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Japanese Art (3)

Posted by altmariusart on 14 ianuarie 2009


Azuchi-Momoyama art


Cypress Tree Byōbu, Kano Eitoku, 1590

In the Momoyama period (1573-1603), a succession of military leaders, such as Oda Nobunaga, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, and Tokugawa Ieyasu, attempted to bring peace and political stability to Japan after an era of almost 100 years of warfare. Oda, a minor chieftain, acquired power sufficient to take de facto control of the government in 1568 and, five years later, to oust the last Ashikaga shogun. Hideyoshi took command after Oda’s death, but his plans to establish hereditary rule were foiled by Ieyasu, who established the Tokugawa shogunate in 1603.

Painting: The most important school of painting in the Momoyama period was that of the Kanō school, and the greatest innovation of the period was the formula, developed by Kano Eitoku, for the creation of monumental landscapes on the sliding doors enclosing a room. The decoration of the main room facing the garden of the Juko-in, a subtemple of Daitoku-ji (a Zen temple in Kyoto), is perhaps the best extant example of Eitoku’s work. A massive ume tree and twin pines are depicted on pairs of sliding screens in diagonally opposite corners, their trunks repeating the verticals of the corner posts and their branches extending to left and right, unifying the adjoining panels. Eitoku’s screen, ‘Chinese Lions’, also in Kyoto, reveals the bold, brightly colored style of painting preferred by the samurai.


The Siege of Osaka Castle, 17th century.

Hasegawa Tohaku, a contemporary of Eitoku, developed a somewhat different and more decorative style for large-scale screen paintings. In his ‘Maple Screen‘, now in the temple of Chishaku-in, Kyoto, he placed the trunk of the tree in the center and extended the limbs nearly to the edge of the composition, creating a flatter, less architectonic work than Eitoku, but a visually gorgeous painting. His sixfold screen, ‘Pine Wood‘, is a masterly rendering in monochrome ink of a grove of trees enveloped in mist.


Art of the Edo period


Kitagawa Utamaro, "Flowers of Edo: Young Woman’s Narrative Chanting to the Shamisen", ca. 1800


Sudden Shower at the Atake Bridge, Hiroshige, 1856

The Tokugawa shogunate of the Edo period gained undisputed control of the government in 1603 with a commitment to bring peace and economic and political stability to the country; in large measure it was successful. The shogunate survived until 1867, when it was forced to capitulate because of its failure to deal with pressure from Western nations to open the country to foreign trade. One of the dominant themes in the Edo period was the repressive policies of the shogunate and the attempts of artists to escape these strictures. The foremost of these was the closing of the country to foreigners and the accoutrements of their cultures, and the imposition of strict codes of behavior affecting every aspect of life, the clothes one wore, the person one married, and the activities one could or should not pursue.

In the early years of the Edo period, however, the full impact of Tokugawa policies had not yet been felt, and some of Japan’s finest expressions in architecture and painting were produced: Katsura Palace in Kyoto and the paintings of Tawaraya Sōtatsu, pioneer of the Rimpa school.

Architecture: Katsura Detached Palace, built in imitation of Genji‘s palace, contains a cluster of shoin buildings that combine elements of classic Japanese architecture with innovative restatements. The whole complex is surrounded by a beautiful garden with paths for walking.

Painting: Sōtatsu evolved a superb decorative style by re-creating themes from classical literature, using brilliantly colored figures and motifs from the natural world set against gold-leaf backgrounds. One of his finest works is the pair of screens The Waves at Matsushima in the Freer Gallery in Washington, D.C. A century later, Korin reworked Sōtatsu’s style and created visually gorgeous works uniquely his own. Perhaps his finest are the screen paintings of red and white plum blossoms.

Sculpture The Buddhist monk Enkū carved 120,000 Buddhist images in a rough, individual style.

Woodblock prints and Bunjinga: The school of art best known in the West is that of the ukiyo-e paintings and woodblock prints of the demimonde, the world of the kabuki theater and the brothel district. Ukiyo-e prints began to be produced in the late 17th century, but in 1764 Harunobu produced the first polychrome print. Print designers of the next generation , including Torii Kiyonaga and Utamaro, created elegant and sometimes insightful depictions of courtesans. In the West, erotic woodblock "prints" became popular because the material was not otherwise available. In that sense, such niche prints did more to promote Japanese art in the West than art studies.

In the 19th century the dominant figure was Hiroshige, a creator of romantic and somewhat sentimental landscape prints. The odd angles and shapes through which Hiroshige often viewed landscape, and the work of Kiyonaga and Utamaro, with its emphasis on flat planes and strong linear outlines, had a profound impact on such Western artists as Edgar Degas and Vincent van Gogh.

Another school of painting contemporary with ukiyo-e was Bunjinga, a style based on paintings executed by Chinese scholar-painters. Just as ukiyo-e artists chose to depict figures from life outside the strictures of the Tokugawa shogunate, Bunjin artists turned to Chinese culture. The exemplars of this style are Ike no Taiga, Yosa Buson, Tanomura Chikuden, and Yamamoto Baiitsu.


Meiji art

In the years after 1867, when Emperor Meiji ascended the throne, Japan was once again invaded by new and alien forms of culture. The introduction of Western cultural values led to a dichotomy in Japanese art, as well as in nearly every other aspect of culture, between traditional values and attempts to duplicate and assimilate a variety of clashing new ideas. This split remained evident in the late twentieth century, although much synthesis had by then already occurred, and created an international cultural atmosphere and stimulated contemporary Japanese arts toward ever more innovative forms.

By the early 20th century, European art forms were well introduced and their marriage produced notable buildings like the Tokyo Train Station and the National Diet Building that still exist today.

Manga were first drawn in the Meiji period, influenced greatly by English and French political cartoons.

Painting: The first response of the Japanese to Western art forms was open-hearted acceptance, and in 1876 the Technological Art School was opened, employing Italian instructors to teach Western methods. The second response was a pendulum swing in the opposite direction spearheaded by Okakura Kakuzo and the American Ernest Fenollosa, who encouraged Japanese artists to retain traditional themes and techniques while creating works more in keeping with contemporary taste. Out of these two poles of artistic theory developed Yōga (Western-style painting) and Nihonga (Japanese painting), categories that remain valid to the present day.


Postwar period

After World War II, many artists began working in art forms derived from the international scene, moving away from local artistic developments into the mainstream of world art. But traditional Japanese conceptions endured, particularly in the use of modular space in architecture, certain spacing intervals in music and dance, a propensity for certain color combinations and characteristic literary forms. The wide variety of art forms available to the Japanese reflect the vigorous state of the arts, widely supported by the Japanese people and promoted by the government. In the 1950s and 1960s, Japan’s artistic avant garde included the internationally influential Gutai group, which originated or anticipated various postwar genres such as performance art, installation art, conceptual art, and wearable art.

American art and architecture greatly influenced Japan. Though fear of earthquakes severely restricted the building of a skyscraper, technological advances let Japanese build larger and higher buildings with more artistic outlooks.

As Japan has always made little distinction between ‘fine art’ and ‘decorative art’, as the West is first beginning to do, it is important to note Japan’s significant and unique contributions to the fields of art in entertainment, commercial uses, and graphic design . Cartoons imported from America led to anime that at first were derived exclusively from manga stories. Today, anime abounds, and many artists and studios have risen to great fame as artists; Hayao Miyazaki and the artists and animators of Studio Ghibli are generally regarded to be among the best the anime world has to offer. Japan also flourishes in the fields of graphic design, commercial art (e.g. billboards, magazine advertisements), and in video game graphics and concept art.


Contemprary art in Japan

Japanese modern art takes as many forms and expresses as many different ideas as modern art in general, worldwide. It ranges from advertisements, anime, video games, and architecture as already mentioned, to sculpture, painting, and drawing in all their myriad forms.

Many artists do continue to paint in the traditional manner, with black ink and color on paper or silk. Some of these depict traditional subject matter in the traditional styles, while others explore new and different motifs and styles, while using the traditional media. Still others eschew native media and styles, embracing Western oil paints or any number of other forms.

In sculpture, the same holds true; some artists stick to the traditional modes, some doing it with a modern flair, and some choose Western or brand new modes, styles, and media. Yo Akiyama is just one of countless modern Japanese sculptors. He works primarily in clay pottery and ceramics, creating works that are very simple and straightforward, looking like they were created out of the earth itself. Another sculptor, using iron and other modern materials, built a large modern art sculpture in the Israeli port city of Haifa, called Hanabi (Fireworks).

Takashi Murakami is arguably one of the most well-known Japanese modern artists in the Western world. Murakami and the other artists in his studio create pieces in a style, inspired by anime, which he has dubbed "superflat". His pieces take a multitude of forms, from painting to sculpture, some truly massive in size. But most if not all show very clearly this anime influence, utilizing bright colors and simplified details.


Performing arts


Kabuki Theater

A remarkable number of the traditional forms of Japanese music, dance, and theater have survived in the contemporary world, enjoying some popularity through reidentification with Japanese cultural values. Traditional music and dance, which trace their origins to ancient religious use – Buddhist, Shintō, and folk – have been preserved in the dramatic performances of Noh, Kabuki, and bunraku theater. Ancient court music and dance forms deriving from continental sources were preserved through Imperial household musicians and temple and shrine troupes. Some of the oldest musical instruments in the world have been in continuous use in Japan from the Jōmon period, as shown by finds of stone and clay flutes and zithers having between two and four strings, to which Yayoi period metal bells and gongs were added to create early musical ensembles. By the early historical period (sixth to seventh centuries CE), there were a variety of large and small drums, gongs, chimes, flutes, and stringed instruments, such as the imported mandolin-like biwa and the flat six-stringed zither, which evolved into the thirteen-stringed koto. These instruments formed the orchestras for the seventh-century continentally derived ceremonial court music (gagaku), which, together with the accompanying bugaku (a type of court dance), are the most ancient of such forms still performed at the Imperial court, ancient temples, and shrines. Buddhism introduced the rhythmic chants, still used, that underpin Shigin, and that were joined with native ideas to underlay the development of vocal music, such as in Noh.


Aesthetic concepts


Calligraphy of Bodhidharma, “Zen points directly to the human heart, see into your nature and become Buddha”, Hakuin Ekaku, 17th century

Main article: Japanese aesthetics

Japanese art is characterized by unique polarities. In the ceramics of the prehistoric periods, for example, exuberance was followed by disciplined and refined artistry. Another instance is provided by two 16th-century structures that are poles apart: the Katsura Detached Palace is an exercise in simplicity, with an emphasis on natural materials, rough and untrimmed, and an affinity for beauty achieved by accident; Nikkō Tōshō-gū is a rigidly symmetrical structure replete with brightly colored relief carvings covering every visible surface. Japanese art, valued not only for its simplicity but also for its colorful exuberance, has considerably influenced 19th-century Western painting and 20th century Western architecture.

Japan’s aesthetic conceptions, deriving from diverse cultural traditions, have been formative in the production of unique art forms. Over the centuries, a wide range of artistic motifs developed and were refined, becoming imbued with symbolic significance. Like a pearl, they acquired many layers of meaning and a high luster. Japanese aesthetics provide a key to understanding artistic works perceivably different from those coming from Western traditions.

Within the East Asian artistic tradition, China has been the acknowledged teacher and Japan the devoted student. Nevertheless, several Japanese arts developed their own style, which can be differentiated from various Chinese arts. The monumental, symmetrically balanced, rational approach of Chinese art forms became miniaturized, irregular, and subtly suggestive in Japanese hands. Miniature rock gardens, diminutive plants (bonsai), and ikebana (flower arrangements), in which the selected few represented a garden, were the favorite pursuits of refined aristocrats for a millennium, and they have remained a part of contemporary cultural life.

The diagonal, reflecting a natural flow, rather than the fixed triangle, became the favored structural device, whether in painting, architectural or garden design, dance steps, or musical notations. Odd numbers replace even numbers in the regularity of a Chinese master pattern, and a pull to one side allows a motif to turn the corner of a three-dimensional object, thus giving continuity and motion that is lacking in a static frontal design. Japanese painters used the devices of the cutoff, close-up, and fade-out by the twelfth century in yamato-e, or Japanese-style, scroll painting, perhaps one reason why modern filmmaking has been such a natural and successful art form in Japan. Suggestion is used rather than direct statement; oblique poetic hints and allusive and inconclusive melodies and thoughts have proved frustrating to the Westerner trying to penetrate the meanings of literature, music, painting, and even everyday language.

The Japanese began defining such aesthetic ideas in a number of evocative phrases by at least the tenth or eleventh century. The courtly refinements of the aristocratic Heian period evolved into the elegant simplicity seen as the essence of good taste in the understated art that is called shibui. Two terms originating from Zen Buddhist meditative practices describe degrees of tranquility: one, the repose found in humble melancholy (wabi), the other, the serenity accompanying the enjoyment of subdued beauty (sabi). Zen thought also contributed a penchant for combining the unexpected or startling, used to jolt one’s consciousness toward the goal of enlightenment. In art, this approach was expressed in combinations of such unlikely materials as lead inlaid in lacquer and in clashing poetic imagery. Unexpectedly humorous and sometimes grotesque images and motifs also stem from the Zen koan (conundrum). Although the arts have been mainly secular since the Tokugawa period, traditional aesthetics and training methods, stemming generally from religious sources, continue to underlie artistic productions.



Traditionally, the artist was a vehicle for expression and was personally reticent, in keeping with the role of an artisan or entertainer of low social status. The calligrapher, a member of the Confucian literati class, or noble samurai class in Japan, had a higher status, while artists of great genius were often recognized in the Kamakura period by receiving a name from a feudal lord and thus rising socially. The performing arts, however, were generally held in less esteem, and the purported immorality of actresses of the early Kabuki theater caused the Tokugawa government to bar women from the stage; female roles in Kabuki and Noh thereafter were played by men.

After World War II, artists typically gathered in arts associations, some of which were long-established professional societies while others reflected the latest arts movement. The Japan Artists League, for example, was responsible for the largest number of major exhibitions, including the prestigious annual Nitten (Japan Art Exhibition). The P.E.N. Club of Japan (P.E.N. stands for prose, essay, and narrative), a branch of an international writers’ organization, was the largest of some thirty major authors’ associations. Actors, dancers, musicians, and other performing artists boasted their own societies, including the Kabuki Society, organized in 1987 to maintain this art’s traditional high standards, which were thought to be endangered by modern innovation. By the 1980s, however, avant-garde painters and sculptors had eschewed all groups and were "unattached" artists.


Art schools

There are a number of specialized universities for the arts in Japan, led by the national universities. The most important is the Tokyo Arts University, one of the most difficult of all national universities to enter. Another seminal center is Tama Arts University in Tokyo, which produced many of Japan’s late twentieth- century innovative young artists. Traditional training in the arts, derived from Chinese traditional methods, remains; experts teach from their homes or head schools working within a master-pupil relationship. A pupil does not experiment with a personal style until achieving the highest level of training, or graduating from an arts school, or becoming head of a school. Many young artists have criticized this system as stifling creativity and individuality. A new generation of the avant-garde has broken with this tradition, often receiving its training in the West. In the traditional arts, however, the master-pupil system preserves the secrets and skills of the past. Some master-pupil lineages can be traced to the Kamakura period, from which they continue to use a great master’s style or theme. Japanese artists consider technical virtuosity as the sine qua non of their professions, a fact recognized by the rest of the world as one of the hallmarks of Japanese art.

The national government has actively supported the arts through the Agency for Cultural Affairs, set up in 1968 as a special body of the Ministry of Education. The agency’s budget for FY 1989 rose to ¥37.8 billion after five years of budget cuts, but still represented much less than 1 percent of the general budget. The agency’s Cultural Affairs Division disseminated information about the arts within Japan and internationally, and the Cultural Properties Protection Division protected the nation’s cultural heritage. The Cultural Affairs Division is concerned with such areas as art and culture promotion, arts copyrights, and improvements in the national language. It also supports both national and local arts and cultural festivals, and it funds traveling cultural events in music, theater, dance, art exhibitions, and filmmaking. Special prizes are offered to encourage young artists and established practitioners, and some grants are given each year to enable them to train abroad. The agency funds national museums of modern art in Kyoto and Tokyo and the Museum of Western Art in Tokyo, which exhibit both Japanese and international shows. The agency also supports the Japan Academy of Arts, which honors eminent persons of arts and letters, appointing them to membership and offering ¥3.5 million in prize money. Awards are made in the presence of the Emperor, who personally bestows the highest accolade, the Cultural Medal.


Private sponsorship and foundations

Arts patronage and promotion by the government are broadened to include a new cooperative effort with corporate Japan to provide funding beyond the tight budget of the Agency for Cultural Affairs. Many other public and private institutions participate, especially in the burgeoning field of awarding arts prizes. A growing number of large corporations join major newspapers in sponsoring exhibitions and performances and in giving yearly prizes. The most important of the many literary awards given are the venerable Naoki Prize and the Akutagawa Prize, the latter being the equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize in the United States.

In 1989 an effort to promote cross- cultural exchange led to the establishment of a Japanese "Nobel Prize" for the arts, the Premium Imperiale, by the Japan Art Association. This prize of US$100,000 was funded largely by the mass media conglomerate Fuji-Sankei and was awarded on a worldwide selection basis.

A number of foundations promoting the arts arose in the 1980s, including the Cultural Properties Foundation set up to preserve historic sites overseas, especially along the Silk Road in Inner Asia and at Dunhuang in China. Another international arrangement was made in 1988 with the United States Smithsonian Institution for cooperative exchange of high-technology studies of Asian artifacts. The government plays a major role by funding the Japan Foundation, which provides both institutional and individual grants, effects scholarly exchanges, awards annual prizes, supported publications and exhibitions, and sends traditional Japanese arts groups to perform abroad. The Arts Festival held for two months each fall for all the performing arts is sponsored by the Agency for Cultural Affairs. Major cities also provides substantial support for the arts; a growing number of cities in the 1980s had built large centers for the performing arts and, stimulated by government funding, were offering prizes such as the Lafcadio Hearn Prize initiated by the city of Matsue. A number of new municipal museums were also providing about one-third more facilities in the 1980s than were previously available. In the late 1980s, Tokyo added more than twenty new cultural halls, notably, the large Cultural Village built by Tokyo Corporation and the reconstruction of Shakespeare‘s Globe Theatre. All these efforts reflect a rising popular enthusiasm for the arts. Japanese art buyers swept the Western art markets in the late 1980s, paying record highs for impressionist paintings and US$51.7 million alone for one blue period Picasso

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