japonisme: 7/8/07 - 7/15/07

14 July 2007

while fred- erick cayley robinson's allegiance to the pre- raphaelite movement is obvious, and explicit, to my eye, given the outlining of forms, the asymmetrical balance on his canvases, and, to some extent, his subject matter, he was influenced by the japanese as well.

it's not surprising; he studied in paris at the very moment when japonisme was in bloom, the prints being shown and collected,

the work inspiring illustrator and painter (and jeweller, etc.) throughout the town. japonisme once removed?

obvious also is the charles rennie mackintosh influence. cayley robinson held a professorship at the glasgow school of art,

in mackintosh's wonderful building. the elongated simplification of form can be seen in the work of many artists from 'the glasgow school.'

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13 July 2007

cat moon


The cat went here and there
And the moon spun round
like a top,

And the nearest kin of the moon,
The creeping cat, looked up.
Black Minnaloushe stared
at the moon,
For, wander and wail
as he would,
The pure cold light in the sky
Troubled his animal blood.
Minnaloushe runs in the grass
Lifting his delicate feet.

Do you dance, Minna- loushe, do you dance?
When two close kindred meet,
What better than call a dance?
Maybe the moon may learn,
Tired of that courtly fashion,
A new dance turn.

Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
From moonlit place to place,
The sacred moon overhead
Has taken a new phase.

Does Minnaloushe know that his pupils
Will pass from change to change,
And that from round to crescent,
From crescent to round they range?
Minna- loushe creeps through the grass
Alone, important and wise,
And lifts to the changing moon
His changing eyes.

-- W. B. Yeats, in 1919

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12 July 2007

another element from which we can imagine the line straight through to modern art is the 'outside the box' phenomenon.

by this i mean literally going outside the lines.

frames are made deliberately too small to fit the people in them.

as in the cases we've seen before, these are sometimes

framing strategies, or perhaps for emphasis' or design's sake.

perhaps hiroshige (or utamaro) was just sitting there one day and had a creative inspiration: why must this always look like that???

and found it didn't.

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11 July 2007


in finding the ability to simplify
we begin to learn to
understand essentials.

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10 July 2007

countering the ornamentation, often juxtaposing it, was unadulterated color.

Toulouse-Lautrec was, however, the most innovative of the poster designers, with his Japonisme-inspired compositions (characterized by simplified figures and forms, planes of flat pure color and jolting diagonal lines), and his emphasis on subjects that had previously fallen outside the purview of fine art.1

show business, the ladies of the night and their fellows: ukiyo-e. this was the floating world. the use of calligraphy, hand-lettering, as a part of the design scheme, saw letter characters as art in themselves.

and the joy in color, in art and design as in clothing for the first time in centuries, is a joy in itself.

how very short a road it was then, on to modern art.

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09 July 2007

pattern! color! design!

another element the west gleaned from japan we've discussed with regard to clothing, but now let's discuss it with regards to art: pattern! color! design! now you couldn't get enough.

yes, it's true, matisse was inspired by morocco, but permission had been given, or perhaps rules had been made:

"busy" had been thor- oughly re- defined; all-over color and pattern were now not only allowed --
they were practi- cally requ- ired!

of course this was all a measure of freedom, of change, of exploration.

it was embraced by painters, children's book illustrators, graphic designers, printmakers: the past, from japan, represented the future for the west.

the use of pattern and print appeared on cloth (graphically and in reality), of course, but suddenly as well were found wallpapers, and tilework, and rugs, and upholstery....

it was a way of flattening an area and enlivening it at the same time. speaking of the textiles featured in

woodcuts, siegfried wichmann, in japonisme, said, 'european artists at the end of the nineteenth century recognized their abstract potential,

ornamental vigour, and new colour combi- nations.' walter crane spoke of woodblock prints being art more about pattern than about anything else.

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08 July 2007

elongated, vertical art was also not seen in the west until japanese scrolls were encount- ered. it is no accident that steichen used this form for his self-portrait (and the poster he made for the whole movement), or stieglitz for one of his most iconic images. (i couldn't find a moon photo, surprisingly! in this particular shape.)

and another important element of the design of the time, learned, again, from the japanese, that i more or less left out yesterday, is asymmetry. (there are numerous other things too, but they more have to do with other arts.)

see for yourself the near- ly ubiquitous occurrence of all of these traits at a wonderful site here. not stieglitz or steichen, or even coburn alone, but an entire era of photography was deeply, and beautifully, grounded across the sea.

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