japonisme: "on the level"?

07 November 2009

"on the level"?

we've looked at various possible explanations for why eastern and western art are different in the ways they are... we've looked at writing, we've looked at religion, we've looked at topography, we've looked at trees, and today we'll look at some attitude differences that may explain some effects.

what i found myself wondering about were the qualities of directness and indirectness in the two cultures -- could they have an effect on the art?

here's something i found that i thought was very interesting:

Some cul- tures, such as in the Australia, US, Germany and Britain, generally value a direct style of communication. They like to “get down to business,” “cut to the chase,” and “get to the point”. They do not feel offended or shamed by the kind of direct statements that might be considered offensive in indirect cultures such as in Asia.

In fact, when things are not stated directly, people from direct cultures (such as Australian co-workers) can become confused and frustrated, and might not understand the message at all. They are used to communicating with people whose maxims are “say what you mean, and mean what you say” and “let your ‘yes’ be ‘yes’ and your ‘no’ be ‘no.’” In these cultures, being direct is how people show respect.

In cultures that use an indirect communication style, such as India, China, Japan, and other Asian cultures, it is very common to encounter situations where people communicate in a way that would not cause someone to lose face. Thus, communication happens indirectly.

Messages are subtly implied rather than explicitly stated, and people are accustomed to reading between the lines for the message. Words such as “perhaps” and “maybe” are often code for “no,” since saying “no” could risk shaming someone. In these cul- tures, being indirect is how people show respect.

Those from indirect cul- tures think of their own style as polite and face-saving, and sometimes see direct communication as rude, blunt and overly aggressive. Those from direct cultures think of their style as open and honest, and sometimes think of indirect communication as “beating around the bush” and a sign that the communicator is trying to be difficult, shifty, or maddeningly vague.

this is all in the context of training people in different parts of the world, who must interact every day, how to do it.

Akio Morita (co-founder of SONY) once said that when Westerners “ask questions or express an opinion, they want to know right away whether the other party agrees or opposes them. So in English, ‘yes’ or ‘no’ comes first.

We Japanese prefer to save the ‘yes’ or ‘no’ for last. Particularly when the answer is ‘no,’ we put off saying that as long as possible, and they find that exasperating.”

Each of us intrinsically feels that our style is the “right” style, and the other is the “wrong” style – but in the end, it’s not a matter of right or wrong, but of getting on the same wavelength.

so what do you think? might these very different communication styles be part of why, in so much of japanese art, things, people, landscapes, veer, gracefully sidestep, rather than approaching the viewer 'head on.'

can this also explain the works' simplicity or asymmetrical nature? and does it even explain these glorious diagonals or is the argument 'far fetched'? since you and i are likely to never come 'face-to-face,' we are not likely to see 'eye-to-eye.' nor shall we 'butt heads.'

i can face that.

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Anonymous evan said...

Why is it when we butt heads with some one, the inevitable outcome seems to be somebody will be of the opinion that one or the other is a butthead? As for diagonals...image-wise it's so dynamic that it seems anything but indirect. It's a visual slice across the picture plane. As for asymmetry...even in the highest wind the cherry blossom from one branch will eventually find itself on the ground. As it is for one blossom, so it is for all...or something...Grasshopper...

08 November, 2009 13:18  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

heh heh heh ;^)

thanks, o master, but if a diagonal is so 'in your face' why didn't we think of it on our own?

08 November, 2009 18:20  
Anonymous evan said...

well...Oriental artists might have conceptualized diagonal design first (damn, they're clever), but Western artists beat them to the use of perspective (I think, I bet....well, that's how I remember how it went from my art history classes). Neener neener.

09 November, 2009 10:03  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

oh neener yourself.

that's a really interesting point evan! now, there was apparently *some* awareness of perspective -- items in the distance are smaller, after all. but that's how i remember it too. wasn't it michaelangelo or someone like that who first quantified it?

and... is this another way of putting out the same question?

09 November, 2009 10:19  
Anonymous evan said...

I was wondering if I should qualify the perspective thing...I think Oriental artists were aware of atmospheric perspective, & the basic observation that things in the distance were smaller & lacked detail. Linear perspective is a more Western thing, & then I think it comes down to culture & priorities. Western art in a way became more "scientific" in its approach, while Oriental art, even when artists started experimenting with linear perspective, & more realistic renderings, maintained an emphasis on "traditional" aesthetic.

Yeah, it was Renaissance artists who really started to explore linear perspective. The real early attempts were by artists like Mantegna (dead body of Christ seen from the feet up) & Uccello.

(heh...just happened to have a book on perspective handy :))

09 November, 2009 11:12  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

now that *is* cool!

09 November, 2009 13:05  

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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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