japonisme: 2/1/09 - 2/8/09

07 February 2009

the first hippie

the more i read about arthur wesley dow, the more i find him reported to be as spiritual and ecumenical about everything, his art, his studies, as he is about his religion. a quiet man without whose presence, an art seminar was considered a failure.

"The prints exude a sense of serenity in keeping with Dow's larger philosophical agenda of educating the public to make choices, in life as in art, that deliver harmonious results." 1

after studying in all of the most upstanding and academic parisian schools, and meeting and learning from the nabis, dow returned home to ipswitch, deflated. he hadn't found what he had sought.

the academie dictated copying antiques, sketching models. "Truth in the form of representa- tional accuracy has no relevance in art, Dow came to feel. Only beauty matters, beauty realized through expression, not imitation.

To unlearn the rules drilled into him in France, Dow immersed himself in private study of art both foreign and ancient--Egyptian, African, Oceanic and Aztec. He found his inspiration in 1891 at the Boston Public Library, in a book of Hokusai prints. 'One evening with Hokusai,' Dow wrote to his wife, 'gave me more light on composition and decorative effect than years of study of pictures.'" 1

when i look at his photography, and then his prints, sometimes his paintings, the photos seem clearly to be 'sketches' for his prints, but his great-grand-daughter says that wasn't the case. at one point his photography became his primary focus -- "just a newer way of printmaking," he said. but since he wished neither to be known as a photographer rather than a painter, nor to compete with kasebier and stieglitz.

sometimes he would go out to attempt to recreate some of his prints and painting with his new tool, the camera.

i have to wonder though, still. really?

An impas- sioned advo- cate of synthesizing lessons from East and West in the teaching and practice of art, Dow proved himself adept at doing just that. Less an originator of ideas than a consolidator and popularizer, he channeled diverse tributaries of influence into one concentrated, easily navigable river.

"A tremendous social force, art had the power to usher in progress, but also to inhibit it, Dow felt. The future depended on a deeper appreciation of beauty in everyday life. Art was hailed as an inner, ethical necessity, primary nourishment for the soul. To Dow, alluding here to Emerson, art was "the expression of the highest form of human energy, the creative power which is nearest to the divine." 1

i promise we'll go into dow's book, composition, soon, but first, there he is sitting overlooking the marshes, in a photo taken by his brother dana, with such a sweet, young, flirtatious tree at the fore.

is it the same as the young cherry in the painting, are they the same as the one in the print? i like to believe so, and to see dow as the first hippie, in the very best, most honorable sense of the word.


06 February 2009


many of you know that this has been bothering me for a long time. i have been extremely reluctant to point a direct finger, but i feel i must do it. i had a new post all ready to go, pictures uploaded, but i am just too angry to go on.

the parasite, as parasites do, finds images on my blog, then after a bit, sometimes only one or two days, posts it on her blog. a few examples above.

i seems that since i asked her to please not lift images directly from my blog without crediting them, she finds it on my blog then, i assume, finds the image and posts it on her blog. not once has she said 'via' my blog, nor credited learning about something, nor being inspired by my blog. nothing.

she has visited my blog 16 times in the last 20 days. i never counted up before, but i've found her visits about that frequently all along. for a while there, she was spending hours every night. still no credits -- and not one single comment on my blog either.

though she's featured identical 'comparisons' as i have, always after i have, and even run poems after i've run them, her commentary i think frequently is her own. i'm sorry -- that tempers my anger only very very slightly.

ask her about this and i'll bet she'll lie. i've seen her do it. (gotta say, though: i stopped going there because of my blood pressure, so i haven't read much. but sometimes something comes up on a search....)

what came up today is arthur wesley dow. in the middle of my series on dow, she, having visited every day this week, does a post on dow. this is not a coincidence. this is a parasite.

03 February 2009

dow and the light

i found myself wanting to know a little more about dow as a person.
i hadn't been able to find a student discussing him as an instructor, but
i found a letter he wrote to his younger brother. it completely surprised me, but it also added understanding to something i was perhaps experiencing in his work.

For Dana only--

I am so glad that you have come out so strongly for the Lord -- i remember you in my prayers every day. Don't take example from anybody but but just look to the One who is perfect. We are all sinners and do not live up to our profession -- that is my trouble and my greatest grief.

If I could see you and talk with you i could tell you many things. Now in the very beginning of your Christian life try to look at all things fairly and calmly. Make up your own mind firmly and stick to it -- at the same time do not be prejudiced against other religions and beliefs. If someone had only told me this I should have been saved much trouble. As you grow older you will find that there are points of good in all beliefs, so look with charity upon all and get all the good you can, even from an infidel if he says what is true.

I am convinced that prayer is the golden chain let down from heaven -- pray night and morning and you will be safe. If one neglects to pray, other influences will get a hold upon him. Now if I can tell you anything just write me and I shall be delighted to help you all I can. My own life has been so imperfect that I shrink from advising anybody, yet I have had some experience which might help you. Write me on any point that troubles you.

I think Reverend Waters is the best advisor for a young man -- he is so fair-minded and sensible in his ideas-- if you do as he advises you will be sure to come out right. Just talk freely with him and make a confidant of him.

I should be glad to know more about your Christian life and that of the other boys, so write me all you can. Commit your way unto the Lord and all will be right. He knows best.




02 February 2009

painting the boats: dow 1

Colour variation has always fascinated me. There is a peculiar pleasure in seeing the same design appear in different colours—the design seems to have a soul in each colour-scheme, said Arthur Wesley Dow.

The Ipswich sailors painted their boats in bright hues, using different colours for the inside, outside and streak. They had a limited palette—dark blue, canary yellow, orange, orange-red, several greens, black, and white. They were not content to keep a colour scheme very long, in fact they varied it from year to year, perhaps borrowing one another's paint pots when they freshened up the boats in the spring.

These boats were like colour prints as they lay on the shore in the dark shadow of the willows, or slanted in companies down the heaps of white clam shells—and the tide and the sailors always kept new combinations going.

Under the spell of these, and the old picture books, I tried to make wood engravings to colour by hand, but it was not until I became acquainted with Japanese prints that I found a simple way of creating colour variations. The Boston Museum's vast collection showed me every possibility of this art.

I experimented with the Japanese process, choosing as subjects the shore of Ipswich River with the boats, old houses, bridge and willows, printing many colour variations of each motif.

The special advantages of this art-craft are, first of all, colour quality, then colour variation. In painting, the water-colour settles into the paper, but in a wood-block print it lies upon the tops of the fibres allowing the luminous tone of the paper to shine through.

In this it is like the colour of the best pottery, say Chinese of the Sung dynasty, where the tones lie lightly over a luminous under colour. The old fresco paintings have a similar elusive glowing effect.

Colour variation I have already touched upon. Mr. Fenollosa remarked that this process "utilizes the lost chances." A painting shows forth a single colour-idea that the artist brings out of his mind. There may be many others floating there, but they cannot all be made visible without infinite labour.

With the wood blocks once cut he may seize them all—there is no limit. This is why some wood-block printers will not destroy them. No two prints need ever be exactly alike. The slight variations give a special personal character to each print.

From that day to this I have made wood-block colour prints.

dow's importance, during his lifetime, anyway, included his teaching. we'll look more at that soon, but first: the names of some of his students.

Alvin Langdon Coburn

Rachel Robinson Elmer

May and Frances Gearhart

Edna Boies Hopkins

Gertrude Kasebier

Dorothy Lathrop

Pedro Lemos (later working as Pedro DeLemos)

Georgia O'Keeffe

Mary Frances Overbeck

Margaret Jordan Patterson

Clarence H. White

...and Kate Cameron Simmons and Pamela Colman Smith and M. Louise Stowell and Max Weber (At the Pratt Institute, he studied with Arthur Wesley Dow from whom he learned to see forms as visual relationships rather than objects) and so many many more.

on his methods and influence? that's next....



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