Writer uses hu­mor to bring Western art closer to Chi­nese

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - By CHI­NADAILY XuHaoyu con­trib­uted to the story

Gu Mengjie is help­ing to pop­u­lar­ize Western painters in China by us­ing hu­mor and anec­dotes.

Born in Shang­hai, the 32-yearold for­mer graphic de­signer was first no­ticed in 2013 for his long posts on Euro­pean clas­si­cal paint­ings on the pop­u­lar Chi­nese mi­croblog­ging site Sina Weibo.

Gu’s dis­sec­tion of works by Re­nais­sance masters such as Michelan­gelo, Raphael and Leonardo da Vinci, in par­tic­u­lar, has won him 1 mil­lion fol­low­ers.

Gu tells the life sto­ries of fa­mous artists in a way that com­mon peo­ple can re­late to. At the same time, his writ­ing also draws ex­perts.

His posts on av­er­age get read more than 100,000 times.

“I write like I’m chat­ting with a close friend,” Gu says.

In 2014, he pub­lished two books based on his on­line writ­ings, and sold 500,000 copies in to­tal. It is a rare record for the slug­gish mar­ket for printed books in China.

Lit­tle Gu Talks About Mythol­ogy, pub­lished in Au­gust, is his third book in which he com­pares Greek­mythol­ogy to films that are high on vi­o­lent and sex­ual con­tent.

“Mytholo­gies of an­cient Greece and Rome are ma­jor themes for many clas­si­cal paint­ings,” Gu says, adding that ap­pre­ci­a­tion of art comes from knowl­edge.

Gu first stud­ied ac­count­ing and then graphic de­sign at Royal Mel­bourne In­sti­tute of Tech­nol­ogy.

Af­ter grad­u­at­ing in 2009, he worked as a de­signer for a com­pany in the Aus­tralian city for five years.

He wrote hor­ror sto­ries and drew comics on­line in his spare time but such hob­bies didn’t take him far. So he started blog­ging about art.

“Peo­ple like him as he talks about art so causally,” says Yang Mo, the edi­tor of Gu’s first book, Lit­tle Gu Talks About Paint­ing.

Gu doesn’t use ab­stract ter­mi­nol­ogy to con­fuse read­ers, Yang says.

Ex­am­ples of Gu’s hu­mor are: “Vin­cent van Gogh’s life was as bitter as Chi­nese tra­di­tional medicine and as hard as di­a­mond.

“Pierre-Au­guste Renoir was ob­sessed with draw­ing women’s breasts and Paul Cezanne liked to paint ap­ples.”

Gu has also ad­ver­tised prod­ucts like drinks, jew­elry, ex­hi­bi­tions, house­hold ap­pli­ances and so on, link­ing them to art through fun sto­ries.

In an ad­ver­tise­ment he wrote for the per­sonal fi­nance pre­dic­tions ser­vice of Alibaba Group in De­cem­ber 2014, Gu said Van Gogh’s tal­ent wasn’t fully rec­og­nized when he was alive, and went on to make the joke that had the Dutch pain­ter taken the help of the Chi­nese com­pany he might not have killed him­self. The ser­vice would have pre­dicted the later com­mer­cial suc­cess of his works.

“Van Gogh’s tragic story could have been rewrit­ten if he had known that he would get rich 10 years af­ter his death,” the ad­ver­tise­ment said.

Gu him­self faces a lot of crit­i­cism for his writ­ing on Euro­pean art.

“Some peo­ple say I don’t re­spect art, but do we re­ally need to place art on an al­tar?,” asks Gu. “Today, if we can dis­cuss and judge a film, why can’t we dis­cuss and judge a paint­ing from hun­dreds of years ago?”

Then, delv­ing into the is­sue of what con­sti­tutes “au­thor­i­ta­tive sources” in art his­tory, he says, “As the ma­te­ri­als were recorded and edited by peo­ple, hu­man bias was likely.… It is dif­fi­cult for peo­ple to prove the au­then­tic­ity of ma­te­ri­als as no­body today has ex­pe­ri­enced the past era af­ter all.”

But Gu also ac­knowl­edges the need to write pre­cisely. He says he will pub­licly apol­o­gize for any er­rors he makes.

“That’s why I hired a team of masters and PhDs in art his­tory to help me dou­ble-check what I write,” says Gu.

In Oc­to­ber, the on­line TV pro­gram di­rected and pre­sented by Gu, Travel Around Italy with Mr Gu, was re­leased on Iqiyi, a pop­u­lar stream­ing site of tech com­pany Baidu.

“I’ve seen many tourists take pho­tos of art­works in Euro­pean cities with­out know­ing the sto­ries be­hind them or with­out much ap­pre­ci­a­tion for them,” Gu says, adding that he aims to change that.

He says if he had the chance to pro­duce an­other sea­son of the on­line TV pro­gram, he would ex­plore France.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Gu Mengjie starts his writ­ing ca­reer with an on­line mi­cro blog. The au­thor has now pub­lished three books on Western paint­ings and art.

PRO­VIDED TO CHINA DAILY

Gu Mengjie’s lat­est book is about Greek mythol­ogy.

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