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