japonisme: under the yum yum tree

13 July 2008

under the yum yum tree

the thing is, is that other than matthew perry and his black ships, there is no linear path to what happened in the arts after japan was deisolationized.

today's post started because i finally got around to asking jean at her incredible flickr destination who the artist was for this lovely little print. she didn't know, but i realized it was credited to treadway, and was able to track it down.

it's by lilian miller, the only one of the western printmakers who was actually born in japan (her father worked at the american consulate).

i like it, and don't feel that way about the work of all of the western printmakers who went to study the practice in japan. and i'm not exactly sure why, which is why i wanted to do this post, to feel my way there.

why do they, for example, not look japanese? why do they repeat the same themes and subjects so often, and in such similar ways? the one hokusai drawing is perhaps the only image i could come across that is quite like that, yet with the work of the westerners, the work is indistinguishable from one artist to the next.

sadly, some of the answer is stuff we've heard before. even among those who had gone out of their way to move to japan to study, there was a sense of superiority over the 'charming quaintness of the environment,' as hyde put it. 'the japanese people are so lacking in physical beauty themselves that they must compensate for their deficiencies.' 1

with this sense of distance from their surroundings, art became more about form than content, copying rather than creating, illustrating instead of making art. lum and hyde were financially successful with their work, and that was the intent they pursued, creating commercially viable products, and even promoting them as such.

this attitude was not shared by all of the new students of this ancient art, as we will see in forthcoming posts.

for more check this out


Blogger Audra said...

Thanks for the lovely post. You may want to check out a book that I am currently reading called "Unbeaten Tracks in Japan." Journal of Isabella Bird's travels through the interior of Japan in the 1880s. The descriptions are wonderful, but similarly, as you described in your post, her superiority complex toward the appearance and stature of the Japanese people is so alarming and off-putting, you wonder why she wished to travel there at all.

25 July, 2008 07:50  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

hi audra--thanks for stopping by.

that sounds both really interesting and so disheartening both at the same time.

i think it may be time to revisit some folks who definately were enchanted.

25 July, 2008 08:01  

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