Assist. Prof.Dr. Supachai Areerungruang
Faculty of Fine Art, Srinakarinwirot University, Bangkok Thailand
The question on the body of knowledge which has long been with Thai art brings about the writer’s objective in writing this article, searching for data for preliminary analysis influencing the study of continuous research on other issues. However, questioning the study of Thai art in the context of Thai society is rare, due to the fact that Thai education system has long been based on teacher-discipline system. This is because of the Thai sacred ceremony to indoctrinate the art pupils since the first day. This Thai system made learners fail to question the knowledge acquired. Instead, it made learners accept and praise ancestral knowledge, intelligence, and ability automatically. There are people who mention the state of dominant rule over many stages of craftsmen. For instance, it is stated in Paritta Chaloempao Koanantrakul’s article (Paritta Chaloempao Koanantrakul, 2555: 147) that Thai craftsmen are framed by high respect for their teachers and dedicate all goodness to teachers; thus, they will not claim a piece of work as such claim is against Thai tradition. This is because craftsmen did not work for themselves; instead, royal craftsmen worked for the authority; monk craftsmen worked for the religion; and slave craftsmen did not want to unveil themselves for fear that they would become forced laborers. This article deals with questioning the work of ancestral teachers who created intellectual heritage and masterpieces in Thai art. The author’s suspicion may be questioned of its practical benefit for Thai art society when the existing thing is already deemed as “Thai art” or “Thai design”. The author opinionates that such way of thinking is a blockade of educational freedom of thinking for it brings about a conclusion that an answer in education no longer requires further enquiry or research. The learner, instead, has to accept what has been passed on from generation to generation. Meanwhile, western education supports the education in which there are endless questions. This is due to the fact that knowledge is derived from questions. (Thanes Wongyannava, 2552: 181). Nidhi Eawsriwong states that it is important to revisit the triumphant conclusion; building or restructuring a system of knowledge contributing to an ability and an authority to question is center to bringing about fairness in the society (Nidhi Eawsriwong, 2550: 57), including in Thai education system.
Keywords: Thai style, Thai art
To raise question regarding Thai art knowledge is an objective in writing this article. Questioning the Thai art education is not in common in Thai society since the past due to the scenario of Thai education which value teacher-student status. Students must join Krob Kru ceremony, Thai sacred ceremony to indoctrinate the art pupils, in the first day to be accepted as student. With this scenario, it is lead to the idea that the student should not question the teacher or what teacher has taught. Also, we must accept ancestor’s ability without question it. In this case, we had been dominated by the prior knowledge of Thai art.
Gentle, tender, delicate and exquisite has been described and characterized “Lai Thai” or (Thai pattern) in general perception of Thai people. It is later applied to create Thai identity in many kinds of art in Thailand. In the past, the knowledge of creation and invention related to human were taught mainly in religious institution, and taught by monk. The word “Silpa” (art) is created for not more that 100 years. In Thai society, in the past, the meaning of the word “Silpa” was nothing to do with creation of artwork that refer to science. It had the same meaning with “Silpasat” (liberal arts); the word is originated from Sanskirt word, “Sil” which means act that one should learn. “Silpa” (art) that refers to “ngan chang” (craft) was first presented in King RAMA 6 reign (1910-1925). The king might have translated from the word “art” in English that means “craft” similar to the West’s definition. However, the word “Lai Thai” was not commonly accepted as Thai characteristics at the time. The word “Lai” was mentioned in the Prince Narisara Nuvativongse’s journal in 1928 in a board term, stating about each pattern, but didn’t specify as “Lai Thai”.
However, in a new education system, new knowledge, there are studies of pattern in Thai art composition, for example, in Santi Leksukhum (2008:45) book, Phatthanaakan Khoong Lai Thai: Kranok Kap Ekkalak Thai.
He wrote about the word “Kranok”. “Kranok” is commonly understood as one pattern of Thai art. It is used to explain the decorative pattern that has a specific pattern. It is spelled “Kranok” or “Kanok”, also means gold; it might originally refer to Tu Lai Thong or Tu Lai Rod Nam (lacquer work) which refers to the decorative work that applies gilding technique. The pattern has a sharp tip and look like flame shape. It is sometime called “Lai Thong” (golden pattern), and later, it is called “Kranok”. There is no evidence found when was the word “Kranok” has been used to refer to “Lai Thong”, and when was it changed to describe the pattern characteristic. The word, Kranok”, might have been used since Ayutthaya period. However, Santi Leksukhum assumed that the word “Kranok” is used since Dvaravati period. He cited one of a research and stated that ‘this pattern is a role model of “Kranok” in present, and to be used with the word “Lai Thai”’, the new word; it probably did not exist before Rattanakosin period.’
Base on the article, it cannot explain what is the word “Lai Thai” describe or define; what exactly “Lai Thai” is represented. By assuming that all of the decorating patterns from Dvaravati period are to be call “Lai Thai” has been affecting Thai people perception, and Thai art history education system or Thai art education.
Lai Thai and National Consciousness
According to Santi Leksukhum’s hypothesis in using the word “Lai Thai” to define the characteristics of Thai art has led to the question of this article. In consequence, this study is focused on the reason of creating new knowledge in the early period of art education foundation during 1934–1943. During the mentioned period, Praneet Silpakum School (the Fine Arts School) was founded, and later promoted to Silapakorn University. After the Siamese Revolution of 1932, contemporary art and art education management was not well-organized. Art was in a decline, people attitude toward art situation was the devaluing craftsman due to the lack of knowledge transmission, decline in popularity and lack of supporter.
To consider the existing status of art knowledge in that time, traditional art was exist due to the artisan works in many regions of Thailand along with the founding of Poh Chang School (Arts and Crafts school), which has been founded for 30 years. However, the prior knowledge was not affect the idea in creating meaning in Thai art as it was in the nation building period of Prime Minister Plaek Phibunsongkhram during 1938-1944, which is the same period of Silpakorn University founding, and Phya Anuman Rajadhon’s attempt; Phya Anuman Rajadhon was a key person who brought Thai-ness idea to education system, and attempted to instill knowledge. At that time, books, textbooks, articles, radio scripts were created with its aims to provoke conscious regarding Thai nation and Thai-ness. As an evidence, Phya Anuman Rajadhon broadcasted on radio channel on 3 December 1942 on a topic of ‘What is Silpakorn’ when he was the Director-General of the Fine Arts Department; the content was about the necessity that people need to apply aesthetics and art as one of the living factors apart from make a living. ‘If one does not has art in life, one is not different from animal; And once one apply art as a part of life, one must respect religion, live in morality, play sport and adore fine art and performing art to be civilize. If people can perform such act, and continue the practice, that nation will be civilize with art, and it will create culture’. (Phya Anuman Rajadhon, 1974: 15)
To clarify Thai art and Lai Thai in textbook might reflect to the perception of role model, form, and prototype which later become frame of idea, imagination, and creation. It also affects the vision toward art in each region. Although Phra Tewaphinimmit has mentioned that there are differences in art from each region, but no one criticized the Lai Thai textbook in that time.
There are paradoxes in Phya Anuman Rajadhon idea regarding art and culture as in his article. It wrote ‘Cultures in one nation also has a different standard, for example, Thai culture is divided into Northern culture, Northeastern culture, Central culture and Southern culture. The difference in culture is due to the different environment and history. We can compare them as finger; although they are all fingers, they are all different. If we try to equalize these fingers, they might be useless; and it actually cannot be equalized. However they are functional as a whole and are useful to public. It is similar to art and culture in a way that to unite art or culture together, there are differences, Thai people as Thai nation are compose of a variety of people, men and women, adult and children; to be civilize, everyone must know their duty. If we are all equal or are the same, we cannot be united as a nation’. (National Committee of Culture, 1988: 195)
Another effect on Lai Thai perception in the next period was the attempt in placing Thai-ness with Lai Thai elements in other sciences that base from the mentioned understanding such as print design, architecture, painting, and decoration work. Niti Iew-Si-wong said that textbook has created instant knowledge to learners. Although it is accepted that learner can learn better outside classroom by self-experience, in playground. However, it is pointless to study the importance of concept of Thai people toward textbook. (Niti Iew-Si-wong, 2004: 76-78)
From the above opinion, I would like add on a couple points. Although textbook can help with the concept creation regarding social and culture, the knowledge of “Lai Thai” could not help create concept any further than what has presented in textbook, book, even in this online social period, it cannot create a new phenomenon. The art textbooks in the early of 1940s were mainly presented the art for royal institution and religious institution. It was not much present the mass’s living. Consequently, readers and the masses were not able to see its value in the art, not able to find it‘s useful to their living. Even in nowadays, Thai art textbook is only function to present patterns, images, or being a consolidated picture-history art book that not mention the reason or condition why Lai Thai is existed
Even art evaluation was nothing more than flattering by applying the ideal idea in interpretation and glorifying god and traditional teacher. It is actually not a surprise since the knowledge has been dominated in the same era. It can be seen in Phya Anuman Rajadhon’s article regarding sculpture in Thai art expression. It wrote ‘sculpture that expresses in ideal style is a real art or pure art. It reflects to feeling and Buddhism intellect abstract better than the realistic art which cannot be considered a pure art’. (Phya Anuman Rajadhon, 1974: 151)
The above opinion has created the foundation of idea or vision frame in Thai art learning ever since. As a result inheritors, art students, and artisans were instilled the idea of Thai art as art heritage that is a role model. Consequently, it is not possible to question the artwork or the prior teacher. And it becomes a strong structure in Thai art education; to appreciate Thai art work, viewer should admire it with ancient aesthetics; to create Thai art, creator should imitate the prior form or apply the art from various origins which sometime did not work well and it cannot represent to the idea in current society. Thanet Wongyannawa said that in modernity, many academic articles presented the impure truth such as knowledge, power and ideology critic. We can say that the idea in modernity is not about discovery, in controversial it is being created such as nationalism idea. (Thanet Wongyannawa, 2013: 241)
Lai Thai still exists in Thai society, and has been recognized in the similar way in all regions. A person who has been through fundamental education has the same understanding in Lai Thai form. However, there are limited numbers of people who can develop the Lai Thai knowledge that received from the prior knowledge in education, art education, in Thai art creation, even in this contemporary social, social media become one of the most powerful sources and can be reached much easier that the society in 1943. In consequent, local or regional art cannot be called Lai Thai. It leads to the separation on thoughts and art perception. In the new knowledge, Thai art has been educated and promoted through artist image promotion, art competition organization, international art exhibition organization, using Thai art to promote tourism etc. It is showed that there is abandonment and ignorant in the local and ethnic art that are located in each region of Thailand in which they have their own characteristics and long history just like Lai Thai.
Anuman Rajadhon.1974. Art traditional education in Thailand. Bangkok: Bannakan.
Nidhi Eawsriwong. 2004. Thailand Nation, State, Education and Monument. Bangkok: Matichon.
National Committee of Culture. 1988. 100 year anniversary Praya Anuman Rajadhon. Bangkok: Amarin.
Paritta Chaloempao Koanantrakul. 2012. Communication in Thai painting. Bangkok : Chommanat.
Santi Leksukhum. 2008. Development of Lai Thai. Bangkok : Mauang-bolan.
Thanes Wongyannava. 2009. Arts and Modernity: Paradox. Bangkok : Pappim
Thanet Wongyannawa. 2013. Manut - romantic. Bangkok : Siam Paritat.