japonisme: the japonisme craze

19 September 2006

the japonisme craze

in addition to japan's influence, on the deepest levels, on painting, design, architecture, music, literature, theater, dance, etc., something else happened: japonisme was cool, hip, what everyone was either into or parodied.

both high- and low-brow culture embraced the "new" aesthetic in numerous ways. on the first hand, as seen in the example in the previous entry, and here, many european and american painters began to work japanese items into their portraits. japanese prints and decorative screens adorned the backgrounds of paintings, women held fans, wore kimono, carried parasols. even when direct references were not made, thematically one might see lotus and other japanese symbols as motif.



Blogger David Apatoff said...

I assume that this trend is what led Gilbert & Sullivan to write the Mikado?

You are doing a great job of pointing out situations where the Japanese culture influenced the west, but I'd also be interested in understanding more about how the Japanese aesthetic changed (if at all) when it was adopted by the west. I assume you can't simply superimpose that elegant, botanical Japanese style on Europe at the peak of the industrial revolution without affecting both sides?

20 September, 2006 17:39  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

really interesting questions, david.

according to the promotional materials that go with the book, "Madame Butterfly: Japonisme, Puccini, and the Search for the Real Cho-Cho-San (butterfly):

"THE INFLUENCES: at the turn of the twentieth century, a Japanese aesthetic influenced Western artists in ways both fashionable and meaningful. The opera Madama Butterfly was inspired by many products of Japonisme: Gilbert and Sullivan's The Mikado; the works of Saint-Saens, Debussy, and longtime Puccini rival Pietro Mascagni; and even the impressionistic visual style of such painters as James McNeill Whistler, credited with 'grafting on to the tired stump of Europe the vital shoots of Oriental art.'"

one might ask whether it was as intentional as that sounds. for some i'm certain that the exposure simply made for experiencing life differently, and then adding those different senses to the creation of art. i know i see the world differently after a single visit to a good exhibition of art, and they were flooded with it.

why then did long write butterfly just that moment, etc. but as far as staging it, they really did get to wear really cool costumes.

i think the changes in japan were altogether different, at the time, anyway, though there has certainly been a westernizing aesthetic over the last 100 years.

we "gave" the japanese some things that they were hungering for: science in the uni- versities, world history, zoology, technology (including for war), etc. hey, you saw the last samuri didn't you? ;^)

an art historian named earnest fenollosa went all around the country and discovered that the japanese craftsmen, potters in particular, didn't see their work as art, so he helped name and categorize it and to get them to stop throwing away whole stores of them when they found them in the back of the garage.

(he also was instrumental in starting the boston mfa department of asian art, and in bringing buddhism to the us.)

20 September, 2006 18:59  

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