Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Hokusai is undeniably appealing.

The Great Wave of Kanagawa by Katsushika Hokusai
1829-1833, Color Woodcut, 25.7 cm × 37.8 cm

You know, truth be told I was really going to use another woodcut by Hokusai because this one is just so popular, but then I realized that is even more of a reason to explain it. This image is as common as Michelangelo's David or Leonardo's Mona Lisa, it's in practically every surfer's home, either to make them seem artsy or because it's a "wicked wave." It's in one bazillion dorms rooms, one bazillion stores, and surfing brands such as Quicksilver, took it and marketed it like crazy putting it on purses, board shorts, and surfboards.  But what saddens me the most about the popularity of the piece is the idea that so many people don't even know the artist and how amazing he was. The history behind the piece is so rich that it definitely deserves some attention. The Great Wave of Kanagawa comes from the ukiyo-e series Thirty Six Views of Mt. Fiji. Already there are a ton of things to address, so let's get started!

First, what the heck is ukiyo-e? Well the English translation for the word "ukiyo" is something like "floating world" but that doesn't help to explain much. Ukiyo-e is basically a genre of Japanese art where the artist focused on more naturalistic aspects of the world. Here's where the "floating world" aspect might a little bit of sense. Ukiyo-e artists concenrated on the fleeting beauty of the world and tried best to ignore the responsibility side of life, thus floating illustrates not being tied down to world things. Also, ukiyo-e brought about an art that could be appreciated by the mass, as they were easy to reproduce thus making them affordable. This style of art was not discovered by Westerners until around the 19th century, so Japanese ukiyo-e prints are unique and most importantly- inspirational.

Why I love and acknowledge Hokusai is not merely because his work is breath-taking, but because his work inspired a little group of artists we like to call the Impressionists. So many people don't know this simple fact, but the Impressionists were obsessed with Japanese prints and you can see evidence of Japanese influence in so many works (I will feature one soon just to show you!) Thus Japanese artists influenced Western artists, however the relationship went in both directions. Hokusai adapted Western techniques like perspective and realistic shadows in many of his prints. In fact, without perspective his Thiry-six Views of Mt. Fiji would loose a lot of appeal.

Oh right, I haven't explained the 36 views things. Well The Great Wave of Kanagawa is part of a 36 piece series depicting just what you would think- 36 views of Mt. Fiji. If you look at all of them you see how clever Hokusai was. I mean he traveled all around this mountain and with his artistic mind came up with over 36 ways to see the mountain in all it's beauty. Oh yeah, it's called Thirty Six Views of Mt. Fiji, but there are actually 46, guess he couldn't stop.

Okay like Warhol, Hokusai just has to be featured more because I still have a ton I could say about him. Nevertheless, Hokusai is just beautiful. There is such an appeal to Japanese art. I mean how many people do you know that has some type of Japanese related thing tattooed on them? Shoot, I have cherry blossoms on my back in a very Hokusai-ish style. To put it simply, Japanese art is just unavoidably beautiful just as...

Hokusai is undeniably appealing.


  1. Another thing that can be said about Hokusai is that he elevated the block print from practical use to art form- just like Warhol did for the silkscreen.

  2. My favorite piece of art. Ever.

  3. Beautiful....a very familiar art piece I've seen much over the years and never knew the artist, the name or the time frame in which it was done. Most interesting that it influenced Impressionist, I'm learning so much, thanks!

  4. Nicole, what a great comparison! You should write a comparison entry on Hokusai vs. Warhol. I would but my blog is more one artist one entry type thing, I think it would fit better in yours. Plus, you know a ton more!

    Witharmstohold, not sure who you are but it's a good favorite piece!

    Mom, glad you liked it!

  5. I did! Well, sort of.