Despite its abstract nature, art can make many people happy. A beautiful painting can stimulate a viewer's visual senses and bring them immense satisfaction. Captivated by a brooding sculpture or the delicate craft of a painter, an art lover can stand in front of their favourite piece admiring it for hours. The mainland boasts a vibrant arts scene, thanks to an injection of new talent and promotion of arts education. As educational standards rise, more and more people have begun to appreciate arts as a leisurely pursuit. With rising purchasing power and an increasingly refined taste, Chinese collectors are willing to fork out millions of dollars to buy their favourite artworks. However, China's resurgent arts industry has also attracted speculators, who look upon artworks as nothing more than another tool to earn some quick money. They hoard expensive paintings, vases and sculptures, waiting for the chance to sell them at a higher price. Following the record prices fetched by contemporary Chinese artworks, critics fear the bubble is about to burst. Since 2004, the sale of contemporary Chinese art at Sotheby's and Christie's has risen from GBP10 million (HK$156 million) to nearly GBP100 million a year. An oil painting - Put Down Your Whip by late Chinese artist Xu Beihong - was sold in Hong Kong for a whopping HK$72 million last month. It was the highest price ever paid for a Chinese painting at an auction. The prominent artist's Slave and Lion was sold at Christie's in Hong Kong for HK$53.9 million in November last year. Paintings by living artists are also hotly pursued by speculators. Contemporary mainland artists Zhang Xiaogang and Yue Minjun - whose works include caricatures of the Maoist era - have become the darlings of arts punters, with paintings fetching millions of dollars at auctions in Hong Kong, London and New York. With surging demand for their works, some artists have abandoned quality in their rush to make more money. At times, they even employ students to do their paintings. With China lacking a tradition of critical artistic evaluation, there are worries that contemporary artists would cater to popular tastes rather than experiment with new, creative ideas. The commercialisation of art is hardly a Chinese phenomenon. France, a country with a rich culture, has also been criticised for 'selling' its artistic traditions. In January, France agreed to lend the name of its world-famous museum, the Louvre, to the United Arab Emirates. Under the controversial agreement, Abu Dhabi, the capital of the Middle East country, will pay France US$520 million to use the Louvre's name for 30 years for a museum that it plans to open in 2012. For an additional US$247 million, 200 to 300 artworks from the Louvre will be loaned to the Abu Dhabi museum for 10 years. French people have slammed their government for 'selling' their museum and national treasures. They view the move as an act of gratitude by their government for the oil-rich country's purchase of 40 Airbus 380 aircrafts and about US$10.4 billion worth of armaments from France during the past decade. Outraged by their government's irreverent attitude towards arts, 4,700 French, including art historians, critics and curators, signed an online petition which proclaimed 'our museums are not for sale'. Whether it's the Chinese artists churning out artworks for profit or the French 'selling' their artistic traditions for political gain, the commercialisation of art is certain to incur the wrath of purists. Despite the strong backlash from the art industry, the unsavoury trend of trivialising art for commercial purposes will continue. Think about 1. Would commercialisation compromise the artistic value of artworks? 2. Can you come up with other examples to illustrate the phenomenon? 3. Do the exorbitant prices of contemporary Chinese paintings reflect their true value or the speculative nature of the mainland arts market? 4. Do you support the West Kowloon cultural hub project? Why?