Globalization’s new arbiters of taste

The New Yorker’s Peter Hessler visits Lishui, a factory art town in China and mass producer of cheap oil paintings for foreign markets.

Chen and Hu could rarely identify the foreign scenes they painted, but they had acquired some ideas about national art tastes from their commissions.

“Americans prefer brighter pictures,” Hu told me. “They like scenes to be lighter. Russians like bright colors too. Koreans like them to be more subdued, and Germans like things that are grayer. The French like that, too.”

Chen flipped to HF-3075: a snow-covered house with glowing lights. “Chinese people like this kind of picture,” she said. “Ugly!”… “Chinese people have no taste. French people have the best taste, followed by Russians, and then the other Europeans.”… “Americans are after that.”

Later in the article:

The Lishui experience seemed to contradict one of the supposed benefits of globalization: the notion that economic exchanges naturally lead to greater understanding. But Lishui also contradicted the critics who believe that globalized links are disorienting and damaging to the workers at the far end of the chain.

It’s an interesting point, although I think it’s a little too early to say.

I’m reminded instead of Mardi Gras: Made In China, a documentary that gets the reaction of Mardi Gras celebrants in New Orleans to videos and interviews with the Chinese women who make the Mardi Gras beads.

The most memorable part: they show videos of the Mardi Gras folks to the workers. Exposing mammary glands: not exactly what the women expected

5 thoughts on “Globalization’s new arbiters of taste

  1. People in favor of globalization say that it will help us understand each other better. I guess an understanding of the appreciation or art from others could help, but what type of art are we talking about here. I doubt this is stuff that gets sold at auction. I’m thinking more likely it’s what you see on the walls at your doctor or dentists office. I would guess that means that it is what the average person finds pleasing or comforting in that society. It is interesting to note the differences as well as the artists perceptions of who has better taste.

    I have to agree that this is a case that distracts us from the uglier side of globalization. There have certainly have been benefits for many people, but there is a long way to go. The ability to reproduce art and make a living is great, but it’s not something that’s going to help very many people. One step at a time I guess.

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  3. A side note to international taste in paintings – the Russian artistst Komar and Melamid did a great project on this, called “the most wanted paintings”… They polled people from different countries on what they would like best in a painting (scenery, animal, people…) und created the most and least wanted painting.
    Here’s the story:
    and here are the paintings:

  4. Chris,

    This is a totally foolish film and your post followed as a natural consequence. No sense to present or ever dare to analyze anything under this kind of perspective or circumstance. The absurds of trade, the selling and buying of products (of all natures) to and from other places, name it globalization (or better, blame it on globalization) are many and must be addressed seriously as there are a lot to be addressed.

    For example, what would you think of a movie which, instead of Chinese and drunk Americans, showed outraged puritan Norwegians workers presented with images of the deceased and injured African and Asian children they “helped” to hurt and kill because they work for one of the world’s largest exporter of weapons. Norway, the placid pacific and nation is one of the largest exporters of weapons int he world, the companies which produce the weapons hire typical Norwegian workers, a lot of disabled people by the way, to produce, pack and export them. Peace is somehow being sustained by the war…

    What if the film actually interviewed final weapon users, soldiers of all kinds and fronts, and heard the opinion of weapon producing workers, those lovely blue eyed ladies and gentlemen born and raised in the HDI ‘s leading country who have no clue about what is going on the other end of the trade line and prefer to remain this way… Is it fun or totally nonsensical?

    It is superficial and it is senseless to deal with serious issues of trade this way. It also tried to diminish the Chinese people with scenes filled with prejudice and bad judgment. I don’t think it is cheap polemic what you are looking for here…

  5. As a Frenchman I’m very glad to know that Chinese consider us to have the best taste for cheap oil paints in the world. It should be added in the Commitment to Development Index of the CGD index where France performs as poorly as usual:

    Thanks very much for your blog, it’s always interesting and accurate.