japonisme: 10/15/06 - 10/22/06

21 October 2006

isadora's dance

isadora duncan credited seeing the japanese prints with women in kimono as her inspiration to loosen, to free, her clothing and her dance.

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love & destruction

max kurzweil, a founding member of the vienna secession, lived a charmed life, filled with love, sunlight, and the sparkling waves. though he may have been outshone by his fellows (klimt, moser), he was an enthusiastic contributor to the movement's journal ver sacrum (sacred spring), loved teaching as well as being a father.

or so it appeared until he killed himself in 1916 at the age of 49. he made this print of his wife in 1903.

kanae yamamoto was an innovator as well, being a pioneer in the sodaku hanga movement in which unlike the generations before him, the artist himself carried out the whole process of creating the prints, from cutting the wood to doing the printing. he also joined with others in the movement to start their own magazine, hosun (little things).

having come from a modest family, kanae was supporting himself as an illustrator from an early age. while in europe to explore the art movements there, he became aware of the socialist movements gaining strength, and when he returned to japan, he worked tirelessly to bring art education to children and the poor.

having developed the obsession, though, he began to ignore his own artwork. just before he died of a cerebral hemorrhage at 64 he destroyed all of the woodblocks of his works with a hatchet.

(thanks to bibliodyssey for turning me on to kanae.)

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20 October 2006

continental drift

"Because people cannot see the color of words, the tints of words, the secret ghostly motion of words;
"Because they cannot hear the whispering of words, the rustling of the procession of letters, the dream-flutes and dream-drums, which are thinly and weirdly played by words;
"Because they cannot perceive the pouting of words, the frowning and fuming of words, the weeping, the raging and racketing and rioting of words;
"Because they are insensible to the phosphorescing of words, the fragrance of words, the noisomeness of words, the tenderness or hardness, the dryness or juiciness of words, the interchange of values in the gold, the silver, the brass and the copper of words;
"Is that any reason why we should not try to make them hear, to make them see, to make them feel?"

these are the words of lafcadio hearn (pictured here with his family), just one of the westerners, mainly americans, who became intrigued with japan and made it a major part of their lives, thus becoming invaluable conduits for this cultural exchange that was going on.

i want to talk in depth about each of them (and of others i'm sure to find along the way), but i wanted to do a short introduction of each first.

"In the late 19th century Japan was still largely unknown and exotic to the Western world. With the introduction of Japanese aesthetics,
however, particularly at the Paris World's Fair in 1900, the West had an insatiable appetite for exotic Japan, and Hearn became known to the world through the depth, originality, sincerity and charm of his writings. In later years, some critics would accuse Hearn of exoticizing Japan, but as the man who offered the West some of its first glimpses into pre-industrial and Meiji Era Japan, his work still offers valuable insight today." (from wikipedia)

over time, i want to go more fully into the contributions of hearn, as well as those commodore matthew perry, edward morse, ernest fenollosa, ezra pound, bertha lum, helen hyde, arthur wesley dow, and of course, s. bing. it's fascinating to me, how the two cultures became intertwined. but i also don't want to lose track of the questions that keep cropping up: did the westerners "exoticize" japan? was it helpful to the japanese to redefine for them the nature of their own arts?

aggh.... too long a post already.... one step at a time....


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19 October 2006

separated at birth?

one thing that continues to strike me is how similar the silhouettes of women's clothing during the fin-de-siecle period to the japanese silhouettes of that and previous eras.

if you sort of squint or see them in just thumbnails, it's really hard to tell just which you're seeing, other than, perhaps, the use of pattern on the japanese fabrics.

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18 October 2006


a gentleman on livejournal asked if anyone knew the significence of ginkgo leaves because they were used quite a lot in art nouveau architecture. his web site features the best of 40 years of taking 2500 photos of these buildings. it's an extraordinary place(s) to visit.

the ginkgo leaf, in japan, can represent love, long life, and health.

(click either of these two smaller images and you will find yourself in the art section of another amazingly comprehensive site: the ginkgo pages! the big one on top is ' Pigeons on Ginkgo Branch' by ohara koson.)

17 October 2006

death and morning glories

unlike the nasturtium, however, morning glories are plentiful in both cultures, though in japan they are very likely to be found in poetry known as death haiku. along with the cicada, and dew in the grass, the morning glory appears as a reminder of both life's beauty and life's brevity.

the moon departs:
frost falls upon the
morning glory.

asagao ya
tsuki no wakare o
hana no hie


(the first image is by ide gakusui; the second is margaret jordan patterson, third is katei taki, and last is g. lebart.)

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a curious case

one thing that i have found
interesting and curious

is that while nasturtiums seem to be
fairly ubiquitous in art nouveau,

they don't seem to exist at all in

this is the only case of this i've found

so far.

(voysey is the first one, then G. Lebart, then oscar droege, and lastly, walter j. phillips.
i don't know who did the seed packet!)

(added on 1.9.2010: i have no idea what i was talking about! it seems to be saying that here was the only japanese example i could find, but there's no japanese example, and i still can't find one!)

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16 October 2006


how interesting. this image, by bairei kono from an 1892 manga, is clearly part of this "set"!


15 October 2006

it's rarely a narrative

i realize that i've been somehow trying to make this into a narrative (much as i tend to do with my own life), and, like my life, it just isn't. so this blog now becomes randomized. there's just so much, so much beauty, so much irony, so much of dreadful interest, that to try to make it orderly is to create a deceit. it's complex and complicated and redundant and contradictory, and so it is. when, if, connections appear i'll do my best to notice. feel free, if you notice, to let us know.

in 'international arts and crafts,' by livingstone and parry, a 1898 review from 'house beautiful' is quoted as saying, "the japanese have taught us much, but nothing more clearly perhaps than that beauty does not depend upon intricacy or elaborateness of design and ornamentation."

the article, however, was comparing grueby pottery, seeing it as 'japanesque,' and grueby pottery is simple, as was much pottery coming from japan. it still is.

but not all of it was, as you can see.

nor were many of the prints any more simple than what was happening in the west, as the japanese print and the american magazine cover from the same time period illustrate.

not to mention that that which was called 'japonesque' was often far from simple.

mystification, again. the west needed something simple--freedom from the clutter of the victorian era, distance from the clamor of the industrial age--and japan was just different enough, just unknown enough, to use to fill that bill.

Emile Galle
"Alla Japonica", 1900

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the japonistic aesthete

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