Creativity Class: Art School and Culture Work in Posts Ocialist China by Lily Chumley (review)
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CREATIVITY CLASS: ART SCHOOL AND CULTURE WORK IN POSTS OCIALIST CHINA by Lily Chumley. Princeton University Press, Princeton, NJ, 2016. 256 pp., illus. ISBN: 9780691164977.

Lily Chumley's Creativity Class: Art School and Culture Work in Postsocialist China examines art school instruction and its applications in a variety of contemporary culture industries in China in relation to the government's goal of cultivating creative human capital in a market economy in which value is produced through innovation. Based on field work conducted in China, primarily Beijing and Jinan 2006–2008, Chumley's analysis derives from an assessment of indicative artworks; interviews with established artists, designers, teachers and school administrators; and direct observation of art school classes and studio practices. It addresses questions of educational policy, art pedagogy and artistic creative practice in light of Bourdieu-styled interdisciplinary cultural studies that traverse such areas as linguistic and semiotic anthropology; philosophy; literary theory; communications studies; political science; and economic theory. Interweaving personal experience, empirical evidence and theoretical discourse from Mao Zedong, Karl Marx and Li Wuwei to Michel Foucault, Theodor Adorno, Jürgen Habermas and Fredric Jameson, Chumley's study provides an innovative model of interdisciplinary sociological methodology gleaned from the perspective of art instruction and creative practice.

Chumley's research is buffeted by an array of opposing forces: global commodities fluctuations, nationalist state ideology, soaring commercial development and post-socialist disenchantment. Her text explores four substantive thematic areas: creative practice in areas such as graphic art/animation, fashion design, interior decoration, film/video production, architecture and fine art; self-styling, self-expression and personal realization; aesthetic practice communities organized by genres, conventions and preference; and postsocialism in China, with its tensions between governmental control, market socialism and neoliberalism. She details the expansion and standardization of a system of widespread art testing heavily dependent upon Soviet-style cum French academic [End Page 222] realist drawing and painting, for which students undergo years of arduous and expensive pretest training in representation. Chinese educational reformists have charged that such techniques, qualified solely as manual technical skill, which becomes increasingly irrelevant in a technological environment, stifle imagination, sublimate individuality and ultimately impact career mobility and invention. In tracing the evolution of art instruction at the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing (CAFA), Chumley notes political undercurrents in representational drawing that also continue to reinforce a labor theory of value inherited from Maoist culture. There's no mention of associations between abstract formalism and modernism's subversive tendencies.

In recent years Chinese modernization movements have introduced alternative methods to develop "creative individuals" instrumental to a knowledge economy. "Creativity classes" attempt to transition from conformity to difference through liberating thought transformations; meta-marketing the creative personality; and group critiques that cultivate personal narratives born of experience. Chumley is quick to identify these practices as occurring in an illiberal society in which students must also enroll in state-mandated classes in Marxism and Deng-Jiang-Hu thought as part of curricula that must be directly approved by the central government. Through an analysis drawn largely from linguistic anthropology and semiotic theory, she scrutinizes, on the one hand, the visual language of selfhood as the projection of complex interrelationships between community and personality and, on the other, the problem of selfhood (and its implied relationship to commodity capitalism) within an established socialist collective. According to Chumley, "creativity" in China requires the ability to synthesize a highly complex set of multimodal discursive practices within the bounds of nationalism—how to think, feel, talk, dress and stand in individuated ways without implicating political inclination or sociopolitical philosophy. Such constraints recall negative connotations of individualism employed among French reactionaries following the French Revolution to signify irrational sources of social dissolution and anarchy that could pose a threat to social order. Yet the pursuit of selective individuation within a cultural hegemony, including the quest for uniqueness and originality divorced from cultural judgment, aestheticism and its relationships to moral norms, also reflects a postmodern condition of history in which the project of society, to which socialism is committed, is irredeemably disrupted. At the same time, such an approach to art-making and artistic creativity ignores one of art's...


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