Assignment 4 Reflective Commentary

I feel as though I am starting to make progress with the essay now, taking on board my tutors comments from last time I have tried to tighten up on the essay title and reduced the amount of space devoted to the Is Japonisme a form of Orientalism debate. As suggested I have also widened the scope to look at more than a single artwork from each artist – I think this has allowed me to consider how the influence of Japanese art changed over time with each artist.

I think what I have learned most from this part assignment is the importance of the contextual aspects when considering an artist’s work. Many people have analysed Van Gogh’s Sunflowers whether looking at Japanese or Impressionist influences on the composition, brushwork, use of colour etc. What I found most interesting though is that if Van Gogh had not had an idealised vision of Japan and the lives of  Japanese artists, then Sunflowers may never have been painted, certainly not in the way we view it today.

I did struggle at times to complete the work, due to the lockdown the two libraries I used the most (National Art Library and Sainsbury Library of Japanese Art and Culture) have been closed throughout. Access to the British Library and Tate Library was restricted and I was unable to visit. Although many works are now available online in the UCA Library it is very frustrating to find a book you want, only to discover that only a physical copy is available in the UCA Library.

The Tate Library has been helpful offering to scan pages or chapters from books that they hold, and I did use their services for some pages of Wildentein’s Catalogue Raisonee of Odilon Redon’s work. But the problem is you need to know exactly which pages you would like copied, and you don’t always know that if you haven’t been able to quickly scan through the work or look at the index.

Still, with the research I was able to do before lockdown, I believe that I have been able to introduce a good number of references and produce a significant Bibliography.

I have thoroughly enjoyed all I am learning about Japanese Art together with its influence on Van Gogh, Redon and Boies Hopkins. In some ways I think that is an argument for the essay to look at the influence on just one of these artists, there is plenty to write about, but I think my essay benefits from looking at the three artists as you can then compare and contrast the different ways in which they reacted to the influences.

Talking about the influence of Japanese art, in my research I came across Surimono, which were high quality woodblock prints which contained an image and a poem. Often they were produced by poetry groups in the Edo period who commissioned an artist to create an image in response to a poem that had been written. I was taken with this concept and adopted (appropriated) the idea to work with a published poet on combined work of image and poem.

We have produced 14 so far and are both keen to continue – but it has helped me to understand how the artist were influenced by Japanese art. Once you see something that you would like to use in your own work, it becomes a very powerful driver.

© Poem Anne Osbourn and Photograph Bob Coe

 

Curation/Contamination Workshop with Bryan Eccleshall

This was a two part workshop run by OCA tutor Bryan Eccleshall. We were a large group overall, but split into a number of smaller breakout groups for the exercise we undertook.

Bryan introduced the session by talking about curating exhibitions and the contamination (or cross pollination) that can happen when you curate a show and how it may affect your own work. He gave examples of different exhibitions that had been created that each had very different effects, e.g. the Royal Academy summer exhibition where large numbers of works are displayed tightly packed, with little space between them; to surrealist exhibitions such as First Papers of Surrealism exhibition in New York in 1942 where Michel Duchamp famously  used ‘a mile of string’ to form a spider’s web blocking access to the work.

The concept being that how you view art, how it is displayed and how you work collaborate with others to curate an exhibition can also influence your own art work.

We split into smaller groups of around six students (mine was called the Bourgeois group) and were told to each bring two pieces of work and collaborate to curate an exhibition. It was excellent in that we were from different disciplines and stages of our study. We share our work and decided on a format for the exhibition inspired by Duchamp’s Boite en Valise exhibition which was a suitcase containing 69 miniature reproductions of his own work.

We decided that our exhibition would be a virtual one where our images would appear out of a suitcase. We worked to create links between our images and came up with the idea of the theme of location and dislocation which the works would relate to, our title for our exhibition was Location, Location, Dislocation.

In the second week every group presented their exhibition and it was quite remarkable how differently each group had interpreted the theme and curated their own images.

What did I learn from the workshop? Quite a number of things:

  • working with artists from other genres can open your eyes to different ways of doing or seeing things
  • making connections between what seemed initially to be very disparate work
  • how, through discussion, work can be interpreted in different ways
  • seeing how other artists interpret the task set and learn from that
  • quite a few technical aspects, flip books, online gallery software, using padlet to collaborate, , turning powerpoint into a video.

 

Our presentation can be seen here Location. Location, Dislocation

Close Reading Workshop with Vicky MacKenzie

This was one of the first online tutorials that OCA have organised since the start of lockdown. It was run by creative writing tutor Vicky MacKenzie. I signed up for the course as I was interested in the topic generally, but as I have been looking at Japanese Surimono (printed sheet containing image and poem) I thought it would be really useful in that respect.

The workshop involved examining two texts: an extract from The Voyage of the Narwhal by Andrea Barrett; and the poem Ironing by Vicki Feaver from her collection The Handless Maiden.

In the first piece we discussed what was happening and who was the narrator – what point of view did they have and could they be considered reliable. If in the third person, perhaps can often be considered reliable. We went on to discuss  about what period the scene was set in and where was it set.

We were given a long list of questions that could be asked when close reading a text. It was emphasised that while we wouldn’t necessarily use them on everything we read, but it would enable us to read more critically and analytically in the future.

We then looked at the poetry and I think this was really useful for my future work. The questions to be asked here were:

  • who is the speaker,
  • what format is used in the poem – (free verse, sonnet, etc),
  • look at stanza breaks – do these affect the rhythm and how
  • how does the line length affect the poem, are they short or long, regular or not, and how does this affect the poem
  • look at the last word on each line, are they significant – a poet often places important words at the end of a line
  • is there a rhyme scheme and what kind of rhythm does the poem have
  • are there sound effects from the words – alliteration, assonance or consonance
  • do you pause in places – if so what causes it and why would the poet have done that

 

It was an excellent workshop and one that will be of great use in my Body of Work as I continue to develop my Surimono type images.

There is a further question I could add to Vick’s list when it comes to a poem and an image, how does each relate to the other?

For example, the following image is one I have worked on with a published poet:

On first reading many people may recognise ‘Queen of the Night’ as a variety of tulip, they may also have heard of it as a character in an opera. When I sent this photo to Anne (the poet I am working with) I also mentioned the Babylonian history of the Queen of the Night (Ereshkigal) and that there was a carved sculpture of this character in the British Museum – I had even written about it on my History of Art 2 course Queen of the Night.

What I find really interesting, and would reward close reading, is how the poem works with the image. The ancient Babylonian story relates how Ereshkigal lured Ishtar into her underworld realm and reduced her powers by requiring her to pass through seven gateways, leaving an item of clothing with the  watchman at each gate. By the seventh gate Ishtar had discarded all her clothes and with them her power.

Tutor Feedback on Assignment 3

I had good feedback on my 3rd Assignment, I need to finalise the research question as I am probably going too deep at the moment into the concepts of Japonisme and Orientalism. Although these are both intrinsic to the work I am doing I shouldn’t spend too much time discussing whether Japonisme is a form of Orientalism – it is – and although there is more to discuss on it, I shouldn’t get too bogged down on that aspect of the essay.

My existing data collection was good but I probably needed to build on it and I could well benefit from looking at several floral images from each artist rather than selecting just one.

It was suggested that  in future I avoid using terms like ‘Orient’ or ‘East’ or ‘West’ which are all constructs and it would be much better to be more specific e.g. ‘Japanese art’ or Dutch art’. I will bear this in mind as I write more and will go through what I have written so far to use more appropriate (and accurate) terms. I did raise the question about using quotes that contain such terms, as a number of the texts were written when such terms were in widespread use. It seems that it is OK to use such quotes, but to be aware of their appropriateness.

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.