Saturday, June 5, 2010

Japanese Abstraction

For our last day in Japan we went to the Mori Art Museum to see what one of our professors called, “The pulse of modern Japanese art.” It was… different. Modern art is not really my cup of tea, so I have to say that I enjoyed previous museums better. But the exhibition had a theme that I have seen throughout my stay in Japan: abstraction.

The idea of the abstract is nothing new in Japan. Dating all the way back to the Kofun period's haniwa dolls, many artistic Japanese artifacts are obviously not trying to mirror the world. Probably the most famous example is the typical Asian lion. None of the statues of lions look like real lions, but that is what they are and that is what everyone accepts them to be. Another example is Japanese calligraphy. Calligraphy can be so abstract that even Japanese people can’t read it but there is still a deep appreciation for it. I’ve noticed that Japanese people are far more appreciative of abstraction in Japanese art than Westerners, as seen by the dwindling amount of non-Japanese in the modern art part of the museum and the crowds of non-Japanese in the Boston Western Art exhibit.

I think that this appreciation comes from what most people refer to as the “Japanese heart.” Japan is a very homogenous and conformity-oriented culture and people, so Japanese already know surface values and ideas. This allows artists to go even farther with abstraction, because no one needs to play catch-up. This is a sharp contrast to Westerners, who often have to bridge cultural gaps to make their message understood. As a Westerner, I have to say that I am able to appreciate Western art better than Japanese art. But who knows, perhaps if I study more I can finally understand the Japanese heart, and dive in to the remarkable world of Japanese abstraction.

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