Reflections of Reality in Japanese Art
EPUB EBook by Sherman E. Lee
EBook DescriptionIn the discussion of the differences between Western and Eastern approaches to art, the question that seems to define the argument is “which is more realistic?”Given that many who ask this question are judging their query on the artist’s ability to render objects as we are used to seeing them in terms of anatomy, biology, and other sciences, Western art seems to win out more often than not. Reflections of Reality in Japanese Art EPUB EBookSherman E. Lee’s book Reflections of Reality in Japanese Art opens itself with this same discussion, making it apparent that the comparison is not as easy as asking which one looks more “real.”Lee brings forth the ancient Japanese expression genjitsu, meaning, “the way things are.”This term not only references the role of rendering realistically in art but also take the place of several philosophical and scientific institutions that were not present in Japan.The Japanese culture did not place the same type of importance on the discussions of reality in philosophy and science and thus relied heavily on religions like Shinto and Buddhism and sets of beliefs such as Confucianism to guide them.Art in Japan, then, had to support the idea of “reality” as well as defining it throughout history.With this definition in hand, the book successfully compiles an extraordinarily large argument for the superiority of reality in Japanese art.
With the genjistu understanding, Lee’s discussion takes the reader through the different periods of art in Japan beginning in the proto- EPUBJapanese Jomon Period and stretching all the way into the Modern era of art.The reader gets to experience the early understanding of animals and people with the cord-marked figures of early attempts at reality, stopping along the away at the beginnings of both Shinto and Buddhist understandings of reality, and travel up to the mid-1800’s and see the affects that Western influence has on the definition of reality.Painting genres such as yamato-e (colorful nature pictures), onna-e (women’s pictures), otoko-e (men’s pictures), rokudo-e (Buddhist images of the six types of existence), ukiyo-e (“floating” pictures of fantasies), emaki (pictorial narrative scrolls), and many others reaching from the Asa/Nara Periods through the Heian and until the Medieval Period and beyond are studied individually in the book, referencing each one’s own sector of reality.Buddhism is especially highlighted in the text, as it overlaps the philosophical leanings of “reality” as well as the art made for the religion’s sake.The ideological forms of Shaka and Amida Buddha are put in contrast to the more honest renderings of the monks and adherents that were admired for their beliefs.
The final pages of the book are filled with examples of the adoption of Western perspective techniques as well as three-dimensional rendering using shadow and foreshortening.These ideas, known as rangaku (“Dutch studies”) continued in synthesis with the Eastern techniques, coexisting peacefully.In Lee’s opinion, it is these renderings that make the most progress and bring the viewer’s understanding closer to genjitsu.The book tragically ends its romantic notions of Eastern reality with the opening of Japan to America and the rest of the world with Commodore Perry’s treaty in 1854.Lee includes in the postscript a discussion of new art forms such as mingei, a movement to return to traditional folk-art forms, yet does not offer much room for them in the pursuit of genjitsu––anything new being nothing more than nostalgia.
Due to the book’s outset claiming that art defined reality in Japan, the discussion does not approach the philosophical leanings of reality as much as one would expect, leaving the text as discussion of the innovations in medium and technique.What Reflections of Reality in Japanese Art omits in this quality it bolsters with the thorough discussions of genre and a strong historical narrative that is easy to comprehend.The book however, ends on a flat note.By not accounting for the large mass of artwork that occurred after 1854 the author’s argument does not seem complete.It does not seem likely that the Japanese artist abandoned the search for the real elements of nature with the influx of Western thought.If anything it could be said that Japanese art achieved higher focus in expressing “the way things are” with the close relationship it harbored with the Europe and America.Reflections of Reality in Japanese Art deserves every accolade that it can get for its definitive look at the history of reality in Japan, yet dismissed for not acknowledging that Eastern art has gone far since the 19th century.
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