It is said that Japanese people have a delicate sense of beauty. Since the 8th century, they have been reflecting on the universe and describing the transient essence of life and nature. Snow, moon and flowers; the subtleness of love; the sorrows of parting… Songs and poetry books of that era, like the Man’yoshu, recorded many aspects of the human experience.
Science defines “synaesthesia” as “a sensation produced in one modality when a stimulus is applied to another modality, as when the hearing of a certain sound induces the visualisation of a certain colour”… This is how Japanese sensibility defines it:
In kabuki theatre, snow is represented by the low sound of the drum. Snow does not actually make any sound when falling, but for the Japanese people, the slow and muffled beating of a unique drum tastefully evokes the scenery of a snowing silent night.
Synaesthesia permeates Japanese art, traditional culture and daily life. One often hears the tinkles of furin during the hot Japanese summer. People believe that the sounds of those tiny bells shaken by the wind ease the mind and cool down the body. Likewise, kimono patterns, lacquer wares and other traditional crafts always aim at tickling several of our senses at the same time.
Nowadays, Japanese artists build upon this cultural heritage while exploring new trajectories and paradigms in their artistic endeavour.
Japanese Art Nowadays
Japanese art can be in many ways paradoxical. It is sometimes minimalist yet extremely detailed. There can be conflict between time-honoured traditions and modern subculture. Japanese artists and galleries wish to expand internationally but are often reluctant to open up to foreigners.
Communication with the outside world has always been Japan’s weak point. In a market still dominated by a Western way of thinking and doing business, Japanese artists need to acquire the skills to interact within this system. Being able to rationally explain one’s works and concept and engaging artistically and philosophically with foreign artists should be the key in promoting Japanese art to a wider audience.
There are indubitably many talented artists in Japan. Sadly, they generally remain anonymous, both in the Western world and, surprisingly, in their own country. Influential world-famous Japanese contemporary artists are still very few. One may think of Yayoi Kusama, Takashi Murakami or Yoshitomo Nara. Photographer Araki has popularized so more obscure facets of Japanese culture like artistic rope restraining, while Yoshihara Jiro created the Gutai movement which influenced many performance artists in the West.
It is often said that “art is a universal language”. We believe it is not. The meaning of an artwork, the reasons behind its inception and its cultural background, all vary according to time and place. Cultural differences may interfere in the comprehension of an artwork. Even within a unique cultural frame, art can be misunderstood if the artist and the viewer are from different eras. Education and knowledge are the keys to a better understanding of art, worldwide.
Art Curator Japan hopes that through its different projects, Japanese art will be more appreciated abroad and that Japanese and foreign artists will be able to exchange ideas and create new artistic directions in the future.