They aren’t great artists like Leonardo da Vinci or Vincent van Gogh, but their paintings are just as popular on Chinese social media, with millions of Chinese people willing to pay for them.
On Aug 29, many WeChat users shared their newly bought paintings on their personal pages. Some even made the paintings their smartphone wallpapers.
The 36 works were painted by ordinary Chinese people who live with autism or cerebral palsy, aged from their early teens to late thirties. They all studied art at World of Art Brut Culture (WABC), which is a Shanghai-based non-profit organization for art education. The project was initiated by WABC and backed by the Tencent charitable foundation.
WeChat users could buy a digital copy of each painting by donating 1 yuan or more. By Aug 29, donations totaled more than 15 million yuan, with about 5.8 million people participating, reported China Daily.
“The paintings by these autistic kids and adults are beautiful; the style is similar to that of the Dutch artist van Gogh. I’m really impressed by their talent,” Feng Li, a customer service officer in Shanghai, told the South China Morning Post.
However, the popular campaign also led to certain questions being raised.
Li Laoxi, an experienced special education teacher in Hangzhou, said that based on his experience, people with autism could only draw a few strokes or fill in colors under the guidance of their trainers. “Maybe there are some geniuses out there, but I’ve never met them,” he told news website 163.com.
Others questioned where the money would go, as the donations went to WABC instead of the painters, reported Xinhua News Agency.
In response to these concerns, Miao Shiming, founder of WABC, said the money would be used to hire art teachers, buy supplies, and rent facilities, reported People’s Daily. Meanwhile, Tencent said that all donation information would be released to the public.
According to Cheng Wenhao, a professor from Tsinghua University, the reason why many people hold a doubtful attitude is that China’s charities usually have low transparency. According to a study by Peking University in 2015, the transparency of 93 charities achieved an average of 35.49 points out of 100.
While China passed its first Charity Law in 2016 to improve transparency, “efforts are still needed to ensure the fairness of the charity campaigns”, wrote Global Times.