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Japanese art and Van Gogh: Japonisme, ukiyo-e and world religions

Japanese art and Van Gogh: Japonisme, ukiyo-e and world religions

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Art like religion is based on fusions because once the original art work or religion leaves the place it was born then new identities emerge. Also, prior to the fusion which takes place then images, ideas, borrowed thinking, and so forth, will emerge and a new philosophy or art form will borrow from the past. Therefore, artists like Van Gogh, Claude Monet, Paul Gauguin, and many more, who were influenced by Japonisme (Japonism), also fused their artwork based on realities that belonged to their world.

Mecca and the religion of Islam was born on Arab Paganism because Mecca was a holy place which existed well before the religion espoused by Mohammed. Not only this, but walking around a black stone many times clearly highlights animism and the same applies to many other areas. Judaism likewise borrowed from the Pagan world where Jews struggled to survive in a harsh and brutal world where war was all too common.

Similarly, the new Christian faith soon spread therefore Pagan Europe and Africa would leave a deep impact once the religion left the Middle East. New centers of Christianity in Armenia, Ethiopia, Egypt, Georgia, Syria, and other parts of the world, had rich traditions and just like Judaism and Islam the older Pagan world would influence many festivals and so forth.

The same applies to the deep-rooted Paganism of Tibetan Buddhism which often appears un-Buddhist because of the superstitious nature of many traditions. Indeed, the Buddha himself who never believed in a deity would probably be confused by the ritualism of Tibetan Buddhism. This isn’t unique to Tibetan Buddhism because all over the world you will have strong cultural traits which have left traces of past cultures and religions. Indeed, in Japan it is common for many individuals to have been blessed by the Shinto faith when very young, then get married under Christian traditions, and finally to die Buddhist.

Art and religion are two powerful areas whereby the old world survives or both can clash and compete.  After all, a member of the Van Gogh bloodline was murdered in 2004 in Holland by an Islamist because of making a film about Islam. Therefore, clashes of culture, religion, political ideas, and art, remain to be potent themes in many nations and Theo Van Gogh was murdered because of extremism in a democratic nation.

Also, when political or religious movements try to crush past culture and ideas then collective madness often takes place whereby freedom is crushed and the old world is destroyed. This notably applies to the Taliban world view and Pol Pot in the past in Cambodia because “year zero” and “year Mohammed” led to the crushing of all different thought patterns.

Therefore, Japonisme was based on the eye and not the concept or rich traditions which had evolved in Japan. Jules Claretie and Philippe Burty used the word Japonisme (Japonism) in the 1870s and the word applies to the influence of Japanese art and culture in this period of history on Western art.

On the Website of Artelino (www.artelino.comit is stated that “The term Japonisme came up in France in the seventies of the 19th century to describe the craze for Japanese culture and art. Van Gogh like so many other Impressionist and Post-Impressionist artists was one of the admirers of Japanese art. The Japanese influence is obvious in his art work.”

In the 1860s ukiyo-e became very popular in the art world and Post-Impressionists and Impressionist artists marveled at the many aspects of this art form. Also, the abundance of ukiyo-e and the variety of artists who produced this art form meant that western artists were rightly influenced. This applies to the richness of ukiyo-e and the variety of subject areas which opened-up a new art world in Europe and North America.

On the Van Gogh Gallery (www.vangoghgallery.comit is commented that “Japanese art, especially Japanese woodcuts, became a great influence on Van Gogh. When Van Gogh moved to Paris in 1886 he was introduced to impressionism and also explored Japonism. Van Gogh admired the bold designs, intense colors, and flat areas of pure color and he also appreciated the elegant and simple lines.”

“In 1887, Van Gogh made copies of two designs of Hiroshige, a Japanese landscape printmaker. One print was The Bridge in the Rain. Van Gogh copied the scene from a woodcut by Hiroshige. He filled the borders with calligraphic figures that he borrowed from other Japanese prints. Flowering Plum Tree is the other print by Hiroshige which Van Gogh copied. Another print that Van Gogh created in the same fashion is The Courtesan based on a piece by Japanese artist, Kesai Eisen. Van Gogh also gave this piece a frame with motifs from other Japanese prints. The difference between the originals and Van Gogh’s copies can be seen in the use of color. Van Gogh used brighter colors with more enhanced contrasts.”

The fact that Van Gogh based the above three art works on Hiroshige and Eisen may indicate that the more experimental and mysterious ukiyo-e world was not fully known to Van Gogh?  This is speculation because it could well be that Van Gogh preferred more conventional ukiyo-e. Therefore, like mentioned about the fusions of religion earlier it could well be that western artists were focused on limited aspects of ukiyo-e and this applies to areas which were transferable.

Van Gogh stated that “I envy the Japanese artists for the incredible neat clarity which all their works have. It is never boring and you never get the impression that they work in a hurry. It is as simple as breathing; they draw a figure with a couple of strokes with such an unfailing easiness as if it were as easy as buttoning one’s waist-coat.”

Dieter Wanczura comments that All things Japanese were suddenly stylish and fashionable. Shops selling Japanese woodblock prints, kimonos, fans and antiquities popped up in Paris like mushrooms. The Impressionist painters and Post-Impressionists like Claude MonetEdgar Degas, Toulouse-Lautrec or Paul Gauguin were attracted and impressed by Japanese woodblock prints. In 1875 Claude Monet created his famous painting La Japonaise, showing his wife dressed in a Kimono and holding a Japanese fan.”

Ukiyo-e and western art went in both directions but the initial contact period will have been based on a mirror which can’t fully show the complexion of the individual because of all the steam. Irrespective of this, it is clear that both traditions led to new creativity and for artists like Van Gogh the art form of ukiyo-e was very important in the later part of his life.

http://www.artelino.com/articles/van_gogh_japonisme.asp

http://www.vangoghgallery.com/influences/japonisme.html

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2012 in EUROPE, Japan

 

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Japanese art and culture: Ukiyo-e and a spirit without boundaries

Japanese art and culture: Ukiyo-e and a spirit without boundaries

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

The amazing aspect of ukiyo-e is that nothing is hidden and you can witness stunning landscapes, the world of sinister ghosts, elegant fashion, beautiful ladies, murders, military ventures, holy religious leaders, strong images of sexuality whereby nothing is deemed beyond the pale, and then return to aspects of culture and amazing images of Mount Fuji. Therefore, the spirit of ukiyo-e is alive and kicking in new creative forms like manga and fresh authors who desire to open-up a new world.

Asai Ryoi commented in his novel called Tales of the Floating World (Ukiyo-monogatari) in 1661 that“Living only for the moment, savoring the moon, the snow, the cherry blossoms and the maple leaves, singing songs, loving sake, women and poetry, letting oneself drift, buoyant and carefree, like a gourd carried along with the river current.” This definition certainly seemed to apply to some ukiyo-e artists but like all art forms you have a hidden depth which is often neglected and the meaning of images isn’t always transcended from culture to culture. The same also applies to the written word and you also had a natural monetary survival mechanism within ukiyo-e therefore it was important to relate to the world that they came from.

The original meaning of ukiyo was based on pessimism which could be felt within aspects of Buddhism and stratification in old Japan. Karma may have many angles but for the masses it was often viewed alongside pessimism and related to past deeds. However, by the seventeenth century the word had been transformed and now became linked to stylish pleasure whereby the soul was freed from the burden of “a higher being.”

Dieter Wanczura comments that “The first ukiyo-e was produced in black and white in the seventeenth century. There was however a demand for color and the first colored prints were produced by adding coloring to the finished b/w print with a brush. But that was too expensive and time-consuming. Okomura Masanobu and Suzuki Harunobu are said to have been the first to introduce multi-color prints by using more than one block – one block for each different color.”

“Ukiyo-e during its time was not considered as fine art but rather as commercial art. These woodblock prints were largely commissioned by the Kabuki and Noh-Theaters and by actors as a form of advertising. It was not before the twentieth century that the Japanese began regarding Japanese woodblock prints as an art form worth collecting. The Europeans, mainly the Dutch and the French, discovered the Japanese prints and their artistic value at the end of the nineteenth century, when large numbers of ukiyo-e were imported to Europe.”

Many international artists fell in love with aspects of ukiyo-e and the partial list includes Paul Gauguin, Vincent van Gogh, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Félix Bracquemond, Mary Cassatt, and many more. Of course, like all meetings of different thought patterns and styles the same applied the other way because Dutch artists and others impacted on some ukiyo-e artists. Therefore, while nations in this period had vague notions of “the other” in the field of art barriers were being broken and this especially applies to the late Edo period when new ideas were spreading to distant shores.

Ukiyo-e was constantly evolving and Meiji ukiyo-e is often overlooked but some of the greatest artists of this art form were based in this period of history. This notably applies to Chikanobu, Kunichika, Kyosai, Ogata Gekko, and Yoshitoshi. Of course, individuals like Kyosai and Chikanobu were born firmly within the Edo period but while Kyosai belonged to both worlds the life of Chikanobu is best summed up in the Meiji period.

The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum in Matsumoto, Nagano prefecture, is a great place to visit if you reside in Japan or if you are a tourist to this intriguing nation. On their website it is stated that “The average citizen’s mood of Edo period (1603-1867) was an extremely buoyant and joyful one –not the transitory, heavy atmosphere characteristic of the troubled middle age. The word “ukiyo-e” means “the picture of buoyant world” and incorporates in its meaning the common man’s daily pleasures, such as Kabuki plays, Geisha houses, and so on. The forerunner of Edo period prints was simple drawings that gradually developed into a wood-block, thus satisfying the growth of the demand.”

 

However, the Edo period is too distant to view with nostalgia because many evil deeds were happening throughout the world in this period. Therefore, beautiful gardens, stunning architecture and holy Christian churches, Buddhist temples, and Islamic mosques, don’t tell us anything because many a slave built the finest monuments that graced this earth.

Despite this, clearly changes were happening in Japan in the middle to late Edo period and ukiyo-e provides a greater depth to what was happening in Japan than most art forms in other nations in this period of history. However, I believe the maturity of Meiji ukiyo-e represents a clearer picture but given the closer timescale then this is only natural.

Even today the vast majority of individuals don’t fully understand the complexity of ukiyo-e and the areas which artists delved in. The image of Hokusai is mainly based on images from the Thirty-six Views of Mount Fujiand other stunning landscape images. Yet the other Hokusai is the creator of The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife whereby a young lady is enjoying being sexually touched by a fully grown octopus and a young octopus.

In another article I wrote I stated that Ukiyo-e expresses the richness of Japanese culture, nature, history, mythology, theatre, stunning landscapes, and highlights the importance of entertainment and other areas. Also, ukiyo-e shows vivid images of sexuality and some shunga is extremely explicit even by the standards of today in liberal nations.  This reality is what makes ukiyo-e so powerful because it relates to both reality and a world of mythology and ghosts.”

Turning back to Hokusai then in many ways this aspect of his art sums up the beauty of ukiyo-e because you have so many forces and factors behind the images. Therefore, this art form expresses an abundance of topics, issues, cultural aspects, the hidden world – and the mundane – and this is the heart of ukiyo-e and its power.

http://www.ukiyo-e.co.jp/jum-e/index.html

The Japan Ukiyo-e Museum: 2206-1, Shimadachi, Matsumoto, 390-0852, JAPAN.

Open: 10:00 a.m.—5:00 p.m.
Closed on Monday

http://welcome.city.matsumoto.nagano.jp/contents03+index.id+7.htm

Please visit http://toshidama.wordpress.com for more information about ukiyo-e

Please visit http://toshidama-japanese-prints.com/  –   On this site you will see a wonderful selection of Japanese woodblock prints for sale. Ukiyo-e (the Japanese name for woodblock prints of the 18th and 19th centuries) are beautiful, collectible and a sound financial investment.

http://welcome.city.matsumoto.nagano.jp/

leejay@moderntokyotimes.com

http://moderntokyotimes.com 

 
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Posted by on January 30, 2012 in Japan

 

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