japonisme: 1/25/09 - 2/1/09

30 January 2009

blue iris


Ripeness is
what falls away with ease.
Not only the heavy apple,
the pear,
but also the dried brown strands
of autumn iris from their core.

To let your body
love this world
that gave itself to your care
in all of its ripeness,
with ease,
and will take itself from you
in equal ripeness and ease,
is also harvest.

And however sharply
you are tested –
this sorrow, that great love –
it too will leave on that clean knife.

--2009 Jane Hirshfield


You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk
on your knees
for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are,
no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting--
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

--2009 Mary Oliver


Now that I'm free to be myself, who am I?

Can't fly, can't run and
see how slowly I walk.

Well, I think, I can read books.

"What's that you're doing?"
the green-headed fly shouts
as it buzzes past.

I close the book.

Well, I can write down words,
like these, softly.

"What's that you're doing?" whispers the wind,
pausing in a heap
just outside the window.

Give me a little time, I say back to its staring, silver face.
It doesn't happen all of a sudden, you know.

"Doesn't it?" says the wind, and breaks open, releasing
distillation of blue iris.

And my heart panics not to be,
as I long to be,
the empty, waiting, pure, speechless receptacle.

--2009 Mary Oliver

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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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