Reflection on Part 1 – Research

This was the first OCA module that I had taken where work is submitted to a tutor part way through an assignment. I found this to be very useful as it has helped to focus on the type of research that I will be undertaking. The tutorial part way through helped to clarify my thoughts on the topic that I wanted to study.

I feel that I have done a lot of background work, finding resources and a lot of background reading which will be a real help as I start to write the essay for the course. The discovery of the Sainsbury Institute for the study of Japanese Arts and Cultures was a major help, the library there (even though it is reference only) must be one of the major sources of information on Japanese art in then country. I am very fortunate in living so close to it. I am also pleased to have become a member of the National Art Library at the V&A; I think that this too will be a major source for the sort of information that I will be researching.

I’ve found that work on the Research module has occupied a disproportionate amount of time compared to the Body of Work module. I believe that this is due to my wanting to be a lot more specific about my research topic before spending too much time on the body of work. Given that my research topic has changed somewhat over the course of the first assignment, I believe that this was the right approach. I will need, however, to give the body of work the full attention it needs in future assignments.

I am satisfied with the amount of background reading that I have done for the topic and, although I will definitely need to do more, I also need now to look at some original artwork. Hopefully  with the collection at the V&A, the British Museum and the Sainsbury Institute, I will be able to start to do this over the course of the next couple of assignments.

Expression of the Four Seasons in Japanese Paintings

Having come across the Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures through the library it runs, I also discovered that it puts on Monthly lectures on differing topics. The November lecture was given by Emura Tomoko who is Head of the Archives Section at the Tokyo National Research Institute for Cultural Properties (Tobunken). She was introduced a specialist in history of pre-modern Japanese art with a particular interest in paintings by Rinpa artists.

She started by describing how the expression of the seasons took different forms, for example folding screens and hanging scrolls. The images frequently incorporated Waka poems; “The word waka means ‘Japanese poem,’ and it is a form so basic to Japanese literature that Japanese still study and write it today” (What Is a Waka? s.d.). The form of poetry, the Haiku, with which we are probably more familiar, derives from the Waka.

Around the 10th century poems and calligraphy were greatly enjoyed, people would compose poems while looking at paintings on folding screens. The poems were then attached to the screen. These folding screens provided a convenient format for paintings, there could be several panels and would be looked at when sitting on the floor as opposed to the western tradition of hanging paintings on a wall at eye level when standing.

Hanging scrolls were also used for paintings, these were usually displayed in alcoves in a house to be admired by viewers. They were generally displayed for special events and, when the event was over, were taken down, rolled up, and stored in a box. Owners were encouraged to keep the scrolls on display only for the duration of the specific event.

One of the most significant art schools in Japan is the Kano school. “The Kano school was the longest lived and most influential school of painting in Japanese history; its more than 300-year prominence is unique in world art history”. (Department of Asian Art s.d.).

We heard how different flowers represent the seasons in traditional Japanese art:

  • Plum and Cherry                                              –              Spring
  • Peony                                                                      –              Summer
  • Chrysanthemum and Maple leaf            –              Autumn
  • Camellia                                                                 –              Winter

Kano Eitoku was described as one of the most remarkable artists of the Kano School. A six-panel screen of his was used as an illustration. Titled Birds and Flowers of the Four Seasons it illustrates how the progression of the seasons can be shown across a single scene, through the inclusion of birds and flowers from different seasons on the same screen.

Six-panel folding screens; ink, colour, gold, and gold leaf on paper; 1566.  Fine Art Museum, Kobe, Japan. Attributed to Kanō Eitoku [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

The talk moved on to the combination of painting and poetry, mention was made of an album of Waka poems drawn onto paintings. The album was of poems on pictures of flowersand grasses of the four seasons; the painting was by Tawaraya Sotatsu and the calligraphy by Hon’ami Koetsu. This led to discussion of the Rimpa (or Rinpa) school. “Rimpa refers to the school and style of images developed by Hon’ami Kōetsu and Tawaraya Sōtatsu in the early Edo period (1615-1868). Promoting its distinct decorative style made in response to past works, Rimpa school created its own unique aesthetics through decades of reiterations” (Yoko 2015).

Flowers and Grasses of the Four Seasons; gold, silver and colour on paper. Sotatsu/Koetsu [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

“Central to the Rinpa aesthetic is the evocation of nature as well as eye-catching compositions that cleverly integrate text and image” (Carpenter 2012 p11). The Rinpa style continues to the present day, but the next Rinpa artist mentioned in the lecture was Ogata Korin. He too painted Flowers and Grasses of the Four Seasons, originally as a handscroll then as a folding screen. He used the conventional technique of showing different seasonal flowers on the same screen to illustrate the passage of time.

One of Korin’s best known works is Irises.

Pair of six-panel screens; ink and color on gold-foiled paper, Japan Edo period, 18th century, © Nezu Museum, Japan (www.nezu-muse.or.jp)

“Using only green and blue on a gold background, he vividly depicts stylized clumps of irises in a composition that is simple, clear and rhythmical, foreshadowing a modern graphic style” (Tamashige 2015).

What was interesting from the lecture was that studies have revealed that some of the Irises have been stencilled on to the screen, rather than them all having been freely hand painted. However, because the screens, in normal use, present the flowers in a zig-zag pattern, this is not at all obvious. I thought that this was a good example of the need to present works of art in the way that they were initially designed. Some galleries might present such a screen flat against a wall, but this is not the original intention of the artist, and the viewer might get more from seeing the work as originally intended.

This work is also a good example of how Japanese art (in this style) focuses on short-lived beauty – most flowers bloom and last for just a few days. The lecturer stated that, traditionally, Japanese people felt affection for transient images. What the artist is doing is preserving that moment. Traditional Japanese flower painting captures ephemeral moments in transient scenes and makes them permanent in the painting.

 

REFERENCES

Carpenter, J.T. (2012) Designing Nature: The Rinpa Aesthetic in Japanese Art. New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Department of Asian Art (s.d.) The Kano School of Painting, The Metropolitan Museum of Art. At: https://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/kano/hd_kano.htm (Accessed on 26 November 2019)

Kōrin, O. (s.d.) Irises. At: http://www.nezu-muse.or.jp/en/ (Accessed on 22 August 2019)

Tamashige, S. (2015) Korin: the late bloomer with innovative in style | The Japan Times. At: https://www.japantimes.co.jp/culture/2015/05/05/arts/korin-late-bloomer-innovative-style/ (Accessed on 27 November 2019)

Yoko, K. (2015) ‘Museums in Japan‘ In: e-Magazine, Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures Summer (12) [online] At: https://sainsbury-institute.org/e-mag/issue-12-summer-2015/museums-in-japan/ (Accessed on 27 November 2019)

Narrowing down the research question

Reviewing the work I have done so far leads to a research question that involves the study of Japanese prints and paintings and their influence on the west. This would be a very wide topic to integrate with the Body of Work so it would work better to restrict the period of study. The period 1840-1940 could work well in that it covers a number of major aspects e.g. Japonisme, Orientalism and the introduction and development of photography.

 

My attempts at a research question as they evolved:

Initial idea

My initial idea for the course, as presented at the start of Part 1 of this course was to look at how Flowers have been represented in Art through the ages and in different countries. I would look at how contemporary flower photography may have been influenced by previous art forms. This was a statement of the general area I was interested in looking at rather  than a specific research proposal.

How has Asian Art influenced contemporary flower photography?

This was the first specific research question that I devised. It seemed very broad so I decided to make it a bit more specific.

To what degree were the flower photographs of Imogen Cunningham and Irving Penn influenced by Asian Art?

This was my attempt at a more specific question and is one that I submitted to my tutor when I had finished Exercises 1-3 of Part 1 of the course. In discussion we greed that not only was it still probably too broad, but also, what would be the end result of the research if I could find no relationship between Asian art and the two photographers?

What is the influence of Japanese flower painting on contemporary photography?

During the discussion with my tutor it was suggested that looking at Japanese art and Japonisme could be a starting point for the research question. It would allow me to link in with my original intention of photographing flowers for my Body of work. However the link (or possible lack of) with contemporary photography could still be problematic.

Images of Flowers in Japan and the West; 1840 – 1940

My tutor suggested that a comparative study of how flowers are represented in Japanese and Western art could be an acceptable research project, it did not have to be a specific question as such. I thought the period 1840 – 1940 would be appropriate as it covers the concept of Japonisme (and Orientalism), as well as the discovery of photography and its development right up to the first colour film.

From Hokusai to O’Keefe – A comparative study of flowers in art from Japan and the West

This meets the criteria suggested by my tutor of a comparative study. It will look at paintings, prints and photographs from Japan and the West and compares and contrasts them. It begins with the end of the Edo period in Japan, looks at Japonisme and considers its possible effect on flower paintings. It also looks at photographs of flowers from both Japan and the West. The period covered is roughly the same as the 1840 – 1940 suggested in the previous topic.

Hogarth: Place and Progress

I read a very positive review in The Guardian of the exhibition Hogarth: Place and Progress which is at the Sir John Soane’s Museum, London. This was the first I had heard of the exhibition, but reading that it brought together in one place all of Hogarth’s ‘series’ – paintings and engravings – it seemed too great an opportunity to miss.

I admire Hogarth’s work and the narratives that he tells within his work, his comments on the morality of his time. In a previous photography module (Photography 1 Context and Narrative) for this course I had produced a contemporary version of Hogarth engraving The Politician.

So this was an exceptional opportunity to see all of his series together in the one place.

I had not visited the Sir John Soane’s Museum before. It is in three neighbouring houses in Lincoln’s Inn Fields. The first originally purchased by Sir John Soane as his residence and the other two purchased at a later date to house his growing art collection.

For a museum or gallery, the rooms are really quite small and the exhibition is arranged over three floors. The layout of the museum and exhibition feels somewhat cramped and some of the Hogarth images have a room to themselves whereas others are in with works from the museum’s permanent collection.  As the exhibition is spread over a number of rooms on three floors, it can sometimes feel confusing ti find the next section of the exhibition. Normally this lack of continuity might lessen the impact of an exhibition, but somehow it felt very appropriate for this one. Hogarth’s series are teeming with life, at times seemingly confused, but always with a strong narrative linking the scenes. It seemed a positive bonus to be looking at them in rather cramped rooms with less than optimal lighting and lots of other visitors, it added to the experiencing of London as Hogarth saw it.

Gin Lane; William Hogarth [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons
Beer Strreet; William Hogarth [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

It was a superb opportunity to see all of the series together, I had seen Marriage a la Mode at the National Gallery and Gin Lane and Beer Street elsewhere, but there were many others that I had only seen in books or online before.

One point of interest was in ‘The Four Steps of Cruelty’ – all 4 scenes were shown in the original engraving, but a different version of scenes 3 and 4 were exhibited in a later woodcut version. Apparently Hogarth requested this to produce plates that were larger, simpler and cheaper  in order to reach a wider audience. While the original was more refined in the lines and drawing, the woodcut gave a rougher, more aggressive feel to what were already very strong and violent images.

In most of the images that Hogarth produced , there was  a complex story of morality and vice, but the narrative of the individual series was usually quite simple – the consequences of following the path of righteousness or not.

The series were very powerful and compelling to see, especially in the unique setting of the Sir John Soane Museum.

Lee Krasner at the Barbican

This was the first major exhibition of Krasner’s work in 50 years. I was interested to see it and to consider the influences on her work and the context under which it was produced.

Some of her influences were shown in the very first exhibition room. It contained a few, very vibrant and colourful, quite small abstract paintings. But one wall of the room simply showed a series of very large scale photos of flowers. The gallery notes explained how, in 1945, Krasner moved to Springs (near East Hampton, NY). Her father’s death, the year before, had ‘left her unable to paint anything but what she affectionately called her grey slabs‘.

Now, surrounded by nature, a ‘new kind of imagery was coming through, she worked on her ‘Little Images – vibrant, jewel-like abstractions, pulsing with an even rhythm’.

The photos on the wall were taken by her friend, Ray Eames who ‘documented the wildlife in Springs that inspire this work’.

 

The curator had, very effectively, displayed the paintings and photos together to express the way  surroundings had influenced the images produced.

A couple of examples of the society in which Krasner operated, were shown later in the exhibition. At the age of 19 she was due to study at the National Academy of Design. She was obviously extremely talented and, in later interviews, would talk of how ‘the Academy had refused to believe her capable’ of a plein-air portrait she had submitted.

She protested about this and was promoted to the life-drawing class, but she did not like the traditional approach of the Academy, which she described as ‘a sterile atmosphere of …. congealed mediocrity’.

Another example of the times in which she was working came after the Wall Street Crash. The depression that followed forced her to leave the National Academy. In 1937 she was awarded a scholarship to attend classes at the Hans Hoffman School. The images in the ‘Life Drawing’ room showed how Krasner made her first venture into abstraction attracting the comment from Hoffman that her work was so good ‘you would not know it was done by a woman’.

Seeing the exhibition and the paintings themselves was a great opportunity, but the curator had also effectively introduced many descriptions of the  influences and contexts under which Krasner produced her work.

Too Much of a Good Thing

Taking advantage of my membership of the British Museum, I made a couple of visits to the Munch exhibition there and also attended two lectures that had been arranged to complement the exhibition. The first talk was by Andrew Graham Dixon, who spoke about The Scream while the second lecture was by Janina Ramirez who spoke about Emotion in Munch’s Art. I then made a second visit to the exhibition which helped to consolidate what I had heard in the talks.

Dixon gave some interesting background to Munch’s influences, how a lack of teaching in Scandinavia resulted in Munch being drawn into the German Circle and tradition.

He said that Munch’s described ambition was “to paint the soul” and he described how The Scream developed. Munch was walking with friends one evening when the sky turned blood red. Munch stopped, feeling exhausted, while his friends walked on. In 1892 Munch wrote “I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature”. Dixon described this as “suddenly the hostility of the universe is engulfing him”. He stated that “The Scream doesn’t seem to grow old”. This he attributed to what the image was portraying

  • Alienation
  • Life in the city where you hardly know anyone

And that as that describes how many people live today can be quite shocking and that may be why The Scream still resonates.

Janina Ramirez spoke about emotion in Munch’s work, and how this tended to get deeper and more despairing as time went on. She spoke particularly about the death of Munch’s sister and how deeply this affected him and his work.

One point she made gave cause for thought, she said that the “need for art to be hyper-realistic ended with the advent of photography. Art moved on to picture the imagined, what is in our dreams, something that photography cannot do”.  I think the important phrase here is that art does not need to be hyper-realistic any more, photorealism as an art form has not disappeared, Richard Estes is a good example of a practitioner in this field. So maybe photography stimulated artists away from realism to a more emotional response.

Munch was clearly a troubled individual, and the intensity of his emotions clearly emerged from the images that he produced. None more so than his portrayal of a dying child. He was, apparently, greatly affected by the death, as a child, of his sister from tuberculosis. The images on display show raw emotion in how they convey the scene.

The exhibition is of Munch’s prints, although some paintings have been borrowed for the duration to complement the display. Prints can sometimes be considered inferior to original paintings. I’m not sure why, perhaps it is something to do with the uniqueness of the painting compared to the fact that a number of copies of the print can be produced. This is certainly the case when considering the value of an image from a monetary rather than an aesthetic point of view. The exhibition, however, t showed to me how prints, in the hands of someone hugely skilled, can still have the same emotional effect as paintings. There was an oil painting of The Sick Child alongside prints he produced of the same subject. To me all three had the same intensity and raw emotional power.

It would be impossible to write about the exhibition without mentioning The Scream. I have mentioned above how the image developed. In fact Munch produced several versions, in paint and pastels , as well as a lithograph stone.

Most people are familiar with the paint or pastel version of the image, but I think that the lithograph displayed in the exhibition has more intensity. The monochrome nature of the print and the way the sky and background has been reproduced with clear, distinct lines, focuses the viewers attention on the face of the subject and what he is experiencing. The paint and pastel versions perhaps leave a different impression, one of the emotional impact of the overall scene rather than the individual experiencing it.

Edvard Munch [Public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

One aspect that was not so enjoyable was exiting the exhibition via the museum shop. The number of objects displayed for sale that featured an image of The Scream was bewildering. There were so many that I started to list down what you could buy that featured the image:

  • Nail files
  • Tee shirts
  • Tea towels
  • Tote bags
  • Sticky note pads
  • Finger puppets
  • Magnets
  • Travelcard holders
  • Key rings
  • Pencil cases
  • Kaleidoscope
  • Mugs
  • Plates
  • Vases
  • Spatula
  • Notebook
  • Erasers

There were so many I may have missed a few. I know that museums/galleries have these shops after an exhibition to maximise sales and produce income for the institution, but I did find that it detracted somewhat. But then I needn’t have stayed and counted, I could have just walked straight out – but I do think that you can have too much of a good thing!

Reviewing Creative Work

1 How do Research and Body of Work streams interact?

In the Research element I will be looking at images of flowers produced over a century in Japan and the West. In my Body of Work I will be producing my own images of flowers that will be influenced by what I learn from the Research. The following mind map shows the linkages

 

The period 1830-1940 seems appropriate as it encompasses Orientalism, Japonisme and the invention and development of photography. The Research work will drive my Body of Work and the experience of producing my own images will also inform my Research. My Body of Work will also be influenced by the range of current threats that may affect the flora of the world.

 

2. Resources

I have identified a number of resources that will help with both the Research and Body of Work courses.

  • Sainsbury Institute for the Study of Japanese Arts and Cultures – it has a school of study at the University of East Anglia and presents a monthly series of talks in Norwich.
  • The Lisa Sainsbury Library in Norwich is part of the Sainsbury Institute and holds books, journals, exhibition catalogues, slides, prints, maps and other materials relating to all aspects of Japanese arts and cultures. I have already visited the library.
  • Norwich University of the Arts has an extensive photography collection in its library and I have taken out external membership of the library.
  • The National Art Library at the Victoria and Albert Museum has a huge collection of art books. I have taken out membership of the library and have already visited.
  • The British Museum and the V&A both have print collections of Japanese Art and, at the V&A, photographs which are available to study. I am currently researching what is available.

 

3. What I would like to achieve

I want to develop skills in – creating ways of using different photographic techniques and media to produce compelling, thought provoking final work

I want to consolidate skills in – composing and lighting photographic images of flowers

I want to produce – work that is more than just an attractive image, that conveys a message

I want to promote my work to – myself, I want to be satisfied with the way that I have integrated the Research and Body of Work components.

I want to refine – my own personal voice in the work and images that I produce

I want to explore – work from different art forms and different parts of the world that can influence how I produce my own work

I want to prove that – study of different art forms from around the world can be of considerable benefit to how I approach my own work and that different aspects can be combined to produce a contemporary image

I want to involve – just myself – I want to challenge myself to think differently and produce a set of final images that are unique

I want to integrate – different techniques and media from my research into my everyday work

 

 

Part 1; Tutor Response to Exercises 1-3

I had an excellent discussion with my tutor about my research topic. She raised a number of issues with what I had originally proposed :

  • the need for evidence of what is being considered, particularly if I am stating that certain artists were influenced by other art forms (it needs much more than ‘it looks like it is influenced by’) . What does it actually mean to import something from another culture?
  • the need to narrow down the research topic (e.g. Japanese influence) and refine what is being looked at (e.g. perspective, space, colour, etc)
  • could consider a more cultural comparison rather than influences e.g. representation of flowers across cultures and could look at parallels and different times and contexts.

I found the discussion to be of enormous benefit – highlighting the pitfalls of the approach I was considering and pointing the way forward to a good research proposal.

 

Part 1; Exercises 1-3

This part of the course was unusual in that you undertake the first three exercises of the module and send them off to your tutor before getting too far into the topic chosen for research.

I thought that I was pretty clear on what I wanted to do for my research project and body of work – looking at ancient Chinese paintings and influence on the West, then producing a series of photos in response to what I had learned.

However, going through the different exercises left me a bit less clear. Was the subject too broad? Should I narrow it down to individual photographers?

I found that creating the mind maps helped a lot, trying to work out how the two themes of Art History and Photography would interact and how to keep the whole thing manageable.

A copy of my response to the exercises can be found here. I will have a video tutorial on my submission so I look  forward to getting feedback.