Thai Art - Information for TEFL Teachers Thailand
Originating predominantly as a religious form, traditional Thai art has been inseparable from the imagery and association of Buddha. And as the nation emerged out of an elaborate monarchical history and diverse socio-cultural blending, Thai art also incorporated elements that worked towards the revival of the classical art with modern characteristics.
Classical Thai art revealed its relevance to Buddhism and Sangha – the community through the construction of Wats and casting of Buddha images more than anything else, patronized by almost every Thai king. The Wat, besides enshrining bronze or stucco statues of Buddha had to be decorated with mural paintings as well as wood carvings and lacquer works. Accordingly, the Wat was the highest expression of Thai art for about 800 years. The art of Buddha casting was actually an act of glory in the past
If the major traditional arts were religious structures, Buddha statues and mural paintings, the objects of minor art were jewellery, niello, embossed silver, textile, lacquer works and pottery which were in great demands among the people of Thailand in past.
The paintings were confined to illustration of books and decoration of buildings, primarily palaces and temples. In these paintings, the subjects were presented in two dimensions without considering the perspective. The size of each element in a painting would be directly proportional to its degree of importance. The paintings represented stories 0f Jataka, frames from the life and learning of Buddha, illustrations from the time contemporary to Buddha and also imageries of heaven and hell; the technique of apportioning areas was employed in the compositions where the primary elements were segregated by spacer transformers. The concept of perspective was introduced later in mid-19th century as a western impression.
The intricate wooden carvings that produced ornate, three-dimensional details were yet another art form identified as ‘relief’. Such pieces of varied dimensions along with other engraved art form and wooden filigree are still produced in ample numbers.
The Sukhothai period depicted Buddha in an elegance that emanated spiritual brilliance rather than strict conformation to anatomical details. The method of carving was also replaced by casting images in metal. The significant character of the models of Buddha during this time was portraying him in accordance with his definitions in ancient Pali texts.
Glazed ceramic modeled in the Sangkhalok style were extensively produced traded outside the country, in this Sukhothai period as well.
The Ayutthaya period saw a whole array of artistic renderings that ranged from Buddha figures formed out of juxtaposed rows of stones, colossal bronze, brick and stucco images of Buddha to decoration of gold-leaf in free-form designs on a lacquer background. This was followed by creation of more elaborate images in royal attire set on embellished bases.
In the ‘Ratanakosin’ or the ‘Bangkok’ period, this Ayutthaya style saw further development, rather than deviation, on the basis of ‘Krom Chang Sip Mu (Organization of the Ten Crafts) that contributed towards the enhancement of the Thai craftsmen.
The contemporary period Thailand has seen departure from traditional art form to new expressions, initiated by the spirit of new social development. The young artist are preferring to reveal themselves in a modern way rather than repeated conventional forms which has also resulted in a anxious drive to preserve the traditional style against the supposed modernization.
However, the old school of Thai art continues to remain in its value and beauty while creating simultaneously with the creations of the new folk who are more into individual expressions rather than repetition and imitation of the past. Some of the notable names from the current generation are Chakrapan Posayakrit, Chalermchai Kositpipat and Tawan Dachanee.
Chiang Mai attracts many artists, providing them with an ambience suited for artistic pursuits. The arts department of the Chiang Mai University organizes cultural performances and exhibitions on a regular basis to encourage the students.