classical Thai art originated in or under the patronage of the
royal courts. It is an amalgam of the finest cultural traditions
of Asia, blended and stamped into unique forms instantly
recognizable as Thai. Classical art encompasses Buddhist
art as represented in religious architecture,
decorative murals,and Buddha images. The art reflected the
complex formal structure and etiquette of court culture,
with its heavy Indian influences, and expressed both religious
and intellectual impulses. Entertainment was considered to be of
secondary value in this category of art.
category is popular art, which arose from age-old village
realities and the rites associated with birth, death, and the
seasonal cycle of crop cultivation.
speaking of Thai art in general one is able to distinguish
between these two groups. On the other hand, different as they
are, they are complementary and mutually reinforce each other.
Much classical or court-inspired art later evolved into simpler
forms which found popular appeal. Classical drama, for example,
moved into the realm of popular culture in the form of comic
Thai classical dance dolls
Thai Manual Arts
the Ayutthaya period,
writers, painters, dancers, sculptors, architects, musicians and
skilled craftsmen came under the royal patronage of kings and
the nobility. Thai architects and artists were responsible for
building and decorating palaces, monasteries, and shrines in
conventionally acceptable forms and styles. Unlike their Western
counterparts, they were not expected to display revolutionary
originality or inventiveness. Thus art and craftsmanship were
transmitted from generation to generation according to rigid
an attempt to provide general training to Thai craftsmen,
especially those who worked in the palaces, the Krom Chang
Sip Mu [Organization of the Ten Crafts] was established.
According to Prince Pradit Worakarn, who was given charge of the
Chang Sip Mu Department during the reign of
King Rama V, the original organization in fact covered at
least 13 different craftsmen: drawers, paper-makers, engravers,
figure-makers, modellers, plasterers, lacquerers, metal beaters,
turners, moulders, wood-carvers, sculptors, and carpenters.
the Bangkok period, these
were grouped into 10 divisions: drawing [which included
draughtsmen, painters, muralists, and manuscript illustrators],
engraving [woodcarvers, engravers on metal, precious metal
inlay], turning [lathe-workers, carpenters and joiners,
glass mosaic workers], sculpting [paper sculptors,
decorative fruit and vegetable carvers], modelling [beeswax
moulders and bronze casters, mask
and puppet makers], figure making [dummy and prototype
makers], moulding [craftsmen in bronze and metal casting],
plastering [bricklayers, lime plasteres, stucco workers and
sculptors], lacquering [masters of lacquerware
and mother- of-pearl inlay], and beating [metal beaters
and finishers of metal articles].
Thai arts and crafts, though modernized to some extent through
improved technology, are still very much inspired by tradition.
Ranging from delicately wrought silverware
to numerous utilitarian items of everyday life, they are part of
the kingdom's rich cultural heritage.
Thai painting was confined to temple and palace interiors
and book illustrations. Mural painting was developed to a
high degree in the belief that walls should enhance the
beauty of the religious and royal objects they surrounded.
Thai painting was typically Asian in that conventional
perspective was ignored and figures were large or small
depending on their importance. Shadows were unknown and
space was neutral rather than atmospheric.
were two dimensional and landscapes were merely sketchily
treated backdrops for detailed action. A technique of
pictorial composition called "apportioning areas"
was employed, comparable to the "bird's eye view"
of Western painting. By this method, the positions of the
key scenes were assigned first and then closed off with
"space transformers" that effectively
isolated them from considerations of perspective by doing
away with any surrounding intermediate or middle ground.
traditional Thai painter had five primary pigments, the
close equivalents of scarlet lake, yellow ochre,
ultramarine blue, pipe-clay white, and pot-black. With
these he was able to produce as many other colours. All
were tempera colours, finely ground powders that were
stirred into bowls containing a glue binder, using sticks
to work it to the desired strength and consistency. With
these colours the traditional artists created uniquely
beautiful compositions in the form of temple murals, cloth
banners, and manuscript illustrations.
earliest surviving murals are characterized by earth
colours made from natural pigments. They depicted excerpts
from the Jataka stories, episodes from the Buddha's life,
scenes of Buddhist heaven and hells, rows of gods, and
scenses of contempora ry Thai life. The murals in Bangkok's
Wat Suthat and Thon Buri's Wat Suwannaram are particularly
traditional painting technique continued into the Bangkok
period, when colours became richer thanks to pigments
imported from China. Around the middle of the 19th century,
artists began using chemical pigments and Western
perspective. Spatial va lues were eschewed for atmospheric
effects, and opulent gold leaf and bold primary colours
radically altered the delicate harmony of the old subdued
painters with distinguished works generally reach
scholarly professional level of artistic skill. Some of
them have been recognized and awarded with the Hariphitak,
Chalerm Nakeeraksa, Sanit Dispandha and Tawee Nanthakwang.
Thai painters, though trained in the traditional style,
have been currently influenced by Western style and
technique. However, some have been able to integrate the
various styles and thus create their own expression of art.
Chakrapan Posayakrit, for example, while best known for
his portraits is also a painter of scenes and characters
based on Thai literature
which manage to convey a flavour that is at once modern
internationally contemporary artist is Thawan Dachanee,
who has experimented extensively with his medium.
sculptors of the past concentrated almost exclusively on
Buddha images, producing works that rank among the world's
greatest expressions of Buddhist art. Tsese have ranged in
size from Sukhothai's gigantic seated Buddha at Wat Si
Chum, which measures 11 metres from knee to knee, to tiny,
fingernail-sized Buddhas worn as amulets. Their greatest
achievements were during the Sukhothai
period, when the smoothness and sheen of cast metals
perfectly matched the graceful elongated simplicity of the
basic form. To emphasize the spiritual qualities of Buddhism,
Thai sculptors eschewed anatomical details such as muscles
and bone structure, realizing that these would only
distract from the enigmatic serenity that was their goal.
Atchana, the seated Buddha at Wat Si Chum, is one of the
finest examples of Sukhothai sculpture.
sculpture received a boost in 1933 when an Italian
sculptor, Corado Feroci founded the Fine Arts School which
in 1943 became Silpakorn University. Having first arrived
in Thailand in 1924 to work with the Royal Fine Arts
Department on the cre ation of monumental sculptures,
Feroci is today remembered as the father of modern art in
Thailand. He became a Thai citizen in 1944, changing his
name to Silpa Bhirasri, and served as Dean of the Painting
and Sculpture Faculty un til his death in 1962.
of his students have been awarded with the "National
Artist" status. These include, for example,
Paitoon Muangsoomboon, Chit Rianpracha and Pimarn
Moolpramook whose works have appeared in various
places such as at the Benjasiri Gardens in Bang kok.
Another artist who is well-known among the Thais and
abroad is Misiem Yip-in-tsoi. She took up painting
first, and then sculpture. She achieved great
success in the latter field. Examples of her works,
much of which depict children, can be seen i n many
private collections as well as in a sculpture garden
she established in Nakhon Pathom near Bangkok.
statue of King Rama I by Corado Feroci, better known as
Silpa Bhirasri, the founder of Silpakorn University.
modern Thai sculptors have experimented with the artistic
possibilities of new methods borrowed from industrial
technology to create works both simple and incredibly
complex in meaning and effect. Others have taken objects
out of their ordinary environment and turned them into
arresting works of art. In one exhibition at the gallery
of the National Museum, buffalo horns and hides, rice
sacks, dried rice stalks, sickles and other implements
were used to create the essence of being on a farm.
modern sculpture by Misiem Yip-in-tsoi at Rai Mae Fa Luang,
Chiang Rai Province.
and Mother-of-Pearl Inlay
art of making lacquer originally came to Thailand from
China, probably by way of Burma-now Myanmar, but over the
centuries distinctively Thai designs and techniques were
evolved. It became a notable handicraft in the
northern province of Chiang Mai and is still made
there in a number of households.
begins with finely-woven bamboo basketry or well-seasoned
wood which has been carved or shaped on a lathe into the
desired shape. To this is first applied a basic coating
material called samuk, consisting of the ashes of burnt
rice-paddy husks or ground clay mixed with rak, or black
lacquer, obtained from a tree which grows in the northern
hills. When dry, this is polished with soap-stone and then
another coating is applied. This process is repeated again
and again for up to fifteen times, building up a rigid
base of durable lacquer. At the end, a final polishing is
given with a sandpaper-like leaf called bai-nod.
object is then ready for several coats of pure black
lacquer, from three to six coatings. The final layer is
polished with water and powdered fired clay, giving it a
design is then applied by either the method called "lai
kud" or the one called "lai rot nam".
If the object is to be in colour, lai kud is used, while
lai rot nam is for objects with gold designs. At the end
of the process the colour or gold stands out against a
background of glossy black.
use of mother of pearl to adorn objects has a long history
in Thailand. Stucco pieces embedded with bits of shell
have been found at monuments dating back to the Dvaravati
period (6th to 11th centuries A.D.), and same form of the
art may have exi sted even before along the coastal region.
these early efforts were crude compared with the
magnificent works achieved by techniques perfected in the
late Ayutthaya and early Bangkok periods, when temple
doors and windows, manuscript boxes, alms bowls, and
numerous other items were splendi dly decorated by the
painstaking process the Thais call khruang muk. The craft
continues to thrive today in the production of exquisitely
detailed furniture, mirror frames, boxes, and trays that
are the pride of many owners both in Thailand and ab road.
Thai mother-of-pearl inlay technique involves the patient
cutting of the luminescent muk fai, or flame snail,
indigenous to the Gulf of Thailand. The outer surface of
this shell is removed with a special knife and the pearly
inner shell i s cut into fairly flat pieces, each about
two and a half centimetres long. Sanded flat, they are
glued to wooden surfaces to form patterns or scenes and
the area in between filled with lacquer.
pots dating back more than 5,000 years have been found at
Ban Chiang in
northeastern Thailand, and the art of shaping and
firing clay has continued to the present day. Simple
earthenware vessels are still used for cooking and storage,
while more sophisticated glazed pottery is also being
produced by methods introduced from China 700 years ago.
every region of the country has its own traditional
pottery. The North, for example, makes fine low-fired pots
and water jugs, lightly glazed with terra cotta and oil to
make them capable of holding liquids; by northern custom,
one of these pots is placed outside most temples and
private homes so that thirsty strangers can stop and
refresh themselves. Dark brown pottery in a wide variety
of shapes, from flower pots to fanciful animals, is
produced at kilns near the north-eastern city of Nakhon
Ratchasima and Ratchaburi, west of Bangkok, is noted for
its beautifully decorated water storage jars, yellowish-green
in colour and adorned with dragons and swirling floral
to tradition, the art of making delicate, blue-green celadon
began at the end of the 13th century, when King Ramkhamhaeng of
Sukhothai brought 300 Chinese potters to his kingdom. Within a
short time, the high-fired stoneware was being trade d
throughout Southeast Asia, all the way to the Philippines and
celadon industry declined with Sukhothai but has been revived in
recent years in the northern city of Chiang Mai. The technique
is still the same as in ancient times, using a clear glaze made
from feldspar, limestone, ash, and a mall amount of re d clay.
The wood used for firing the kilns comes from a small jungle
tree that grows north of Chiang Mai, the ash of which is
supposed to help impart the typical celadon colour. Several
companies are now making the stoneware, which is becoming a
noted T hai export once again.
From Thai Silk to Homespun Hilltribe Cloths
gorgeously irridescent, nubby Thai silk may have
originated in northeastern
Thailand, where cloth weaving is a traditional folk craft.
Rearing their own silkworms and spinning and dyeing the
yarn, northeast village women use primitive hand looms to
produce shimmering bolts of cloth for sale in faraway
it prospered in early Bangkok, the silk industry went into
a long decline starting in the latter part of the 19th
century when cheaper, factory-produced fabrics from China
and Japan began to flood the market. An attempt to improve
production was made during the reign of King
Chulalongkorn, when Japanese experts were brought in
and a Department of Sericulture was established, but the
effort enjoyed limited success. A few years after World
War II, an American named Jim
revived the industry and made the silk known to
international markets. There are a number of silk
companies today, many of them in or around Bangkok, but
the Northeast is still the main centre of production; near
the northeastern town of Pak Thong Chai, the company Jim
Thompson founded has built the largest hand-weaving
facility in the world. Besides plain and printed silks of
various weights, a number of special weaves have become
celebrated. One of these is called mudmee,
a kind of ikat which is a specialty of the Northeast.
Thanks to the encouragement of Her
Majesty Queen Sirikit, mudmee is now in wide use.
Another sought-after silk is richly brocaded with gold and
silver thread in traditional Thai patterns. This requires
the most time and skill to make and is therefore the most
expensive, used mainly on such ceremonial occasions as
silk is today the best known of all the country's
handicrafts, found not only in countless local shops but
also throughout the world. It is exported worldwide in
plain lengths, plaids, brocades, stripes, prints, and
checks and is supported by a massive manufacturing and
sales infrastructure, a far cry from its humble origins.
handwoven Thai cotton is also popular. Made in a variety
of weights for both clothing and home furnishings, it is
being exported in increasing quantities.
embroidery is one of the traditional crafts of the
northern hilltribes, with the Hmong and Yao people being
particularly skilled at creating splendid, boldly-coloured
geometric designs. In long strips, these are used to edge
a skirt or jacket, i n squares to enhance a vest or
shoulder bag, in larger pieces to make a handsome quilt.
Her Majesty Queen Sirikit has long been an admirer of
tribal embroidery and has helped to promote the craft,
particularly on homespun cloths such as cotton and local
hemp that produces a fabric resembling linen, among
fashionable ladies in Bangkok and in other countries as
silverware is made in several parts of Thailand, the most
famous centre is Chiang Mai, where it has been a prominent
local handicraft for at least a thousand years. In ancient
times, it was concentrated in a village called Wua Lai,
just outside the city wall; the village has long been
absorbed by the modern city but the area where it stood is
still noted for its silver.
silversmiths have applied their skills to a great variety
of objects, from goblets to swords, but their most common
products have been ceremonial bowls and boxes of assorted
sizes. These are usually adorned with elaborate
decorations, either figures or traditional Thai motifs.
ancient times, the Thai people have known how to make musical
instruments or to copy the patterns of others and adapt them to
their own uses. In fact, there are several kinds of musical
instruments which the Thais apparently devised before they came
in contact with the culture of India, which was widespread in
Southeast Asia before they migrated there.
when the Thai people were establishing their kingdoms and had
come into contact with Indian culture, particularly with Indian
instruments which the Mon and Khmer cultures had absorbed first,
they assimilated this musical
culture into their own.
this contact, the Thais created several new kinds of musical
instruments such as the phin, sang, pichanai, krachap pi, chakhe,
and thon, which are mentioned in the Tribhumikatha, one of the
first books written in Thai, and on a ston e inscription from
the time of King Ramkhamhaeng of the Sukhothai period. Some
songs of the Sukhothai period are still sung at present, such as
Phleng Thep Thong.
the Ayutthaya period the instrumental ensemble was composed of
four to eight musicians. Songs became much longer and singing
technique was improved. Many Ayutthaya songs were composed in a
form of musical suite called Phleng Rua, which was a series of
songs. Poets contributed lyrics in the form of short stories,
mostly from the Ramakian.
Many Ayutthaya songs are still employed in Thai plays today.
the beginning of the Bangkok period, after a long period of war,
there was a remarkable revival of Thai arts, especially music
and drama. The size of the
instrumental ensemble was enlarged to 12 musicians and several
maste rpieces of Thai literature
were produced as theatrical performances accompanied by music.
Beautiful lyrics written by contemporary poets were fitted into
melodies of the Ayutthaya period.
Thai musicians in the past received their training from their
teachers, through constant playing and singing in their presence.
With nothing else to rely upon except their own memory, it was
only through much hard work that they gained their technical
experience and practical knowledge in playing and singing.
when Thailand began to have contact with Western European
nations and the United States, the Thais adopted such Western
instruments as the bass drum, the violin, and the organ.
save the national music from extinction, modern Thai musicians
are trying to devise a system in which this traditional music
can be rendered into Western notation and later edited.
According to a book written by Sir Hubert Perry, entitled "Evolution
of the Art of Music".
Thai scale system is...extraordinary. It is not now pentatonic,
though supposed to be derived originally from the Javanese
system. The scale consists of seven notes which should by right
be exactly equidistant from one another; that is, each st ep is
a little less than a semitone and three-quarters. So that they
have neither a perfect fourth nor a true fifth in their system,
and both their thirds and sixths are between major and minor;
and not a single note between a starting note and its octav e
agrees with any of the notes of the European scale...Their sense
of the right relations of the notes of the scale are so highly
developed that their musicians can tell by ear directly a note
which is not true to their singular theory. Moreover, with th is
scale, they have developed a kind of musical art in the highest
degree complicated and extensive."
all, there are about 50 types of Thai musical instruments,
including many local versions of flutes, stringed instruments,
and gongs used for all kinds of occasions: festivals, folk
theater, marriages, funerals, and social evenings after
best known Thai musician for both the revival and conservation
of the Thai music are Montree Tramote and Khunying Phaitoon
Kittivan. Both of them were also awarded the status of "National
Artists" in Thai music.
Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn is an
accomplished performer of several Thai classical musical
instruments. She has become an active leader for the movement to
revive interest in the rich cultural value of Thai music among
the youn ger generations.
Western classical music tradition was introduced to Thailand
before the turn of the century. Its development was nurtured by
Phra Chen Duriyang, who had studied the stringed instruments and
piano with his German father. Phra Chen established Thailan d's
first orchestra in the Royal Entertainment Department and taught
many young Thai musicians. By the late 1920's, other small
orchestras had been established as part of the branches of the
Thai armed services, and in 1934 Phra Chen's orchestra was tran
sferred to and became the nucleus of the Fine Arts Department.
Thai musicians have shown marked improvement in style and
technique over the years and they have taught a new generation
of musicians. Following a drive spearheaded by the musicians,
the Ban gkok Symphony Orchestra was established in July 1982 and
gave its first public concert in November of that year.
Western music, introduced in the 1950's, was also widely
accepted by the Thai people and today there are a large number
of modern groups, some producing music that combines elements of
both pop and traditional Thai.
plays an important part in the life of the Thai royal
family. His Majesty King
Bhumibol Adulyadej is an internationally-recognized jazz
musician with numerous original compositions to his credit, one
of which was featured in a Broadway show in the 1950's.
crowning success for His Majesty's music came in 1964 when NQ
Tonkunstler Orchestra played a selection of his compositions at
the Vienna Concert Hall. These were also broadcast throughout
Austria where they enjoyed resounding success. Two days later,
the world's renowned Institute of Music and Arts of the City of
Vienna conferred its Honorary Membership upon His Majesty the
King in recognition of his o utstanding musical achievements. He
became the 23rd Honorary Member of the Insitute since its
extablishment in 1817, and the first Asian composer to
receive this honour.
to now, the music world has recognized His Majesty the King as
one of the great living
composers. His works will surely keep his place among those of
the great masters of music and will not only delight the present
day audience but it will also do so for generations to come.
Music Association of Thailand whose objectives are to promote
Thai music and safeguard the welfare of musicians, is under the
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