japonisme: but wait! there's more!

13 November 2008

but wait! there's more!

the edo era was slowly drawing to a close. that long, poetic, peaceful, isolationist time would soon run right up into the face of the black ships of admiral perry. during the period, japanese art began to look like what we have come to know as japanese art.

but there were cracks in the dike. as iconic as a print may be, like hokusai's famous great wave, its story may come as a surprise.

"To Westerners, this woodblock seems to be the quintessential Japanese image, yet it's quite un-Japanese.

"Traditional Japanese would have never painted lower-class fishermen (at the time, fishermen were one of the lowest and most despised of Japanese social classes); Japanese ignored nature; they would not have used perspective; they wouldn't have paid much attention to the subtle shading of the sky.

"We like the woodblock print because it's familiar to us. The elements of this Japanese pastoral painting originated in Western art: it includes landscape, long-distance perspective, nature, and ordinary humans, all of which were foreign to Japanese art at the time. The Giant Wave is actually a Western painting, seen through Japanese eyes. Hokusai didn't merely use Western art. He transformed Dutch pastoral paintings by adding the Japanese style of flattening and the use of color surfaces as a element." 1

now, this doesn't just contradict many things i've learned about japanese prints, their intro- duction to the western world of normal people rather than just royalty and biblical figures as appropriate subjects for art, for example. but it also, quite con- trarily, may answer my question of why we saw peasants in those very early dutch paintings!

how ironic is it that the image most frequently reproduced, with varying degrees of craft, beauty, and sanity, should call for response so strongly, perhaps, because it is so far less foreign than what's come before.

next, as we continue our timeline, we'll hear
hokusai's own thoughts on all this, and see a whole lot more.

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Blogger Princess Haiku said...

What about the concept of using "borrowed view" from nature for gardens. When did that develop?

14 November, 2008 00:17  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

good question! i'm pretty sure that's also from the chinese.

14 November, 2008 14:10  
Blogger Maryam in Marrakesh said...

How very fun, esp the shoes!

17 November, 2008 06:35  
Blogger lotusgreen said...


on etsy

17 November, 2008 08:09  
Blogger Dominic Bugatto said...

Interesting as always.

I have that very same Hokusai 'skin' on my iPod. Too funny.

18 November, 2008 18:38  
Blogger lotusgreen said...


18 November, 2008 19:08  

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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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