Nguyen Dynasty. It features an array of instruments, featuring musicians and dancers adorned in elaborate garb. Besides, Quan ho has a long tradition in Vietnam while ca tru has been considered to recognize as Intangible Cultural Heritage.
As regard traditional theater, Cai luong remains very popular in modern Vietnam in comparison to other folk styles. Cheo singing is the most mainstream of theater form in the past and enjoyed widely by the public. Tuong singing, on the other hand, was transitioned from being entertainment for the royal court to traveling troupes.
Vietnam has 54 ethnic minority groups; each one has their own traditional dance. There are several traditional dances performed widely at festivals and other special occasions, such as the lion dance.
When watching a water puppet show, do you know that it originated in the 12th century? In a show, the puppets standing in water are obscured by a split-bamboo screen and manipulated by long poles hidden beneath the water. Epic stories are sung with many different characters, often depicting traditional scenes of Vietnamese life.
Vietnamese literature, both oral and written, is created largely by Vietnamese-speaking people. However, due to the long domination of Chinese, a lot of written works were in classical Chinese. Chu nom, created around the 10th century, allowed writers to compose in Vietnamese and use modified Chinese characters. By the mid-20th century, virtually, all works were composed in chu quoc ngu. Some defining works of literature include The Tale of Kieu by Nguyen Du, Luc Van Tien by Nguyen Dinh Chieu…
Speaking about the poetry, legendary poetess Ho Xuan Huong composed much of her poetry in chu nom, which later has been translated into quoc ngu for modern Vietnamese.
As developments flourish, Vietnamese art continues expanding over the world. They do not content themselves with following up traditions. They are fashioning a new vision that keeps drawing substance from national roots and creating a new tradition - the tradition of the New!
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