japonisme: reflection

03 June 2007


we talked about the lack of shadows in the japanese woodblock prints, but there's also a problem with reflections. they're often, well, just wrong. either they're not there at all, or they're somehow inaccurate, or, for example, some lights might be reflected and some not.

now, from a culture where every single blossom, every curl of a puppy's tail, every muscle on the face of the kabuki actor is observed and recorded, i find it somewhat incomprehensible that this is a deficiency in seeing.

so if not that then what? philosophy? how so, then? or artistic licence? there was a belief in what art should show and what it should not?

both shadows and 'as observed' reflections entered into the woodblock prints early in the twentieth century. could any of this have to do with the dearth of scientific knowledge in pre-meiji japan?

but then again, how did we not know about perspective until the renaissance?

As Erwin Panofsky puts it in his celebrated essay on perspective, "perspective, in transforming the ousia (reality) into the phainomenon (appearance), seems to reduce the divine to a mere subject matter for human consciousness. . ."1

could this reasoning, or something like it, have been in asia as well?

(this last i post because when i saw this woodblock print, i was struck by its similarity to the photograph, one of steichen's first.)

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