japonisme: japonisme: so many faces

13 September 2006

japonisme: so many faces

i would really love to try to describe all the different kind of things that get labeled with that term, by someone or other. i would like to illustrate each with an example, but this sounds too ambitious for one sitting, so i'll just get started and add things as i go along.

  • at a most basic level what i have learned are the keystones that marked japonisme were these: blocks of flat color, blocks of intricate pattern (cloth, wallpaper), asymmetrical layout, an unusual framing, and a stronger than previously seen in the countries where it occurred: an emphasis on nature and daily, domestic life. these were the features in the japanese prints that most notably were adapted by the new art, l'art nouveau.
  • another whole side of that happened at that moment, with regard to the art world only, to start with, was the philosophy that accompanied the new imports. for the first time, a concept of the present moment as having value in and of itself, of the deep importance of the simple play of light across the arm of the woman at the table across the way, or off the water, the simple sound of a bird in a tree, the serious wonder of a mother bathing a child: these things unheard-of in western art were now embraced. impressionism was born.

yes, there were other factors: a reaction to the industrial revolution, the arrival of the affordable train trip "out to nature" (which was, of course, ironically, part of that very revolution), new scientific discoveries into how humans see, even the invention of the portable painting kit, but the very number one thing without which the movement never would have started: that someone should say, in a place where westerners would hear it, essentially, "be here now."

(the two images here are jane avril by toulouse-lautrec, and the hermit thrush by thomas dewing. can you hear it singing?)

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hi, and thanks so much for stopping by. i spend all too much time thinking my own thoughts about this stuff, so please tell me yours. i thrive on the exchange!

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