What is art and what is painting – and how can either help?

In the infamous prison Bang Khwang in Bangkok, Thailand, prisoners are being trained to become painters, or artists.

In a full-page article in The Bangkok Post we get an explanation of the project. It is initiated by Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri, and she says that "the aim is to equip the inmates with skills to make a living after they leave the prison."

So in order to prepare inmates in Thailand for the rough real world outside, they train them to become painters. Or as they also are referred to in the article: Artists.

According to the article the course took place between March 12 and May 31, two hours per week, for a total of 40 hours(?). (Explain to me like I’m a two-year-old how that adds up to 40 hours.)

69 prisoners were offered to take the class, 52 of them passed. It does not say why 17 failed. Maybe they were released before the class finished.

The "artists" that passed the class claims that painting helps them concentrate, it gives them hope for the future. Which of course is good. But what hope is it?

One prison painter says: "The art class is not just a candle, but a spotlight which shows me the way. I know I will not be jobless out there and will not return to a life of crime."

So apparently there is a shortage of painters, or artists if you like, in Thailand. The inmates works were mostly based on pictures; postcards and photographs. Nice views and, yes of course nude pictures were the most common motives. Walking the streets in my own neighbourhood I can say that it does not seem to be a shortage of artists nor painters that can produce cheesy pictures – rather the opposite actually. And considering that Thai authorities ban art exhibitions before they open due to risk of too many people showing up, uncontrolled in a public space, I don’t really know where these newly trained artists can go to sell their work.

All of this causes a bit of a dilemma for me to be honest; Bang Khwang has a large number of prisoners or inmates, some say 7 000 some say 11 000. We can just establish that the prison is HUGE. It has a nickname; ‘The Big Tiger’ – because it tends to eat people alive. Probably ‘eaten’ by a number of things, death penalty being one, diseases that they don’t get any cure or medicine for, killings and of course suicides.

If art or painting, helps these prisoners to feel better and to feel better about themselves that is great. Absolutely.

But 69 out of thousands – is that really something to write home about?

Secondly, if they decide to prepare the inmates for the real world, outside the walls, could there be anything else perhaps that could be of more use for them than to become artists? And of course something that could be of more use to the society.

I am not saying that artists is not of use to the society, real artists are. I just don’t think it is fair to the inmates to trick them into believing that they are artists, or painters for that matter, after 10 weeks, 2 hours per week of training – which by the way adds up to 20 hours, not 40. But is fairness considered in a prison where they still might be using shackles?

I’d say it does not matter – fairness should always be considered.

So I wonder if this is an honorary initative and the way to go for more prisoners – educate them to become artists in 10 weeks –  or if it is a waste of time and just silly propaganda?

Of course I don’t mean the usual ‘silly’ by the ‘silly’ I used, but I assume that is understood.

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