japonisme: the poplar did it

08 July 2009

the poplar did it

i have finally figured everything out, the reason for the differences in japanese writing and art and that of the west. it's the trees.

i'm looking at these book covers, the ceramics, the prints and paintings, in this movement we call japonisme, and i see a pattern; you see it too. it's kind of amazing and overwhelming if you have never come across this before.

and beautiful. and when we look at it we see 'japonisme.' the outlines, the simplicity, the blocks of color, the asymmetry, the focus on nature....

some pottery firms featured this style to a greater degree than others. though grueby manufactured many styles of ceramics, this 'through the woods' view, perhaps these tiles were their signature.

but then.... you look at japanese images and the trees are all wiggly! does that mean your understanding of japonisme is all wrong??! where then does the inspiration come from?

not that the japanese don't have their verticals. there's always bamboo.

in fact, japan does have some straight trees.

and they have a strong artistic tradition of vertical counterpoint to diagonal.

but in general, you see trees in japanese prints, and you do not see straight trees. in western ones, you do. i was probing my mind as to a possibility for this discrepancy when suddenly it was so clear.

japan's trees are wiggly. western trees are straight. (i'm talking pines in particular, but not exclusively.) and is it so difficult to imagine that the nature sur- rounding the human will inform all communications of that human? our letterforms are straight; theirs is not. linear v non-linear. does this very simply describe it all?

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Surrounding nature "shaping" the initial letterforms (beyond the role,among others, of the material support, probably)... Do you have some titles on this? Don't leave us because of summer! 3d

09 July, 2009 03:21  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

titles? i don't got to show you no stinkin' titles.

oh... oops... sorry -- obscure old movie reference.... couldn't stop myself....

but really, no. i went through all my books, and plowed the internet, and i couldn't even really find anything to address the question of themes in arts & crafts ceramics.

i have a few other ideas and will keep poking around, but honestly, the whole thing just popped into my own brain, which also tends to be wiggly rather than straight.

and i promise not to leave you if you promise not to leave me.

09 July, 2009 03:32  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I deserved it 100%, je bats ma coulpe and I apologise humbly. "Oci Ciornie" was the title, Dark Eyes in english, directed by Nikita Mikhalkov, shown at Cannes in 1987, with M.Mastroianni. The scene with the waggons can be seen on: youtube - ninna nanna film oci ciornie

09 July, 2009 05:01  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I liked a lot at that time the utopic idea of disappearing on waggons with the gypsies. d

09 July, 2009 05:08  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

i must see this

09 July, 2009 07:29  
Blogger lotusgreen said...


09 July, 2009 07:34  
Blogger Dominic Bugatto said...

I want to wallpaper a room with that top piece ;-)

09 July, 2009 12:40  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

ooo love the image

09 July, 2009 13:39  
Blogger John Hopper said...

Great post! As I was reading through it I was thinking to myself 'maybe our trees are straighter because a lot of them are pine', so it was good to be reassured at the end of your post that that indeed is/could be the case. I must admit to not walking through too many wiggly woods.

I suppose you could draw comparisons to much of Western architecture, which is very vertically focused, Classical Greek stone pillars for example, being representations of the original wooden pillars, often complete with joints that were decorative in stone but had served a purpose when temples were made from wood.

We do seem to be very vertically focused as a culture. I wonder where that thought could lead?

I am also sad enough to get the 'we don't need no stinking badges' reference :-)

09 July, 2009 14:47  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

the japanese black pine is the most common type use for bonsai because it so easily assumes or accomadates to these forms, and they're also standards in japanese gardens as they train to them well. but it seems obvious too that they just grow that way without manipulation, judging by what we see in the japanese art.

interesting, the architecture connection

09 July, 2009 16:24  
Blogger Yoli said...

Wonderful post and analysis.

09 July, 2009 17:54  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

thanks, yoli--i am really appreciating everyone's responses.

09 July, 2009 18:29  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Twice in my life I've discovered that natural forms I'd seen in art, that I thought were stylizations based on some cultural pattern, were in fact faithful renditions of local nature that I had simply never experienced.

This happened when I was in Italy and saw strangely branchless tree trunks with horizontal planes of leaves at the top that looked just like trees I'd seen in old Italian paintings.

Another time my sister came back from a trip to China with photos of the steepest, pointiest mountains I had ever seen, just like the mountains in many old Chinese paintings. I always thought they were "symbolic" mountains, because I'd simply never seen mountains like that.

11 July, 2009 09:51  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

welcome, chawedrosin!

oh that's very interesting. i had wondered about those chinese mountains, and made the same assumption as you did, so that is fascinating. the branchless trees in italy is all new to me. very cool.

11 July, 2009 12:41  
Blogger Neil said...

Fascinating, Lily. But is it nature, or is it culture? I've never been to Japan (yet!) but I have some wonderful books of photographs by Shinzo Maeda, in which the trees are as straight as those in a Klimt painting...

12 July, 2009 15:33  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

interesting, neil. what occurs to me is that maybe we in the west *see* those elements that are different in the artwork?

12 July, 2009 15:48  

Post a Comment

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!

<< Home

newer posts older posts