Traditional Japanese art is one of the world’s greatest treasures. Japanese artists make unparalleled contributions, from ink painting and calligraphy to ceramics and woodblock prints. Japan Objects will introduce stories behind Japanese art in this two-part series. In this article we will look at traditional art forms. You will learn why nature has always been central to the Japanese way of life, and how the Edo era produced some of the most exquisite paintings of beautiful women.
The Origins of Japanese Art
- Katsushika Hokusai’s (1760-1849) The Great Wave off Kanagawa is definitely one of the most famous masterpieces of Japanese art. It’s no surprise that the theme of this popular woodblock print is nature’s mighty strength, and that it features the beautiful Mount Fuji.
- Mountains, in particular, have been a favorite subject of Japanese art since its inception. Before Buddhism’s introduction from China in the sixth century, Shinto was the sole Japanese faith, centered on the worship of deities residing in natural phenomena.
- The development of the tea ceremony had a significant impact on Japanese art and craft. Well-to-do households had long utilized social events to flaunt their most opulent Chinese tea utensils, but this began to alter in the 16th century, when aesthetes began to favor a more basic form.
The craft style preferred by Rikyu, known as wabi-sabi, is related to a philosophy of imperfection and impermanence derived from Zen. The preference for mellow earth tones over spectacular painted colors and the uneven shapes of hand-moulded ceramics over the perfection of wheel-thrown pots reflect this notion.
Unparalleled stability characterized the Edo period (1615-1868). Edo culture was thriving, and cities were expanding at an unprecedented rate. Severe enforcement of social stratification took place. The samurai served at the top for the Tokugawa government, followed by farmers and artisans, and ultimately the merchants.
- Ukiyo-e prints have had a major influence. Japanese artists’ influence is visible in European artists like Monet and Degas and contemporary Japanese artists. Next week, we’ll examine modern Japanese art and some artists who continue to astound the globe with their originality and technical brilliance.
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