Influence of Cultural Identity on Asian Art

Does Cultural Identity Influence the Creation of Art? In the second region of this series, we explore mysterious Asia.
Reading Time: 20 minutes


  • Unveil the captivating fusion of ancient traditions and modern innovation in Asian art, offering a unique cultural expression that will captivate your senses and inspire further exploration.
  • Explore how cultural identity shapes Asian art and witness its profound influence on visual storytelling, taking you on an enlightening journey that speaks to the soul.
  • Unlock the power of Asian art to transcend boundaries, connect diverse cultures, and own a tangible expression of unity and harmony through commissioned artwork that embodies transcendent beauty.

10 Ways Cultural Identity Has Influenced Asian Art

As any artist or art collector will tell you, Asian art is far from homogeneous. There are numerous opportunities to investigate how identity has influenced the styles, colours, techniques, and interpretations found in Asian art.

Modern art is characterised by specific constraints and expectations that revolve around the concept or thought process that underpins it. The concept development associated with the artwork itself, as well as the identity that drove it into existence, is a frequently raised question.

Similarly, when considering art from various parts of the world, one cannot help but appreciate the cultural identity behind it. Asian art has received widespread acclaim for its concrete traditional and contentious aspects, as well as as a showcase of an alien world.

Asian art history is diverse and rich in cultural heritage, with thousands of years of passed down traditions and dozens of countries represented. One of the reasons Asian art is significant is the ritual bronze, which has a deeper meaning and centuries-old teaching behind it.

The cultural identity that influenced Asian art creation enriched it with beautiful ceramics, textiles, garden designs, poetically painted landscapes, rich needlework, and much more.

Asian art history is replete with temples, shrines, stupas, shadow puppets, and other structures. It is safe to say that famous Asian art is popular primarily because of its captivating qualities.

"The world is a sphere. There is no East or West."

Cultural Identity expressed via Characteristics of Asian Art

Asian art is notable for embodying years of enriched cultural orientation as well as the economic effects of colonialism in Asia. It also includes some traditional elements such as the well-known woodblock prints, pagodas, Batik, and more.

Aside from the various customs, religion has had a significant influence on Asian artworks over the years, and is an important feature of famous Asian art.

1. Cultural Identity Expressed through Spiritual Art

One reason why is Asian art important is because it has many religious imageries mentioned within it. Famous Asian art showcases sculptures of gods, popular within Buddhism. In 2013 I was very fortunate to have the opportunity to visit The Reclining Buddha of Wat Pho, Bangkok, Thailand, and make an offering of Gold Leaf to one of the statues there. 

While the economic effects of colonialism in Asia influenced their approach to art greatly, the present narratives of artworks still have traces of the century’s old characteristics of art. The spirituality of art is evident in Indian art, and Chinese art compared to the rest of the countries. 

Here in Dublin we are very lucky to have the remarkable Chester Beatty Library, in the grounds of Dublin Castle. The Chester Beatty contains a world famous collection of manuscripts, prints, miniature paintings, early printed books and ‘objets d’art’ from countries across Asia, the Middle East, North Africa and Europe. Sir Alfred Chester Beatty bequest this remarkable collection to the people of Ireland.

Another museum worth a mention is the Seattle Asian Art Museum. I have been lucky to visit the fine collection housed here. Coincidentally, this wonderful museum is next to Lake View Cemetery, where Bruce and Brandon Lee are buried.

2. Cultural Identity Expressed through Batik

Batik, which creates patterns on fabric by dyeing, is another popular feature of Asian art. Batik is a type of wax-resist dyeing in which wax is used to resist the colour of the dye. Batik is usually done in sections or “courses” (batch) of varying colours.

Many interactive designs have been created throughout Asian art history, and Batik primarily brings a new artistic approach. It is a truly distinctive style that is prevalent in Indonesia and Malaysia.

As of now, the style is imitated in other areas and has a significant cultural identity associated with it.

3. Cultural Identity Expressed through Delicate Imagery

One technique used in Asian art to tell stories through delicate imagery is Chinese silk painting. It is a nearly 2000-year-old technique that is performed on scrolls with watercolours.

Chinese silk painting flourished during the Warring States period in 476 BC, according to art historians. The artistic style, however, was most prevalent during the Western Han Dynasty (206 BC).

Because silk paintings were highly sought after, many emperors commissioned artists to create their own silk paintings to hang in their courts. Silk was considered the purest and most valuable material at the time.

Colour was used so effectively that ancient people considered the works to be magical. Throughout Chinese history, scholars have valued high-quality paintings that followed specific methods to distinguish genuine artists from imposters.

In general, two techniques are used:

Gongbi Silk Painting

Gongbi, by definition, means meticulous, which describes how difficult and time-consuming the work is. The artist must use detailed brushstrokes and brightly coloured palettes to create a Gongbi-style silk painting.

Shuimo Silk Painting

Shiumo creates impressionistic artwork with a monochromatic palette. This style is more free-flowing and employs fewer brushstrokes.

Typically, either technique depicts flower arrangements, animals, and figures in colourful displays.

The Nymph of the Luo River

This example of a Chinese handscroll features a lengthy poem that was written in 222 CE by prince and poet Cao Zhi. The poet describes a fictitious romance between the prince and a nymph, or goddess, along the Luo River in central China.

The couple falls in love, but they are ultimately separated. In different sections of the painting, the prince and goddess are depicted repeatedly with the same hairstyle and headdress. A different part of the story is told in each section.

Gu Kaizhi, The Nymph of the Luo River, Song Dynasty copy of a 4th century original

The outlines of figures, trees, clouds, and mountains in this light-colored painting were filled in with colour washes. There is an exquisite detail to the figures’ clothing, especially the ribbons, that makes it seem as if the wind is in the air. 

A simplified landscape is depicted, including mountains, clouds, and trees. In comparison with the figures, the landscape features are significantly smaller and seem to be mere plot devices.

In terms of popularity, it is widely considered to be one of the most famous poems in China.

4. Cultural Identity Expressed Through Woodblock Prints 

Woodblock prints, a type of Chinese and Japanese art, are fascinating in their simplicity and can be used by individuals to express their cultural identities.

Woodblock printing is widely used in East Asia to print text, images, or patterns. Woodblock prints were originally religious in nature, depicting religious beliefs or historical events.

In antiquity, China pioneered the method as a way to print on textiles and, later, paper. Ukiyo-e is the name given to Japanese woodblock art prints. These traditional Japanese art prints are distinguished by their detailed outlines and colour embellishments, and typically depict kabuki actors, landscapes, and still-life scenes.

The artist begins by creating a woodblock print on paper, which is then transferred to a thin, partially transparent sheet of paper. Following the application of the paper to a wooden block, typically cherry wood, an incision is made along both sides of each line or area. Following the outlines of the drawing, the wood is chiselled away to create the original in negative. This results in a raised relief of the transferred lines and areas from the original drawing.

The block is inked with a brush before pressing the paper against the woodblock with a flat hand-held tool called a baren to apply the ink to the paper.

A separate carving block was used for each colour in polychrome prints. A polychrome image is composed of multiple colours. The term comes from the Greek words “polu-” (meaning many) and “khrōma” (colour).

In order to print with precision using multiple blocks on one sheet of paper, two cuts were placed along the edge of each block to serve as alignment guides; today, these are known as registration marks. Mulberry bark paper was one of the preferred papers because it could withstand repeated rubbings of the various woodblocks while remaining absorbent enough to allow ink to absorb and pigment to adhere.

A large number of reproductions, sometimes in the thousands, could be made until the carvings on the woodblocks were worn away.

Among the most well-known print masters are Suzuki Harunobu (1725–1770) and Utagawa Hiroshige (1797–1858). Each print, however, required the work of four experts: the designer, the engraver, the printer, and the publisher.

However, colonialism in some parts of Asia influenced the approach to this particular style of art by making it more commercially viable. Prints depicting landscapes in urban or rural settings are more common.

Learn a Simple Printing Skill

Lino cutting is an extremely rewarding technique to learn. Lino cuts are a type of relief print similar to woodblock printing.

You begin by cutting your design or image onto linoleum with gouges that come in various shapes, such as “V” and “U,” and sizes as needed. Always remember to cut away from your body to avoid injury if you slip.

Using a brayer, ink up the relief areas of the lino and lay some good quality paper on top. You can either print by hand with Japanese printmaking tools, such as soft rubber brayers or use a small printing press to transfer the ink from the lino to the paper.

Who knows, you might even move on to etching on metal plates.

5. Observance of Well-Known Asian Art Styles and Techniques

Asian art encompasses a wide range of art styles and techniques, from traditional Asian landscapes and portraits to Asian sculptures, animals, and cartoon characters.

When did Kawaii Culture Start?

A fine example of Kawaii culture is Hello Kitty, which has become an icon of both Japanese and global popular culture.

“Kawaii” originated from “kawayushi” in the Taisho Era (1912-1926), which meant embarrassment, shyness, vulnerability, love and smallness. The modern word still conveys this meaning, but it now also conveys feelings of love, care, and protectiveness. This style was employed after WWII to promote Japanese culture as non-threatening to the rest of the world.

Although kawaii is a term commonly used in Japan for everything from little dogs to beautifully decorated cakes, it has a distinct fashion style. The kawaii fashion trend took hold in the 1990s, with intricate clothes comprising layers, bright or pastel hues, ornamental accessories, and exotic hair colours and styles. The style is often dominated by women, but some men take part as well.

Asian art styles and techniques vary widely, and many of them reflect the continent’s historic practices, beliefs, and customs. Manga comics and graphic novels, for example, were greatly influenced by a late-nineteenth-century aesthetic.

While the history of Asian art is more extensive than the modern artworks we see today, some well-known styles and techniques predominate. Painting is a common method of creating art. However, many historical paintings and artworks inspired by cultural identity, depict both ancient Asian symbolism and religious representations of the universe. As you might expect, traces of cultures are featured in much Asian painting, as is their creative style.

“The thing about art for me is that you can go on theorising your work forever, because it's open to interpretation.”

6. Creation of Asian Art through Stone Carvings & Sculptures

The beautiful display of the ancient world through stone carvings and sculptures is one impressive hallmark that will forever capture art lovers’ attention. Laborers carving stones for long hours is a very old recollection in Asian art history. 

Many temples and shrines contain stone carvings that tell the story of bygone eras. Furthermore, famous Asian art displays remarkable bronze and gold statues of famous figurines, such as Thailand’s Emerald Buddha.

Asian carvings are endowed with a divine power that is both feared and revered. Carvings are sometimes used for ceremonial purposes or as house ornaments.

I am particularly impressed by the craftsmanship in Chinese puzzle balls, so long as new ones abstain from the use of ivory.

7. Asian Art Represented Through Architecture

The use of symmetry and balance to create an iconic style is how Asian art is represented through architecture. The symmetry and balance create a unified look and concept.

Whether travelling through Asia or viewing their masterpieces online, Asian architecture is one of the most recognisable forms of art. It is widely recognised throughout the world, even by people who do not share that cultural identity or way of life.

Beautiful architecture can be found throughout the region, including Pagodas and Temples of JapanThe Great Wall of China and The Taj Mahal, India. All possessing the most diverse set of characteristics observed anywhere in the world, particularly prior to the influence of any Western architecture. Their architecture elegantly demonstrates their cultural significance.

8. Cultural Identity Expressed via Calligraphy

Calligraphy’s expressive capability extends beyond the written word, as it can be viewed as a form of cultural identity or expression.

Calligraphy has a long history in Asian art, particularly in China, the practice’s birthplace. Calligraphy dates back to the Shang dynasty, when all educated men and some women were expected to know how to write with brushes. Calligraphy, as a shared art practise, is one of the reasons why Asian art is important, and it has contributed significantly to its popularity.

Through its approach to painting and calligraphy, Chinese culture emphasises time and motion. Furthermore, many Asian ceramicists use one-of-a-kind stamps to seal their work. Over the centuries, the fine porcelain factory stamp would depict the dynasty under which the ware was produced.

9. Visual Arts Represent Cultural Identity

In terms of cultural influences, Asian art has gone through several phases, as evidenced by its illustrations. Classical Asian art is influenced by themes such as religion and the cycle of life.

You will also notice recurring themes such as nature and the natural world, as well as the impact of one’s social position. There are also recurring themes in Asian art, such as figures wearing masks. There are a few things to keep in mind when looking at classical Asian art. To begin, the piece’s size is important.

Visual arts in Asian art extend beyond what has previously been discussed. Printmaking, crafts, film-making, and other contemporary forms of visual arts all follow the cultural identity. It also includes applied arts such as fashion design, decorative art, industrial design, and others.

10. Performance Art Showcases Asian Culture

Asian Performance Artists will use uniquely common characteristics of their own nationality to express cultural identity. Hair stylists, for example, can braid or use different pigment colours to demonstrate cultural influences.

Yoko Ono and her husband John Lennon, who used his voice to imitate natural sounds, are two well-known performance artists. Ann Ashiro, a dancer, uses trance-like movements to depict spiritual transformations of life events. To execute quickly, artist Yoko Shirado employs one-armed performance art with a sword.

Famous Asian art encompasses live art, vocal and instrumental music, dance, and theatre as primary forms of expression. It necessitates displaying art in its infancy and reflecting traditional values, cultural identity, and human creativity.

Performance art is widely practised in various Asian countries and is popular due to its unique ability to tell a story. Most events are held in the tradition of showcasing Asian heritage and embracing its glory.

"Creativity is the power to reject the past, to change the status quo, and to seek new potential. Simply put, aside from using one’s imagination – perhaps more importantly – creativity is the power of act."

Importance of Asian Art and Artists

The importance of Asian art is too significant to be overlooked in the art world. Every artist showcases their own unique form of expression which links to their cultural identity and way of doing things. Some famous artists in Asia are well-renowned for their expertise in different niches. Such as Persian calligraphy and International Urban Art Figure with A1one and DALeast respectively, their approach to art is unique to say the very least.

The beauty of artistic expression is that it is different for different people, and varies from culture to culture making it all the more important. Another famous Asian artist is Haegue Yang, a South Korean artist for her gender defying approach to art. For contemporary art, Zeng Fanzhi is one of the most feted Chinese artists because of his visually and historically complex paintings.

On the south of Asia, Haider Ali, a Pakistani artist is widely praised for his truck art, painted murals, structures, and benches – a unique form of Asian art. (He even painted a truck for an 2011 exhibition held my hometown of Luton, which has a large Pakistani community).

10 Ways Cultural Identity Has Influenced Asian Art Blog Post By Adrian Reynolds

Conclusion: Asian Art – Diverse and Highly Regarded

I hope you enjoyed my article on how Asian art has been influenced by cultural identity. Understanding what makes Asian art unique through the various styles, colours, and techniques, I believe, is one way to enjoy and appreciate it. These are just a few of the key characteristics to look for when exploring this beautiful artistic genre.

The list of famous Asian artists and their contributions is long, with their cultural appeal playing a role in the overall beauty of art. Finding the good in art is something that all artists and viewers should share.

What is your cultural identity, and how has it influenced the art you own or create? There are numerous opportunities to learn more about this topic and the various artistic paths that other cultures have taken.

If you have enjoyed reading about the Influence of Cultural Identity on Asian Art, I invite you discover the cornerstone article to this series: The Influence of Cultural Identity on the Creation of Art, and other regions of the world by clicking on the links below:

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