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  • Cooper Ray

Mid-Autumn Festival: Connecting the past to the present

Zhou Kai, Landscape (Photo courtesy: The Norton Museum of Art)

Humans are no strangers to gathering for festive activities, but, within Chinese culture, it is a way of life. These traditions showcase the importance of the community to all. One tradition of art and culture is known as the Mid-Autumn Festival.

The history of Chinese culture is deeply rooted in art, which is seen through their deep appreciation for the most intricate works. The art includes traditional paintings of Chinese landscapes and abstract art.

Laurie Barnes, curator of Chinese art at the Norton Museum of Art, explains the significance of the traditional Mid-Autumn Festival.

“You're petitioning the forces of the universe to give you a good harvest for the next year,” Barnes said.

Historically, the tradition of the Mid-Autumn Festival was focused on the idea of serving a deity. These days, the festival is primarily focused on community and celebrating fall.

“That [Mid-Autumn Festival] evolved over time – it became a big party,” Barnes said. “It's kind of like Thanksgiving, in a way.”

To celebrate the festival, the Norton Museum of Art has placed four paintings on display, all of which represent the evolution of traditional Chinese art styles.

Liu Kuo-Sung, Light in Darkness (Photo courtesy: The Norton Museum of Art.)

The most highlighted piece in the exhibit is “Light in Darkness” by Liu Kuo-Sung. The look of the painting is different from the more traditional pieces in the collection because of the unique paper used to create it.

“This is a special fibrous paper that he created,” Barnes said, “It's really this complicated layering.”

In addition to the abstract pieces, the exhibit presents its share of traditional landscape paintings. A prime example of traditional Chinese art is “Walking with a Staff in Autumn Groves” by Zhang Yuan Zhang. This nearly 8-foot-long scroll depicts a scene of the Chinese countryside and is filled with many traditional details, primarily capturing the landscape.

Zhang Yuan Zhang, Walking with a staff. (Photo courtesy: The Norton Museum of Art.)

The most modern painting in the collection is “Autumn Falls” by Arnold Chang. The painting was created in 2006, but also has a more traditional element. Looking at the painting, you can see the similarities to the other pieces in the collection that are more than 175 years older than this piece.

Arnold Chang, Autumn falls (Photo courtesy: The Norton Museum of Art.)

Chang is actively creating art to this day, and his style pays homage to the great Chinese

artists of the past. Chang is also innovative because he experiments with new styles and techniques.

“He’s now working in a more abstract style,” Barnes said.

Barnes also explained Chang’s newest projects and his processes, including his collaborative work with photographer Michael Cherney.

Chang is currently working with Cherney in Beijing. They have been collaborating on pieces where a photograph is taken and is then painted on.

“They’re exploring different ways to expand upon a traditional Chinese landscape. Arnold's really kind of dedicated to that,” Barnes said.

The Mid-Autumn Festival is a tradition in Chinese culture that reveals the nation's rich history of art and culture to all. It shows its history through its paintings, but it is upheld by those who keep the tradition and heritage of the festival close to their hearts. The Mid-Autumn Festival is a celebration that brings together some of the most important aspects of life in every culture, celebrating together in community and preserving history.

By Cooper Ray

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