Art History Lab

The Resilient Artistic Journey of Vietnamese Culture

Introduction to Vietnamese Art

Vietnamese art has a rich history that dates back to the Stone Age. The country’s culture and art have evolved over time due to influences from external forces such as Chinese, French, and American cultures.

In this article, we take a journey through the history of Vietnamese art and explore the various traditional art forms that have developed over time.

History of Vietnamese Art

Vietnamese art has evolved over time due to various external influences and cultural assimilations. The earliest forms of Vietnamese art date back to the Stone Age, where communities lived in caves and created clay pottery.

The Neolithic era saw significant advancements, which include the development of clay pottery with intricate ornamentation. These early forms of art provide us insights into the lives and cultures of our ancestors.

Vietnam’s period of Chinese rule, which spanned over 1000 years, saw a significant influence on the art forms practiced in the country. Chinese scholar-artisans introduced the practice of calligraphy, a prominent art form that has stood the test of time in Vietnamese culture.

During this period, Vietnamese art also developed architecture influenced by Chinese design. The French rule of Vietnam from the 19th to the mid-20th century influenced artistic development through more modern European art practices.

One result of this was the emergence of visual arts in Vietnam. Vietnam’s more recent history shows the influence of American culture and art, which has led to changes in Vietnamese contemporary art.

Traditional Vietnamese Art Forms

Vietnamese culture boasts a diverse range of traditional art forms, some of which are unique to the country. Some of the popular traditional Vietnamese art forms include pottery, ceramics, calligraphy, architecture, visual arts, music, literature, and martial arts.

Pottery and Ceramics – Vietnamese pottery and ceramics date back to the Neolithic era, where communities made simple clay pottery. This art form developed over time through different shaping and design techniques that were passed down from generation to generation.

Earthenware and porcelain are popular ceramic forms in Vietnam. Calligraphy – Vietnamese calligraphy was heavily influenced by Chinese culture and serves as an art form to express words and phrases beautifully.

Traditional Vietnamese calligraphy uses traditional Chinese characters in a unique way. Architecture – Vietnamese architecture is prominent in the country’s cultural identity and reflects the country’s rich history.

Examples of Vietnamese architecture include pagodas and temples, with multisided roofs adorned with intricate designs and statues. Visual Arts Visual art emerged during French colonial rule, and it encompasses various media such as oil and acrylic paintings, woodcuts, and silk paintings.

Some noteworthy artists include Vietnamese figurative painter Mai Trung Thu and the silk painter Nguyen Phan Chanh. Music – Vietnamese traditional music is known for its unique instruments, including the dan bau, a one-stringed instrument, and the dan nguyet, a two-stringed instrument.

Traditional Vietnamese music has a significant influence on the opera as well. Literature – Vietnamese literature has a significant influence on the country’s culture.

The country boasts a unique literary form known as the “Cao Dai.” This literary form is rich in cultural symbolism and is still popular in contemporary Vietnamese culture. Martial Arts – Vietnamese martial arts are known as Vovinam and incorporate various styles and techniques from multiple Vietnamese martial arts to create a unique martial arts style.

Vietnamese Art through the Ages

The earliest form of Vietnamese art dates back to the Neolithic era, where communities lived in caves and created clay pottery. The Bac Son archaeological site provides a glimpse into the practices of this era.

Clay pottery from this era displays intricate ornamentation of flora and fauna. The Bronze Age saw the emergence of the Dong Son culture, which developed advanced metallurgy techniques that led to the creation of bronze objects such as the famous Dong Son drums.

These drums depicted intricate carvings of animals and people that tell stories about their culture.


In summary, Vietnamese art is a diverse and unique form of expression that spans over different periods in Vietnamese history. From the Stone Age to the present, Vietnamese artists have continued to express their creativity through various mediums such as pottery, ceramics, calligraphy, architecture, visual arts, music, literature, and martial arts.

This tradition continues today and remains a significant part of Vietnam’s cultural heritage.

Vietnamese Art Under Chinese Rule

The relationship between Vietnam and China dates back to several dynasties, including the Han and Tang dynasties. The period of Chinese rule saw significant Chinese influence on Vietnamese art, as evidenced by the art forms that evolved during this period.

Chinese Influence on Vietnamese Art

One significant influence during this period was the introduction of pottery, especially the use of tall vases and shallow bowls. Vietnamese artisans also adopted glazing techniques from the Chinese, leading to the creation of beautiful and intricate bowls.

Artistic Development during the Ly and Tran Dynasties

The Ly and Tran dynasties are notable for the development of porcelain and ceramics. During this period, Kaolin clay, which is ideal for porcelain production, was discovered in Vietnam.

This discovery led to the development of the Royal Temple of Literature, a significant cultural center where artisans produced exquisite porcelain and ceramics. The Ly dynasty is also famous for the use of celadon glaze, which was used to depict intricate designs and patterns on porcelain and ceramics.

During the Tran dynasty, artists adopted unique techniques such as the use of black underglaze, which gave the porcelain and ceramics a striking appearance. Part of what made porcelain creation during this period so remarkable is the precision and beauty of the pieces created.

Porcelain often depicted intricate scenes, such as landscapes, or stories, such as mythological tales. This high standard of porcelain production became known throughout China and Europe, and these pieces were exported and traded globally.

Vietnamese Art Under French Rule

French influence on Vietnamese art began in the mid-19th century when Vietnam became a French protectorate, and lasting impact is still felt in contemporary Vietnamese art.

Impact of French Control on Vietnamese Art

French colonialism brought in new processes in Vietnamese art, imbibing European methodologies and classical styles. A major consequence was the opening of the cole Suprieure des Beaux-Arts de lIndochine- School of Fine Arts of Indochina in Hanoi in 1925.

The school promoted western aesthetics, luring artists to observe traditional Vietnamese art within the context of foreign culture. The school became known not only for teaching fine arts but also for training teachers and artisans.

It played a significant role in shaping Vietnamese art culture by providing an introduction to Western art styles as well as its technical processes.

Adoption of French Processes in Vietnamese Art

During French occupation, the adoption of French processes led to the emergence of contemporary Vietnamese art incorporating silk and lacquer production. The “lacquer paintings” technique, originally invented by the Chinese, became popular during this time.

This process involved applying multiple layers of lacquer onto a surface, onto which design patterns could be created. The treatment would provide protection for the art piece that could last several years.

Vietnamese artists then fused this technique with traditional processes. This further refined and developed the technique, creating a unique, wholly Vietnamese artistic aesthetic.

The domestication of these European techniques helped integrate the West and East, resulting in the creation of unique art forms that fused traditional and foreign styles. By overriding the classical values and stereotypes, Vietnamese artists promoted fusion between various cultural art forms.

This refined Vietnamese art by augmenting it with global artistic trends. In


Chinese and French influences offer a glimpse into Vietnamese art culture’s multi-ethnic character.

The adoption of foreign techniques was hardly a wholesale integration. Rather, these processes added new insights to traditional ways of producing art pieces.

Inextricably intertwined with cultural discourse and historical narrative, Vietnamese art’s evolution over time would ultimately influence contemporary Vietnamese creativity.

Vietnamese Art under American Influence

The impact of American involvement in Vietnam extends beyond politics and economics and affected the country’s artistic expression. For instance, the war and the establishment of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam led to various social changes that ultimately influenced artistic expression.

The resulting changes gave rise to new forms of art that did not exist before.

Impact of American Actions on Vietnamese Art

The American War in Vietnam invaded every aspect of Vietnamese life, including the art scene. Art during this period was politically charged, and artists used their work as a response to the war and various social changes.

Artistic expression during this period was heavily influenced by political issues, with artists producing works that showed their displeasure with the war. Post-American War, Vietnamese art took a new direction.

Art began to emerge as a means to recover from the consequences of the war. The focus of art shifted to aim for the celebration of Vietnamese culture, resulting in a gradual positive progression for the country’s development.

Revival of Vietnamese Art in the 1990s

In the 1990s, Vietnamese art experienced a revival influenced by Western art. The use of acrylic and oil paints was integrated with traditional Vietnamese art forms such as lacquer and silk.

This way of creating art led to the emergence of installation techniques and conceptual art. Artists began to shift from traditional art practices and delving into various art forms that spoke to present-day issues more eloquently.

These shifts in practice adopted Westernized approaches to making art and fused them with Vietnamese art styles, creating an exciting fusion art culture. The Vietnamese art scene in the late 20th century painted a picture of a versatile and vibrant culture eager to adapt to global trends and create unique, completely Vietnamese art for the contemporary world.

Significant Vietnamese Art Forms

Vietnam boasts many unique art forms. However, lacquerware and silk paintings represent some of Vietnam’s most prized artistic traditions.

These art forms have been around for centuries and are known worldwide for their delicate craftsmanship and unique beauty.

Vietnamese Lacquerware

Vietnamese lacquerware is a traditional multilayer craft style that uses high-quality lacquer and wood to create beautiful decorative pieces like vases, boxes, and plates. The final product resulted from numerous coats of resin or vegetable based lacquer applied over several months to establish an excellent high-gloss finish.

A wooden foundation plays a critical role in creating the lacquer pieces. The artisan chooses wood based on its color and quality, then shapes the material into the desired shape before applying a resin or vegetable-based lacquer over numerous coats to create a protective coating for longevity.

The pieces are further decorated with inlays, such as mother of pearl, eggshell or gold dust to create unique textures and patterns. The intricate work involved in crafting Vietnam’s lacquerware serves as a testament to the artisans’ long-standing craftsmanship.

Vietnamese Silk Paintings

Vietnamese silk paintings are characterized by their transparency, softness, and delicacy. This painting style combines hand painting with the dyeing process on sheer silk materials.

The vibrant and reticulated colors of Vietnamese silk paintings are part of what makes them so famous and sought after. Rich pastel tones, such as orange and blue and intricate details, define the genre.

Vietnamese silk paintings usually feature traditional subjects, such as flowers or illustrations of everyday life. The coloring process results in light and dark tones, creating an intricate, flowing appearance.

Vietnamese silk paintings provide art lovers with an opportunity to enjoy the beauty of traditional Vietnamese culture expressed through a complex artistic medium. In conclusion, Vietnam’s art scene is a testament to the country’s rich cultural heritage, inspiring generations of artists to create their unique contributions to the country’s artistic legacy.

From lacquerware to silk paintings, Vietnamese art presents efficient and intricate workmanship that takes inspiration from their history, cultural agreements, as well as global artistic movements to create something entirely unique.

Modern Vietnamese Art

The period of modern Vietnamese art is characterized by a cultural resurgence after the unification of Vietnam. It showcases a diverse range of artistic expressions and introduces renowned Vietnamese artists who have made significant contributions to the art world.

Cultural Resurgence after Unification

The reunification of Vietnam after the war brought about a cultural resurgence as the country sought to rebuild and reconnect with its history and traditions. Artists played a crucial role in this renaissance, using their creations to reflect upon the impact of the war and the country’s struggle for independence.

Educational institutions dedicated to the arts, such as the Vietnam Fine Arts University, were established and played a vital role in nurturing and training talented artists. These institutions exposed artists to different artistic techniques, perspectives, and global art movements, giving rise to a rich and diverse contemporary art scene.

As the country began to heal from the wounds of war, artists reflected upon their history and used their work to stir national pride. They created pieces that celebrated the resilience and strength of the Vietnamese people, often depicting themes of solidarity, patriotism, and the beauty of everyday life.

Diversity in

Modern Vietnamese Art

Modern Vietnamese art exhibits a wide array of art forms, styles, and subject matters. The landscape has been a significant source of inspiration for many artists, with paintings showcasing the natural beauty of Vietnam’s countryside, capturing the serene rice fields, majestic mountains, and tranquil rivers.

These landscape paintings often combine traditional techniques with contemporary compositions, offering a unique perspective on the Vietnamese environment. In addition to landscapes, modern Vietnamese art explores abstraction and experimentation.

Artists incorporate various techniques, such as bold brushstrokes, vibrant colors, and unconventional materials, to create abstract works that convey emotions and ideas beyond traditional representation. Figurative works also hold a prominent place in modern Vietnamese art.

Artists skillfully depict human figures, capturing their experiences, expressions, and stories. These works provide insight into the lives of ordinary Vietnamese people, their daily struggles, dreams, and aspirations.

Renowned Vietnamese Artists

Numerous Vietnamese artists have gained international recognition for their exceptional contributions to the art world. Their works have not only influenced Vietnamese art but have also left a lasting impact on global artistic movements.

Nguyen Phan Chanh is remembered for his mastery of silk painting. His art focused on depicting rural life, emphasizing simplicity and nativeness.

Chanh’s works often conveyed patriotic themes, reflecting the resilience and spirit of the Vietnamese people throughout their history. To Ngoc Van, known for his impressionistic style, skillfully captured the essence of his subjects through color harmonies and loose brushwork.

His renowned painting “A Girl by Lilies” showcases his ability to evoke emotions and capture the beauty of Vietnamese women. Le Pho, who trained and worked in Paris, incorporated elements of Vietnamese culture into his art.

His paintings depicted Vietnamese women in serene settings, blending traditional Vietnamese aesthetics with elements of Surrealism, creating dreamlike and poetic compositions. Nguyen Gia Tri, a master of lacquer painting, revolutionized the medium through his experimental use of color layering and textures.

His works often explored social and political themes, revealing his keen observations of the world around him. These artists, among many others, have made indelible contributions to Vietnamese art and have helped shape the country’s cultural identity in the modern era.

In conclusion, modern Vietnamese art showcases the country’s resilience, cultural resurgence, and diversity. The unification of Vietnam after the war sparked a renaissance in artistic expression, with artists using their creations to reflect upon the nation’s history and celebrate its people.

Through diverse art forms, including landscape paintings, abstractions, and figurative works, modern Vietnamese artists have brought their unique perspectives to the global art stage. Renowned artists like Nguyen Phan Chanh, To Ngoc Van, Le Pho, and Nguyen Gia Tri have left lasting legacies, influencing both Vietnamese art and the international art world.

In conclusion, Vietnamese art is a rich tapestry of history, culture, and resilience. From the influences of Chinese, French, and American occupations to the modern resurgence of artistic expression, Vietnamese art has evolved and adapted, creating unique and diverse forms.

The cultural revival after the war, the embrace of Western influences, and the contributions of renowned artists have shaped Vietnam’s artistic landscape. The significance of Vietnamese art lies not only in its aesthetic beauty but also in its ability to reflect the nation’s identity, history, and the indomitable spirit of its people.

It serves as a reminder of the power of creativity and the enduring legacy of art.

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