Blog / Culture

Taiwan’s Art Scene: Private Tours to Discover the Island’s Creative Soul

History, human diversity, and government policy have combined to give 21st-century Taiwan an exceptional cultural richness. Most Taiwanese trace their ancestry to Fujian, the nearest Chinese province, but when they arrived the island was already populated by more than a dozen Austronesian indigenous tribes. Soon those early migrants were joined by Hakka pioneers who spoke their own language and followed their own customs.

Art in Museums and Temples

Much later, when Chiang Kai-shek’s KMT (Chinese Nationalist) government retreated to Taiwan in 1949, the influx included many of China’s finest artists and scholars. And, of course, the Nationalists brought with them the cream of the National Palace Museum’s (NPM) incomparable collection of bronzes, paintings, ceramics, and jade treasures. Whether art is the focus of your Taiwan guided tour or not, we urge you to spend some time in this world-class museum.

A street artist in Tamsui near Taipei

In addition to the NPM, culture vultures on a Taiwan private tour should set aside time to visit the National Taiwan Museum of Fine Arts in the central metropolis of Taichung. Another top-notch collection can be found at the Juming Museum. It was founded by and displays many important works by Ju Ming (1938-2023), a renowned sculptor who worked with bronze, polystyrene, stainless steel, and other media. As the crow flies, this outdoor museum isn’t far from central Taipei, but you’ll struggle to get there without your own vehicle.

In the capital, both the Museum of Contemporary Art Taipei and the nearby Taipei Fine Arts Museum will help you gain a deeper understanding of Taiwan’s identity through curated exhibits and interactive displays. While you’re on that side of the city, your driver guide may suggest you also take a look at Dalongdong Baoan Temple. This stunning place of worship boasts superb wall paintings executed by Pan Li-shui (1914–1995), one of the 20th century’s most famous temple artists. Several other historic shrines showcase traditional arts, especially woodcarving.

Layers of Cultural History

Government policies have bolstered Taiwan’s cultural diversity. The Japanese colonial authorities who ruled Taiwan between 1895 and 1945 were the first to comprehensively record folk customs and indigenous traditions. Their motive was better control over the population, but the descriptions they wrote and the photographs they took are an invaluable resource for modern-day researchers and activists.

Shadow-puppetry is one of Taiwan’s traditional performing arts.

In 1966, President Chiang Kai-shek responded to the Cultural Revolution then tearing apart the People’s Republic of China by launching the Chinese Cultural Renaissance Movement. This ideological/cultural project aimed to revive the best of Chinese heritage. While people on the mainland witnessed the destruction of ancient temples and relics, the burning of books, and the humiliation of the educated, Taiwan’s citizens were urged to embrace Confucian ethics and speak Mandarin Chinese. (At that time, the majority spoke Taiwanese or Hakka at home.) Those who argue that Chiang’s policies belittled local languages have a point, but at the same time this period laid a solid foundation for certain arts which are still going strong, such as calligraphy, landscape painting using inks rather than oils, and the playing of classical instruments such as the erhu (two-stringed upright violin) and the pipa (akin to a lute).

Since Taiwan embraced multiparty democracy in the early 1990s, cultural pluralism has led to an explosion of activity. Politicians vying to win over voters have established performance venues and budgeted subsidies for all kinds of arts. Rising incomes and people’s determination to enjoy their free time have resulted in a proliferation of private art galleries. If you have specific interests, do let Life of Taiwan’s skilled itinerary planners know well in advance, so we can arrange a truly special experience.

If you also adore nature, you’ll be pleased to hear that enjoying art doesn’t tie you to the big cities. The Taiwan East Coast Land Arts Festival (also known as the TECLandArt Festival), launched in 2016, is held each summer at venues in Taitung and Hualien. Each year, the curatorial team seeks out works and artists from home and overseas that touch upon the connection between people and the natural environment, and relations between indigenous people and newer arrivals. Closer to Taipei, the Taoyuan Land Art Festival aims to overcome ‘the boundaries of traditional art museums with its landscape concept, allowing the public to engage closely with art’. And throughout the island, even in metro stations, you’ll find striking pieces of public art.

Travellers who’d rather see artists and craftsmen at work should consider detouring to Lukang and/or Sandimen. The former is a coastal settlement exceptionally rich in traditional architecture and culture. Artisans engaged in lantern-making, woodcarving, and effigy-making are active a stone’s throw from the town’s famous temples. Visitors to the latter, a large indigenous village on a hillside in the far south, can tour workshops specialise glass-bead jewellery and handmade leather items.

Taiwan’s art scene is a captivating journey of creativity and cultural exploration. Our Taiwan private tours offer a personalized and immersive experience, allowing you to discover artistic enclaves, engage with local artists, and delve into the island’s rich cultural heritage. Whether you’re a seasoned art lover or a curious traveller seeking inspiration, the local art scene will leave you with unforgettable memories and a deeper appreciation for the island’s creative soul. Embark on a private journey with us and unlock the hidden gems of Taiwan’s art and culture. Get in touch with our experts today to plan your Taiwan guided tour!