Before photography became widespread, people recorded the world by drawing. Plants, animals, and the topography of the land were popular themes. When faced with something unfamiliar, imagination filled in information gaps. Scientific and technological advances that came with the development of civilization owe a great deal to imagination. People used their imagination together with drawing, craftsmanship, and other techniques to create artworks with both aesthetic and functional value. These items became the fruits of civilizations passed down through the generations.
Prehistoric cave paintings dating back more than 30,000 years have been found. While we do not know the purpose of these drawings, we can appreciate their highly expressive and inspirational nature. The fact that they still exist shows how prehistoric people had the ability to record information. Later, as drawing tools and techniques improved, art became more refined. Popular art styles influenced images used for communications or records. Gradually, authenticity and accuracy became important thematic elements in art made primarily for the sake of enjoyment. Palace painters who painted court ladies recorded the tastes of the aristocratic class. Genre paintings that depicted life in the streets were admired by scholars and lay-people alike, making them an excellent record of the lifestyles of the masses. Science-based drawings such as maps or tool design sketches still integrated aesthetic principles. Grand works that were both beautiful and functional satisfied scholars' desire for elegance and research value. In the collections of modern museums, there are many artifacts that contain both artistic value and knowledge of particular areas of study.
Based on selected artifacts from the National Palace Museum (NPM) collection, we set out to create an exhibition divided into three sections: "Vivid Ecological Appearances," "Navigating Toward the World Stage," and "Maps of Taiwan." These show valuable records of the past ecological environment, marine transportation, and geography. Content includes paintings of flowers, birds, and other animals. Maps depicting 17th century European perspectives that were made by missionaries and sailing artifacts used by the Qing Court are displayed,. The exhibition concludes by examining records of what the Qing Dynasty rulers thought about Taiwan and hearing recordings that describe ancient maritime tales.
Imagining the World was jointly curated by NPM and the National Museum of Marine Science & Technology (NMMST). The exhibition is arranged to let viewers compare plants, animals and landforms depicted in paintings, books, and other artifacts with their real-life counterparts. New media art and immersive technology introduce both aesthetic and scientific concepts. We can see how people in the past used their imaginations to interpret the world in fascinating ways. Today, with information readily within reach, answers to our inquiries are typically available without relying on direct experience or verification. Considering how our ancestors had to use their imaginations, ingenuity, and countless trials to obtain knowledge, when seeing fantastical creates described in past literature or drawings, we cannot help but wonder whether those creatures really were a myth.