Carnegie Mellon University / Introduction to the Electronic Media Studio (60110-A)

Unit 21

by Golan @ 2:52 am 9 September 2009

Is outsourced oil painting the new “digital output”?
Below are some resources about the “Chinese Painting Village” phenomenon, such as Dafen or Wushipu in Shenzhen, which employ about 10,000 artists and produce more than 60% of the world’s oil paintings.

For those not familiar with this phenomenon, here are the basic facts:

  • About 8,000-10,000 “painting workers” are employed in a single village (actually, an urban district) to produce more than 60% of the world’s paintings. (And I’ll bet you thought the world’s largest population of artists was in Berlin or Brooklyn!)
  • Some factories specialize in reproducing famous Western masterpieces; others specialize in creating literally thousands of identical units (for hotels, cruise ships, and retail outlets like WalMart, K-Mart, Ikea, etc.); and other factories specialize in painting custom reproductions of family portraits, pets, wedding photos, and the like.
  • Commissioning a custom painting is done with digital images, via email attachments and PayPal, and takes about 10-14 days including shipping. Prices range from as little as $10 to as much as $1000 (for a high-quality forgery); cost factors include the size, thickness of paint, and presence of (for example) people and/or portrait faces. For a painting whose dimensions are 50cm x 40cm, one might expect to pay $30-100 US.

Painting competition in Dafen Village, Shenzhen
A painting speed competition in Dafen.

Newspaper articles, critical histories and other journalism.
(Lots of good information here.)

This 7-minute YouTube video provides an excellent overview of the painting economy in Dafen village:

Painting competition in Dafen Village, Shenzhen

Example painting factories online.
(There are many others.)

Western art approaches to the phenomenon.
(Interesting work which addresses this trend critically, conceptually, and/or politically.)

Thanks to Clement Valla and Winnie Won Yin Wong for invaluable pointers for this post.

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