Update 5

Although I visited  a lot of museums, etc. I haven’t written so much about those experiences, so that’s what I’ll focus on in this post. In July I went to the Ota Memorial Museum of Art in Harajuku, for an exhibition they had on the works of Katsushika Hokusai. He’s most well known, in Japan and abroad, for his painting The Great Wave off Kanagawa. If people know any more about him, it’s probably still limited to his other ukiyoe work, for example the 38 views of Mount Fuji (which is about the extent of what I knew before going to this exhibit). What the museum had on display was from his work called Hokusai Manga. There were several books, or collections of pages of ink drawings. Hokusai’s Manga was his project to depict everything in existence. There was a huge section of his drawings of animals and plants, which included multiple views of animals sitting still or in motion, like showing a bat flying and sleeping, or animals interspersed with plants like in the wild. What I found most interesting were his drawings of a whale and a lion. They’re not really accurate to what those animals look like, so it’s obvious that he must have been influenced by the way lions are depicted by other artists. It was especially reminiscent of the Chinese style lions. Re: the whale, I don’t know what would’ve been a source of inspiration other than that he must have seen parts of a whale, or seen a skeleton, or just drawn it based on stories he heard. Some of the other things he painted included scenes of daily life and yokai (monsters). The scenes of daily life ranged from pictures showing rice harvesting to humorous pictures of out of work samurai.

Part of Hokusai's Manga. (https://classconnection.s3.amazonaws.com/8/flashcards/3243008/png/hokusai_manga-13E80EE9D567F92A79B.png)

Part of Hokusai’s Manga. (https://classconnection.s3.amazonaws.com/8/flashcards/3243008/png/hokusai_manga-13E80EE9D567F92A79B.png)



I also visited several other museums and historical places (e.g. Nijō Castle, Tōdaiji) in Kyoto, Osaka, and Nara. Nijō Castle was built in the Edo Period for the Tokugawa family, and the inside walls and doors of all the rooms were painted with scenes of animals and trees and flowers. I went to the Kyoto National Museum and saw a lot of Buddhist art and sculptures. All of this made me think about the different functions artists played in society. Hokusai functioned as a distributor of information by painting animals, etc. that people wouldn’t have known about or ever seen themselves. Artists also commonly got commissioned to do work for private residences and temples, and the things they made reflected who they were being made for. That system is a lot different from how we think about artists today; I think art is more personal now in that artists make what they want to make, and since art is more accessible you don’t have to be an artist to make art. Anyone can draw or paint or sculpt, and so art can be a lot more personal since people make stuff for themselves or for friends. This personalization of art is also possible because the way we disseminate information as societies has also changed a lot. Visual media is generally accessible to everyone in a way that written media wasn’t when there was a lower literacy rate. Now things that might have been conveyed by paintings can be better conveyed in writing, or videos, or photography. The function of painting and painters has changed a lot, in the sense that the pool of things you can express only through painting has changed. Applying this line of thinking to my own project, I tried to make something that really embraced the medium of painting and that couldn’t be expressed in another medium.

IMG_5695 IMG_5699 IMG_5708 IMG_5719

So this is what I’ve been doing. I just started this painting from scratch and sketched out the different sections with paint. I broke the face into three colors, a dark, a mid, and a bright, but after I mixed the lighter colors my dark wasn’t dark enough so I had to go back later and repaint that color.



  1. cemcgeady says:

    Hi Laura,
    I really enjoyed reading about your experiences, particularly your reflections on art and the purpose that artists played. It reminded me a lot of the functions of literature and poetry in Ancient Roman society. In many ways, artists and writers were used as a means to an end, like how a carpenter builds the house you tell them to build. Writers were commissioned for a purpose– Augustus commissioned poets to disseminate information about the imperial family. While this sustained them, it also biased them; if you’re paid to write about the imperial family, you’re probably not going to write bad things about them. Similarly, as you said, artists in Japan were disseminators of information or else a tool for those who could pay. Today, art is more appreciated for its own purpose rather than someone else’s, but I wonder if that’s not just because we have more effective means of influencing perception, like news outlets and mass media culture? Anyways, I really liked seeing the progression of your work and reading about your experiences. Great job!

  2. Laura, it was really interesting to follow your project in this blog. I am curious as to why Hokusai depicted lions and whales differently from his other subjects, any thoughts? Your explanation about artists being commissioned to work for private residences and temples, hence reflecting who they were made for was really thought-provoking. It made me think about a course that I have taken on Roman Civilization, we also discussed how patrons and the state influenced artists’ work. I am very much looking forward to hearing more about your project and looking at your work at the research showcase. Thank you for sharing the process.