japonisme: 11/9/08 - 11/16/08

15 November 2008

of spice boxes and kings

remember back when reagan was in office and they were saying that he was responsible for tv shows like dallas because of using gold-rimmed china and being just generally high-falutin'?

and king edward in england -- he liked his women full of figure and so this became the trend? and ruskin thought raphael was the bomb, so we went all classical again?

well the same thing happened in france around the same time (which means it had nothing to do with what anyone said or thought were their reasons, but rather some collective unconscious uber-reason which i am not going to guess at at the moment) because napolean thought it should.

nor can i guess why classicism reminds me of nothing more than, well you see. certainly not because of napolean's famous instruction to josephine: i'm back from the war tonight--don't wash! he called them her spice boxes. really!

all i know is that this impression is inescapable when one begins to research just what art was going on in france just before the fateful franco-japaneseo meeting, the work that was allowed to be shown in the salon, the work that revealed man's (and woman's, apparently, and still an issue) perfectibility, noblest callings (read 'politically correct'), and beauty of form.

"At the middle of the 19th century in France, the art world was officially dominated by the Academy of Fine Arts. They set the standards for French painting and held an annual art show, 'the Salon.' Artists could only get their work into the Salon if it was approved by the Academy's 'jury,' and the jury had very set ideas about what should, and should not, be called art. "

and another thing: "Nudes were okay in historical and allegorical paintings, according to the jury, but to show them in daily life was strictly forbidden." 1

so why did all these classicists show so many armpits? why did the pre-raphaelites show everyone with their elbows tucked in tight? don't you just want to go out and do a thesis on just this very subject?

next time a further look at that moment in art history, the end of the edo years, the end of classicism, and the beginnings of a whole new world.

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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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10 November 2008

18th century, part II; the naughty bits

as we've seen in culture after culture before, a thriving middle-class nurses the arts and 18th century japan was no different. with the edo period, the long isolationist era, peace and prosperity reigned across the land.

kabuki theater, poetry -- humorous and serious, the novel, the visual arts -- prints, paintings, and illustrated books -- and the sexual ones -- the courtesan districts, for example, prospered. and as a sort of visual chronicle of these growing realms, ukiyo-e -- images of this floating, ephemeral, world, was born as well.

what began as painting quickly turned to (at first) black-ink, occasionally hand- colored, prints, due to their ease of reproduction and the money there-by to be made. not surprisingly, shunga was among the first genre to achieve major popularity. (it would be the waves of censorship that would bring back the landscape.)

the full-color print, however, was soon to follow, and it was primarily used in the shunga; it was a natural hit, given all the newly- found free time. here's where we get to that debate again, though.

many, including the artist himself, attribute its invention to haranobu suzuki, late in the 18th century. but there is debate. some credit hu cheng yen, in china in the 17th century. "This was the medium the amateurs of erotica had been looking for." 1 some, though, credit the jesuits for introducing this to the chinese (if they had only known!).

some point to the witch paintings of hans baldung grien, a german artist in the early 16th century, but since there is very little information about his full-color process, i believe it was the tool known as the pen which provided the reds, yellows and blues.

in any case, does it matter? it would not be the first time technology travelled east while philosophy/ design travelled east, nor, as you know, would it be the last. but as i said, haranobu said he was the man. "The inventor of the color printing was Suzuki Harunobu (1725-1770). Harunobu had begun with the printing from the three or four woodblocks, gradually enlarging the number of the blocks to seven or nine." 2 (note how the prints are still somewhat 'primitive' to what our eyes are used to, as does the color.)

during the 17th and 18th centuries, as prosperity flourished, more and more dutch books (except those on religion) were allowed into japan. books of botany and anatomy, history and works by german copper-plate artists. we can see their tell-tale footprints everywhere. just as we can see the simplification of line, a shift in perspective, and a new awareness of the moment in the west in all the arts.

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09 November 2008

the 18th century

the longer i look into the 18th century the more confused i get. it was a time of great social and technological change.

as much as i may be learning, there are too many gaps in my know- ledge for me to put together anything that feels cohesive, or even comprehensible. so why don't i just toss some stuff out here and when i'm done (this will take several posts) we'll see if anything has come clear.

now if you look at the two images above you might assume that they are somehow related. are they? i think even knowing the answer doesn't answer the ques- tion. (even diagramming its frac- tals explains nothing of this.) 1

the line on top is from an 18th century british painter and theoretician named andrew cozens (reputedly the bastard son of peter the great). his son robert followed him in form as well.


"In 1759 Andrew published An Essay to Facilitate the Invention of Landskips, Intended for Students in the Art, setting out in brief his method for composing with the aid of ink blots and citing the precedent of Leonardo da Vinci, who had recommended looking for images in crumbling walls as a means of assisting the invention. " 2

this was new? the japanese were following their chinese teachers at the same time without having read this essay.

the work of the dutch, however did become popular in great britian after 1700, so i can't see it as inconceivable that dutch traders brought in artwork along with kimono, and that the british saw that too.

what a stunning and dramatic departure we begin to see, as from constable, for example. well, departure from european art, anyway.

I think that's enough for the moment. i don't know that i'll ever get any definitive answers, here, but my eyes can be informed.



yes, mountains just look this way. we can all see it. at least it's true to our eyes, now. but if that's true, why didn't western painters paint it that way until after they met the japanese? and why isn't anyone mentioning it?

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