Canvas Art And The Art Of The Chinese Knock-Off

In China, people think nothing of producing knock offs and passing them off as the real deal. Knock offs in China include everything from appliances, clothing, DVDs, music, art, and food items.
The problem is so bad that in April 2007, the US government lodged a complaint with the World Trade Organization against Beijing for failing to honor intellectual property rights. Here we are more concerned with Canvas Art and the way the Chinese are churning out thousands of low quality knock-off paintings every day and selling them to unsuspecting Europeans and Americans.

Canvas ArtDafen, a village in Guangdong Province in southern China, is known for the mass production of imitations of masterpieces by artists such as Van Gogh and Monet. This tiny village in China which is only about 2.5 square miles, has about 700 buildings, many of which are reproduction shops and art galleries. In fact, stylish art galleries line the main street of the Chinese village.

Dafen is a city with about 3000 painters. They of course have never seen the actual paintings they reproduce, but rather work from photographs of the originals. Some of the Chinese artists can turn out as many as 50 paintings per day. Each year millions of paintings are created in this one little Chinese village and are exported throughout the world, including the United States and Europe.

Most of the painters are from inland rural areas of China. Many of them had absolutely no art experience or training until they went through the three-month long gallery-sponsored art training course. In fact, many of them had never even seen an oil painting prior to coming to Dafen.

Canvas ArtThe production method is unique in that it is done in assembly line fashion. When a large order is received, about 10 painters line up. One painter may paint only skies. Another may paint mountains. This continues down the line, with each painter completing his part before passing the painting to the next artist in line. At the end of the line, the “masterpiece” is complete. The reproductions are a bit rough, but are a fair copy of the original.
In spite of Dafen’s dubious reputation in the Western world, the Chinese government has designated Dafen as a “model area of cultural development” and the village is lauded as an example of a prosperous project which promotes a village’s economy.

Copyright protection does expire 50 years after the death of the original creator, so it is not illegal to reproduce art and make a profit on knock offs by famous artists such as Van Gogh. However, in China, many knock offs of paintings by artists such as Picasso, who died less than 50 years ago, not to mention contemporary artists, are also routinely reproduced (See An Artists Tale)