Reflections on Part 2

I feel that I have made a lot of progress over this part of the course. I am a lot clearer now on the research question, it has narrowed considerably since embarking on the course. At the start I was looking very widely at studying Chinese flower painting and how it may have affected Western flower photography. This was much too wide a subject for a 5000 word essay, it also was not clear just how much influence, if any, there had been.

This was narrowed to a study of Japonisme and given further focus by looking at the effect of Japonisme on floral images produced by Western artists. I have to choose 3 or 4 artists and look at examples of their work to consider the possible influence of Japanese art.

My research studies are already starting to influence my practice as can be seen on my Body of Work Learning Log. Learning about azuri-e led me to consider the affinities it has with cyanotypes and I produced my own cyanotypes in response to this. In my research I also came across surimono which are Japanese prints that combine text and image. Again in my Body of Work  I  responded to this with my own versions of surimono.

In terms of the research side I have learned a lot about Japonisme, in particular the different ways in which different artists were affected. This has led to me choosing three or four artists working in very different fields and media as the subject of my research. I have also learned that floral images have not been widely used in the literature on Japonisme, authors seem to prefer to use landscape or portraits to illustrate the influence of Japanese art. I look forward to investigating this particular issue further as my work progresses.

 

 

Identifying a Written Format

The course handbook gives a series of possible written formats that can be used for the written work. Given my choice of subject within the overall theme of Art History, then a traditional essay seems the most appropriate for my work. It is difficult to see how the other possibilities listed in the Course Handbook, e.g. creative writing or career-oriented format, would be suitable.

The essay will consider Japonisme within the context of Orientalism and I will select three or four floral images to analyse both formally and contextually.

I will try to select work from Western artists that operate in different styles and media and will choose floral images by Vincent van Gogh, Odilon Redon, Edna Boies Hopkins and Charles Rennie Mackintosh.

 

Links to Creative Work

My work so far on Japonisme has already started to influence my creative work. In Body of Work I have been studying Cyanotype images and have looked at the similarities these have with Japanese Aizuri-e. The following image is a Japanese Azuri print by an unknown Shin-Hanga artist.

 

Chrysanthemum Tanzaku print, Unknown Shin-hanga artist, woodblock print, 23.5x6cm

I then produced my own Cyanotype in response to this study.

Further details and images can be found on my Body of Work Learning Log article on Anna Atkins. This can be found at https://lightwriting.org/BW/?p=78

 

I have also looked at Japanese Surimono, where text and images are combined into a single print.

This is an example of a Japanese Surimono print

Surimono with butterflies, by Kubo Shunman (1757-1820), 18.4x20.3cm, Musee Georges Labit, Toulouse

I have experimented with producing my own text/image as a result of this study.

The text on the images are ‘found’ poems in Japanese Kyoka style with a line sequence of 5-7-5-7-7 syllables.

Further details and images can be found on my Body of Work Learning Log article on Surimono. This can be found at https://lightwriting.org/BW/?p=136

As I progress with the course, I will be studying composition in Japanese art and I envisage that this will also influence my own work.

Inspired by the East

I visited this exhibition at the British Museum, it had received mixed reviews, Jonathan Jones in the Guardian gave it 5 stars, but others were much less generous. I went with an open mind to see how relevant it may be to my study of Japonisme.

It made me think much more widely of the topic of Orientalism. The exhibition acknowledged the comments of those such as Edward Said that Orientalism was mainly a Western construct to continue the colonial attitude and actions of the West towards eastern civilisations. It also had some interesting exhibits of ways in which eastern art had influenced the west, whether through subtle influence or overt appropriation.

One such influence was on the design and patterns used in tiles. The exhibition displayed alongside each other tiles produced in the Ottoman empire and in the West – the influence (copying even) of the eastern work being effectively displayed. This was also true of ceramics produced in East and West.

The exhibition confronted the type of Orientalist painting that Said stated upheld the colonial subjugation of eastern countries. Paintings such as The Snake Charmer by Ettore Simonetti were displayed with the gallery notes making clear that many of the artists had never visited the area or knew much about the subject, merely reinforcing existing stereotypes by using second hand descriptions and tales to produce images that portrayed indigenous people as being lazy with little or no sense of responsibility.

This was particularly true of images of the harem, which western artists would never have been admitted to, nevertheless they produced detailed images based on little more than their own fertile imaginations. The gallery notes explain that even though he had never visited the Middle East or North Africa, Ingres “regularly portrayed harems and odalisques. Placing nude women in such interiors made the images acceptable to polite European and North American society, which would otherwise have viewed them as obscene”.

One of the more interesting aspects of the exhibition was contemporary artists response to orientalist paintings. Raeda Saadeh took the Odalisque image and reimagined it for the present day.

Inci Eviner used Antoine-Ignace Melling’s 1819 design for a harem to produce a video which questioned the way in which western audiences view eastern images.

Overall the exhibition widened my appreciation of Orientalism, it illustrated the concept of colonial subjugation and how this manifested itself in some paintings. But it also acknowledged the influence of eastern art forms on the west, more so in terms of design and particularly ceramics.

The exhibition attempted to give a balanced view of Oriental influence on he west, it acknowledged the colonial stereotypes presented by some painters, with the gallery notes stating “Most artists resorted to their imaginations, using the backdrop of the harem as an excuse to paint nude women. This invasive approach was, in many ways, a metaphor for the Orientalist approach to the region”.

This will inform my study of Japonisme in considering whether it is a case of influence, appropriation or western imperialism (or a combination of any two or more of those).

Tutor Feedback on Assignment 1

I realise now that my original research proposal was much too broad to deal with in the context of a 5000-word essay. I have since narrowed the scope to consider what is Japonisme (in the context of orientalism) and how it influenced the representation of floral images through the analysis of the work of 3 or 4 artists, chosen for the degree of Japanese influence on their work. I will choose them from:

  • Vincent van Gogh
  • Claude Monet
  • Charles Rennie Mackintosh
  • Odilon Redon
  • Edna Boies Hopkins

 

I will probably select 3 of these artists based on differences of style, period and media to give a broader view of the effects of Japonisme.

 

I recognize that the links between the Body of Work and Research Modules need to be present, but that they don’t have to be restrictive. I could, for example, consider what artists were responding to in their time and compare and contrast with what I am responding to in my own work.

 

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.