Tuesday, July 17, 2007

an element always interesting to consider, but never wholly knowable, is intent. even the person who believes they know their own intent may not. so how to speak of the international flow and flux of art and ideas.

to what extent, and i'm sure it was some, was the west's fascination with japan and all things japanese a search for (the illusion of) the simpler life. the industrial revolution had made cities louder and dirtier; how attractive then the 'peaceful'

(unencumbered by the last two century's innovations) images of that eastern nation, or even the coasts and countrysides of their own.

even the japanese, meiji period on out, designed to that desire in the west, so here we have japanese art from that period, plus several, again, of the pictorialist photographers who, along with their leader stieglitz, were busy making a new branch of art.

how much of this all was 'conscious,' the grasp and re-creation of a more bucolic reality than ever may have existed? and to whom?

Sunday, July 8, 2007

elongated, vertical art was also not seen in the west until japanese scrolls were encount- ered. it is no accident that steichen used this form for his self-portrait (and the poster he made for the whole movement), or stieglitz for one of his most iconic images. (i couldn't find a moon photo, surprisingly! in this particular shape.)

and another important element of the design of the time, learned, again, from the japanese, that i more or less left out yesterday, is asymmetry. (there are numerous other things too, but they more have to do with other arts.)

see for yourself the near- ly ubiquitous occurrence of all of these traits at a wonderful site here. not stieglitz or steichen, or even coburn alone, but an entire era of photography was deeply, and beautifully, grounded across the sea.

Monday, June 11, 2007

towards less obscure....

a book i took out of the library today (great photographers--a time-life book, published in 1971) says this about the photo to the right:

'[clarence h.] white's preference for unassuming subjects is seen in this view of his home town, newark, ohio. with meticulous care, he creates a still life of geometric patterns, exaggerating the foreground for effect and cropping the width of the print to accentuate the tall, skinny telephone poles.'


for some reason, there still seems to be very little recognition of the obvious japonisme in photographs, even when they are readily acknowledged in woodblock prints.

clarence h. white learned his style from arthur wesley dow; while the japanese prints themselves were hitting europe, it was dow who brought the design philosophy to americans.

gertrude kasebier studied with dow as well, and, obviously, in the same place.

as did margaret jordan patterson.

isn't it fascinating to note that what is so obvious to many of us now could have been so obscure as recently as 1971.

there will be a lot more on this, some wonderful photos.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

holding the moon

been thinking a lot today, about the nature of holidays and the holidays of nature. in japan, the blossoming of the cherry trees calls for cherry-viewing parties at the highest levels.

in persia, the first day of the spring
is new year's day.

yes, we have nature-based holidays. our spring holidays are easter and passover. these are really celebrating the equinox as much as chanukah and christmas
celebrate the solstice.

but for the japanese, it's much more conscious. something about us being part of nature, nature being part of us, has not been lost.

van gogh may have been right, writing his brother about the regard with which the japanese hold a single blade of grass. the blossoming of the trees is cause for poetry.
this is ono no komachi writing a poem.
could this sad poem be it?

How invisibly

it changes color
in this world,
the flower

of the human heart.

(Chikanobu Toyohara, Shunzan Katsukawa,
Nobukazu Watanabe, Arthur Wesley Dow,
Gesso Yoshimoto, poem from Ink Dark Moon, tr. Hirshfield/Aratani.)