japonisme: 1/4/09 - 1/11/09

09 January 2009

the abstract

i sat on the swing out back this afternoon, trying to cajole ruby into sitting with me. yellow leaves were falling from the chinese evergreen elm.

i found myself wondering whether a leaf is considered an animate object. and if so, when is it animate no longer. when is it dead? what if it falls when it's crimson, then turns brown and dries out on the ground.

a few days back i drove by a chain-link fence with a vine crawling along it, or rather hanging from it, now. i suddenly realized how often the dead leaf is part of japanese art and how rarely in the west.

can you tell which of these images are by eastern or western artists? ironically, much was written in the west about the incredible influence of japanese design on design in the west. the western images here illustrate that.

but the japanese images here were seen as strongly western in style! "Seiho Takeuchi was trained in traditional Japanese Shijo painting. Soon he developed his own style. And after he had been in Europe for two years, his style had become even more messy seen from the eyes of a strict Shijo painter. Takeuchi became famous as a distinctively Western style painter. " 1

the artists of the 20th century often developed styles that were so closely linked that easterners saw their own artists, now, as western, and vise versa. seitei watanabe also studied in paris, and was considered a western painter. to us they look asian. they do to me.

methods of teaching, though, were very different. seiho could be a rigid disciplinarian, in a way filled with heart. "[An artist] was appren- ticed to the late great Seiho Takeuchi who made him study the lives and habits of wild fowl for 16 years before he might set brush to silk panel.

For several hours a day he was made to squat in the marshes, by the duck ponds, silently meditating. When Seiho Takeuchi decided that [the artist] knew enough of the plumage, the habits, the anatomy, the temperament of ducks he was allowed to begin painting on silk panels with a camel's hair brush, not with oil paints, but with Chinese ink or Sumi." 2


One chemical afternoon
in mid-autumn,
When the grand mechanics of earth and sky were near;
Even the leaves of the locust were yellow then,

He walked with his year-old boy
on his shoulder.
The sun shone and the dog barked
and the baby slept.
The leaves, even of the locust,
the green locust.

He wanted and looked for
a final refuge,
From the bombastic intimations
of winter
And the martyrs a la mode. He walked toward

An abstract, of which the sun,
the dog, the boy
Were contours. Cold was chilling the wide-moving swans.
The leaves were falling
like notes from a piano.

The abstract was suddenly there and gone again.
The negroes
were playing football in the park.
The abstract that he saw, like the locust-leaves, plainly:

The premise from which
all things were conclusions,
The noble, Alexandrine verve. The flies
And the bees still sought
the chrysanthemums’ odor.

Wallace Stevens

“Contrary Theses (II)” from Collected Poems. Copyright 1923, 1951, 1954 by Wallace Stevens.

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04 January 2009



While they're here I hold them
like my breath.
They deepen the sky
like blood in my body,
I'm glad to offer

my body like this -- a small craft
over fields of water, where light can fall, be lost, be caught,
be held.
I'm naked in my chair,
facing the window.

If I were outside I'd want to look up
and see someone naked in every window.

I think we need
the difficult river, we need the absence of tenderness
so love can come like shooting stars
if it comes.

Ruth L. Schwartz

from Dear Good Naked Morning C 2005 Ruth L. Schwartz

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