japonisme: teaching it, part 1

28 January 2009

teaching it, part 1

we have looked at some of the books for teaching art during the japonisme era, here, and here, for example. i want to go further into those books, and explore several others.

perhaps seeing this lovely little floral line- drawing, you think 'japonisme!' or at least 'art nouveau!' well, in 1910 the new york board of education did neither.

here's what they said, never examining any of the implications: "the ornamental value of using a natural form for decorative purposes is dependent upon the rejection of small details, refinement of forms, clear edges and flattened values and color."

this is precisely the description western artists and critics relied upon to describe japonisme, and to incorporate the principles into their work.

i could find very little encour-agement or inspiration in this entire (short) book; it recommended rote and caution at every turn.

"the vital factor of order and system, dependent upon mathematics, is so important that it would be well if every designer, young or old, could be made to respect it. the finest creations in the history of decoration have obeyed the laws of geometry however shrouded such laws may have been. only in art's decline do we find the designer throwing away in his conceit the very factor that would be his work's salvation."

yes, it is possible, in japanese floral patterns to find the evenly repeated design, but more frequently we find asymmetry. can this, though, be called geometric? maybe so.

"a word of caution, however, may not be amiss. there is a fascination in watching the development of a surface design by the simple repe- tition of a unit which causes in many schools far too much time to be spent upon it.... the feeble teacher is tempted to produce a quan- tity of such designs whose results are showy but of little practical value."

and though they might have been their best teachers, students were cautioned, "pen and ink draw- ing is to be but cautiously resorted to for elementary work. it copies from pen and ink drawings of popular illustrators have almost no educational value."

their hearts were in the right place, going about, in the only way they knew, the job of teaching how to imbue the line with grace and beauty. 'design and representation,' found at the internet archive, leaves it to you to decide.

the two gorgeous iris prints are from a japanese seed catalogue from the 1880s; i have put a DR in front of all the images from the textbook; the textiles image is taken from a chôbunsai eishi print. the rest are names in their labels. i just don't think i would have liked that class.

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Anonymous evan said...

It's funny that something so intuitive & personal as art, whatever it's final purpose, could find itself boxed in by so many rules, & those rules are dictated by all the different "schools" of thought out there.
After years of college etc I find myself trying to break free of all the rules I've learned. For a while they're sort of comfortable, like fur-lined handcuffs (I bet), but eventually you get tired of being shackled, of being imprisoned by the oughts, shoulds & have to's.

29 January, 2009 10:14  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

oh--good points, evan!

well, i'll be interested in hearing what you think of some of these other "methods" i'll mention.

Arthur wesley dow was a transformative teacher, from what i've read, and many of my favorites studied with him.

he's coming up soon.

29 January, 2009 11:41  

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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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