Art History in “Children as Enemies” by Ha Jin

From the anthology A Good Fall, this short story explores generational conflicts found between grandparents and their grandchildren.  The main conflict originates from differing preferences in artistic styles. Written from the grandfather’s point of view, he describes his young grandson rejecting traditional subjects found in Asian paintings (“Bamboos, or goldfish, or landscapes”) and instead, taking a more non-objective route in his art.  The grandson labeled his experiments “abstract”.  The classic battle between tradition and modernity.

Of course, the whole story depicts the grandfather as inflexible and completely baffled by the notion that you can execute art in many ways. However, after reading this article on Chinese painting provided by the Metropolitan Museum of Art and suddenly, the conflict presented in the story makes so much more sense.  Especially since the grandfather finds it strange that his grandson has an interest in color.

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