‘Chinoiserie’ as a conceptual model to understand how situation, perception and interpretation can transform aestheticism within artistic tradition

‘Chinoiserie’ or east Asian imitation art arose during the later part of the 17th century and was popularised in 18th century Europe through Chinese import and trade via merchant ships and diplomatic envoys. The art form itself derives from orientalism or artefacts considered characteristic of east Asia; China for example. Chinoiserie style can be characterised by its exuberant ornamentation and attention to detail. The subject matter itself due to the time in which Chinoiserie style arose focused on colonial era Europeans and their lack of clear conceptualisation and thus interpretation of Chinese culture. Artists across Europe began crafting and creating art work and décor inspired by the artefacts imported into major European countries/cities; depending on your geographical position within Europe the style varied. This ismost likely due to the varying European styles, cultural interpretations and traditions at the time. Chinoiserie itself was often a hybrid between Asian imported artefact and existing European styles as the artists themselves had often never visited and experienced east Asia for themselves, their narrative interpretation of traditional Asian colloquial was often misinterpreted and became the art form of Chinoiserie that we know today, an Asian inspired art form but, a separate art form in its own right.

What I find particularly interesting with regards to the East Asian inspired art form is firstly the historical context and bridging relationship Chinoiserie had between the east and west during the 17th century and secondly its direct evocation from object orientated aesthetic experience rather than being directly influenced by environmental, spatial or cultural experience. What I mean when I refer to this is the artist’s interpretation of Asian culture is formulated not on a visited trip to china per say and thus not a reflection of every day Chinese culture but rather the art form is formulated from an aesthetic object oriented and verbal understanding through artefacts, word of mouth and situation. our memory and imagination as previously discussed are shaped by all the things that make us, us; subjectively and as a greater continental consciousness but, what becomes Peculiar and interesting is when the phenomenon of Chinoiserie is proliferated past European interpretation to a global phenomenon. Interpretations of interpreted Chinese culture became popular across japan, the south Americas and India; most likely due to colonialism and European trade. The fascination with Chinese culture itself arose from the mysticism that surrounded East Asia due to increased yet still restricted access to other side of the globe. This mysticism manifested into exoticism and thus became globally popular due to firstly generalised global popularity and secondly the confidentiality that surrounded east Asia. (Britannica 1998)


As discussed interaction with an object outside of its cultural sanctuary or in this circumstance an object/objects transported across the other side of the world has a drastic change on the context of said object/s, it is a very altered experience. If we are to take Marcel Duchamp’s urinal or Fountain (1917) for example and appropriate the context of the urinal from lavatory to white cube gallery format, the urinal itself is transformed from functional item to artwork and artwork to postmodern phenomenon. Fountain (1917) in its own right is posed as a historical singularity due to the conceptually challenging nature of the art work at the time. Fountain, as a significant postmodern artefact portrays the visceral extreme of the readymade. Remarkably Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain is one of, if the worlds most famous and revered pieces of conceptual ceramic art, which when we look at the breath of ceramic art historically this is particularly astonishing. Words play an imperative role when understanding and interpreting objects; for example, what makes marcel Duchamp’s urinal any less of a fountain if it fulfils comparable functions to a fountain? Marcel Duchamp’s Fountain not only says a lot about the context, situation and phenomena of art but also challenges that context and situation, it is peculiar how seemingly mundane oddities manifest, transform and dominate our world to become retrospective sensation’s. (Howarth 2000)

As beings we impose ourselves upon objects and objects impose themselves upon us. The narrative that is formed from our interaction with objects is thus a reflection of our self image, environment, sensuous understanding and imaginative interpretation. Societies across the world have varying external influences, belief’s, environments and thus varying sources of creativeness. Even within these societies’ subjectivity and personal preference takes an imperative role. Chinoiserie style amongst the different European countries is no exception when we begin to comprehend the varying external influences fuelling the stylised artists.


Below featured in the image is an antique Francis Morley Ironstone Chinoiserie, peacock plate manufactured in the 19th century, England. Although beautiful in its own right, what I find more specifically concerning and fascinating at this point in in time with regards to the memory and history of Chinoiserie style is in its its ability to be manufactured and reproduced on a monumental scale. Due to its large scale manufacturing rate and ability to be quickly created and shipped with greater ease using cheaper manufacturing materials the price of the objects dropped and therefore middle class people within Britain and across Europe were finally able to obtain a piece of the ‘upper class life’ you could purpose.



Moving forward to the 20th century we may now approach Chinoiserie style with a more comical attitude through declining popularity and what we as a generation may now associate to be ‘tacky’ and out of fashion perhaps. For myself and I am sure for many people of my generation the Chinoiserie style may more likely be associated with the décor of an elderly persons living room. I would purpose this is completely situational of the objects authenticity and environment. if The Francis Morley plate below was either hung from an elderly persons wall or displayed as some peculiar trophy object on a mantle piece or tucked away within a cabinet, then more than likely it would project a particular voice, that of an elderly person’s retirement flat. On the other hand, if the plate were displayed within a museum or apposing gallery context, our feelings may shift.


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