Is my Body of Work Orientalist?

My research work involves looking into Japonisme and the possibility that this may be a form of Orientalism.

Japonisme defined as “French term used to describe a range of European borrowings from Japanese art” (Floyd 2003). In his book Orientalism (Said 1978) used the term to describe “the way the West has created a mythological identity about the East” (Wilson & Lack 2016:208).

For my Research module I am writing about three artists whose work is acknowledged to have been influenced by Japanese art and considering whether this constitutes a form of Orientalism.

For my Body of Work I am producing a series of images and OCA requires that I demonstrate how my work has been influenced by my research. I have, therefore,  been explaining how my study of Japanese art has influenced my photography.

This rather begs the question, does the fact that I have been studying Japanese art and allowed it to influence my work mean that my images are Orientalist? Is this not exactly the same thing that Vincent Van Gogh, Odilon Redon and Edna Boies Hopkins were doing towards the turn of the 19th/20th century? If my research were to lead to the conclusion that their images were orientalist then surely mine would be to.

My research still has a long way to go before I can answer the question with any degree of certainty, but it has given plenty of food for thought. It has also given me an insight into those artists that were influenced by Japonisme and how they took on board the influences.

 

 

References

Floyd, P. (2003) Japonisme. At: https://doi.org/10.1093/gao/9781884446054.article.T044421  (Accessed 21/10/2019).

Said, E. (1978) Orientalism. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Wilson, S. and Lack, J. (2016) The Tate Guide to Modern Art Terms. London: Tate Publishing.

Reflection on Part 3

I found this part of the course a little frustrating as the exercises in the handbook didn’t seem to tie in too well with a traditional art history style essay. But I persevered and looking back I think that I have moved the essay on that bit further.

I’ve changed course slightly as a result of my findings on this part of the course. In the data gathering part of the section I researched more about the artists view of Japan and Japanese art. This ranged from Vincent Van Gogh, who had a very idealised (and very misplaced) view of Japanese culture and society mostly derived from novels and journals, to Edna Boies Hopkins who visited Japan and studied the Japanese technique of woodblock printing while she was there. In between was Odilon Redon who, while never havng visited Japan, had studied East and South East Asian religion and spirituality. Therefore, rather than looking at the influence of Japanese art on the work of 3 or 4 European or North American artists, it seemed to me that the question of whether or not Japonisme was a form of Orientalism became more relevant.

Consequently I changed the research question to “Is Japonisme a Form of Orientalism?  An analysis with particular reference to floral images produced by artists in Europe and America in the period 1880-1920”.

Link to Creative Work

 

A number of aspects of my research have influenced the images that I have created. They relate to what I have learned about Japanese art in general and Ukiyo-e woodblock prints in particular.  Barrett summarises Berger’s analysis of ukiyo-e prints as “asymmetry, flatness of colors and design, simplification of line, stylization and decorative patterning” (Barrett 1993:102). I have also been influenced by my research of Aizuri woodblock prints and Surimono images and poetry.

I do not think that there is anything from the data gathering exercise that suggests new directions for my creative work.

Aizuri

 

Aizuri are monochrome blue and white woodblock prints and I noted in Assignment 2 the similarities I could see between these and cyanotypes (Coe 2020).

These are examples of Aizuri prints

 

“Black” bamboo, 1858, Utagawa Kunisato, RISD Museum, Providence, RI

 

Chrysanthemum, early 20th C, unknown artist

 

These are examples of some of my cyanotypes produced in response to my study of Aizuri.

Wisteria, Bamboo, Iris, Chrysanthemum

 

Surimono

Surimono, literally ‘printed objects’ (Surimono from Osaka and Edo 2008) are woodblock prints that combine text and images. “The term surimono came to mean prints commissioned by groups for writing kyouka, comic poems, or haiku, 17 syllable poems, as well as prints privately commissioned for New Years greetings” They were often created by poetry societies who commissioned an artist to produce an image to accompany the text. The poems were usually kyoka, poems in a line form of 7, 5, 7, 5, 7 syllables or haiku with lines of 5, 7, 5 syllables (Surimono 2001).

Chrysanthemums, Nagayama Kōin, mid 1820s RISD Museum, Providence, RI

 

I have been collaborating with a published poet to produce a modern version influenced by the concept of Surimono. They differ from the original in that the image came first and the poet responded to it. We have also not followed the strict rules of Kyoka or Haiku poetry but have produced an image that incorporates floral photograph and concise poetry.

Jerusalem Sage

Queen of the Night

Pesticides

My topic of significant importance is flowers and the threats they face. A major issue is the excessive use of pesticides (Goulson 2020). I have been experimenting with photographs, printing them and then spraying them with pesticide. While they don’t follow the Japanese naturalistic style of image, I believe that they evidence the influence of Japanese art in the “asymmetry, flatness of colors and design” that I quoted earlier from Barrett (1993:102).

Fritillary, Crocus, Geranium

References

Barrett, M. (1993) ‘Japonisme in the West’ In: Monumenta Nipponica 48 (1) pp.101–108.

Coe, R. (2020) Links to Creative Work. At: https://lightwriting.org/research/?p=82 (Accessed 09/07/2020).

Goulson, D. (2020) Reversing the Decline of Insects. At: https://www.wildlifetrusts.org/sites/default/files/2020-07/Reversing%20the%20Decline%20of%20Insects%20Report%20-EMBARGO%2008.07.20%20%282%29.pdf

Surimono (2001) At: http://www.aisf.or.jp/~jaanus/deta/s/surimono.htm (Accessed 09/07/2020).

Surimono from Osaka and Edo (2008) At: https://risdmuseum.org/exhibitions-events/exhibitions/surimono-osaka-and-edo (Accessed 09/07/2020).

Data Gathering

I had some difficulty with this part of the course as it didn’t seem so well designed for a traditional art history essay more appropriate for one in the social sciences. Many of the suggestions in this part were not relevant to the work I was doing. So at this stage I  researched the floral images of the artists I had selected and the influences upon the artists. For this the most appropriate data gathering method was information from primary and secondary sources. The letters of Van Gogh was the only primary source I could find, so most data was from secondary sources.

In the literature review I had considered the concepts of Japonisme and Orientalism. I supplemented this with my own examination of specific art works, none of these were on display at the time so I used digital copies of the originals. A high-quality version of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers is available at the National Gallery website. I could only find slightly lower resolution versions of the work by Odilon Redon and Edna Boies Hopkins.

Covid 19 restrictions have also affected my access to library material, although some work is digitally accessible through the UCA library, most relevant works were only available in hard copy. In addition, the National Art Library, the British Library, the Tate Library, Norwich University of the Arts Library and the library at the Lisa Sainsbury Institute for Japanese Arts and Culture, have all been closed for over 3 months – none have extensive digital access. I made frequent visits to these libraries as part of my research and my studies have been hampered by the Covid-19 restrictions. I have only been able to use work I had accessed prior to library closures, limited electronic access and purchasing used copies of work that is particularly relevant.

 

 

Tutor Feedback on Assignment 2

I had a really useful discussion with my tutor on the Assignment. The general points were that I had done a lot of work so far and that I was making progress. There were a number of individual points that needed attention but the main areas were that my

  • Research Question and theory needed to be much firmer
  • The essay will need a clear introduction that says what is going to be examined and why
  • There need to be a justification for the choice of artists to be studied

I felt that I had made progress, but there is still obviously a long way to go.  I will need to take these points into account as I develop the essay.

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.