My Art Appreciation class

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During my time in Japan, I earned credit for Conversational Japanese, and Art Appreciation. Here I would like to go over a few things related to my Art Appreciation class.

First off, I would like to mention that my study abroad was centered around art; meaning we visited many art museums and galleries while in Japan. My professor Sabra Booth, is also an international artist and has made a name for herself within the art community. I remember sitting on the subway one morning, as we were on our way to another museum, when my eyes focused on her sketchbook. She was drawing on the subway. I remember the little details come alive through gesture (fast simple sketch with minimal lines) as she quickly sketched our surroundings. I personally love drawing people and was captivated by the life she was able to bring through the quickly sketched lines on the paper that morning. Later that week, she took pictures of everybody and drew us all, she even included Himeji castle, the manga museum icon, and deer from Nara park. The picture at the top of this page is the drawing my art teacher did.

There is a newspaper called the ‘San Antonio Current’, in which professor Booth published a few of her sketches from Japan. In order to capture a wide range of Japanese culture, Booth Sensei (what we called her in Japan (sensei = teacher)) almost always carried her sketchbook with her. Included in the sketches published in the ‘Current’ are drawings of paper lanterns, fox statues, nature, Mt. Fuji,  and even locals on the subway.

The link to the article can be found here.

Although this class was uniquely different in many ways, it was still an academic class taken to earn credit, which means we had homework, a test, and discussions too. Most of the classwork was done online. We had discussions together at the hotel where we would all talk about specific topics as a group. In total we had 4 discussion questions in which we had to post a response to online after our face to face discussion. Below I have posted each question and my response in order to explain Japanese Customs in a bit more detail.

 

Discussion question 1:

How has spiritual harmony been expressed between two religions in Japanese art and architecture? Site examples of temples and shrines that you visited.

I noticed that the architecture of Japan reflects spiritual harmony when we went to Asakusa to see the Senso-Ji Temple. This is an enormous ancient Buddhist temple. Conveniently enough, there is also a Shinto Shrine located right across from it. This physical closeness indicates the spiritual closeness of these two religions (we would not see this in America. Christian churches are rarely placed next to a Mosque, or any other religion’s place of worship). Japanese culture harmonizes these two religions to the point that my host mother couldn’t really even explain the difference between these two religions to me, “they just kind of blend together” she said. Most Japanese practice Shintoism to guide them through their daily life, and Buddhism to help guide their spirit in the afterlife.

 

Discussion question 2:

Why in a country so vulnerable to natural disasters, is nature highly emphasized in Japanese art. Site specific examples seen in museums and/or in the readings.

Japan has had a long history of enduring violent earthquakes and tsunamis.  Natural disasters has had such an impact on the country of Japan that art, such as paintings and woodblock prints (the great wave by Hokusai) depicting these natural occurrences have become widely famous and appreciated. This also ties into the Japanese religious beliefs of Shintoism; the worship of ancestors and nature spirits and a belief in sacred power (kami) in both animate and inanimate things. Although Japan has endured tremendous casualties due to natural disasters, Japan ties spiritual beliefs to nature through religion. This is depicted in how often the artwork of Japan contains natural elements.

 

Discussion question 3:

Where do you see evidence of doing more with less in Japanese art. Specifically, how does this concept tie into the idea of a well crafted object. Give examples that you witnessed in museums, stores, and/or the Kyoto host’s home.

Japanese art can be very intricate and beautifully detailed, however beauty can also be achieved through minimal simple designs, such as the simple aesthetics of teacups. Tea ceremonies have a quiet calmness to them that is reflected in the simplicity of the teacups themselves. Even more so than flashy eye catching tactics, the simplicity of an ordinary, possibly mundane, object can be just as desirable when quality over-rules quantity. By having less to focus on, our eyes can pay equal attention to the object as a whole, rather one part over-powering another. Tea cups are kept simple in order not distract from the richness of the tea. My host family had a beautiful home, even though they lived in a rather small apartment. They did not have much furniture other than a couch and a table, but what they did have was high quality. Their home was not cluttered with useless un-needed things. Everything was in order and served a purpose. By relying on only the necessities, they were able to keep up a beautiful efficient clean home, even with a 10 month old infant. There is credit to the old saying, “too much of a good thing can hurt you”. Our minds can only focus on so much at a time, before we begin just looking instead of actually seeing what we are looking at. Japanese art understands this flaw in humanity and counters it by doing more with less and focusing on quality over quantity.

 

Discussion question 4:

The artist, Takashi Murakami, coined the term Superflat for this contemporary art movement in Japan.  Influences include pop, otaku, manga, and anime.  What are your Superflat experiences in Japan? Discuss concepts of cuteness, gender stereotyping/disrupting, eroticism, and Westernization.

Superflat refers to the contemporary art movement by Takashi Murakami. Influenced by anime, manga, and pop art, Murakami began “combining the flatness of commercial graphic design and the hyper-sexualised cartoon characters of Japanese comics with the aesthetic concerns of fine art”(http://artradarjournal.com/2013/10/11/what-is-superflat/ (Links to an external site.)). Murakami’s new form of contemporary art is quickly raising in popularity and becoming so common in Japan that it can be seen almost anywhere. Whether it is on a poster found in the subway, or on exhibit in an art gallery, the style of superflat can be used to stress certain aspects, such as cuteness (Himeji castle icon), or raise its appeal to men or women (subway anime girl icon/ super cute deer icon at Nara). The manga museum and animation museum were definitely two places where the concept of superflat really shined. Manga is the Japanese comic book, and was influenced by western comics such as marvel, with its popularity skyrocketing after WWII. The manga museum had many different types of manga, each appealing to different audiences. Shonen manga is aimed more towards a male audience by focusing on a male protagonist and caricature-izing female characters with extremely small waists and big chests. Shojo manga on the other hand is produced more for a female audience, opting to focus more on the idea of cuteness or love rather than eroticism and adventure.

 

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