Japanese Art: Capturing the Fleeting Beauty in Life

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Did you know that almost 85% of Asian-Americans in the U.S. are comprised of six major groups — Korean, Vietnamese, Filipino, Indian, Chinese and Japanese? In fact, Asian Americans make up 6% of the U.S. population, and Japanese-Americans account for 1.3 million people of the U.S. population.

While this is a relatively small number compared to the total population, it’s safe to say that Japanese culture has had a profound impact on the entire world. And one important part of culture is art.

Aesthetic Serves as the Basis of Great Art
The history of Japanese art reaches back thousands of years. In general, Japanese art frequently functions as an examination of unique polarities. You may recognize the yin-yang concept found in Chinese philosophy and art. This, like many things, was shared with Japan and ultimately found new ground there in Japan’s art, sculptures, and calligraphy. Simplicity, like rock gardens, and natural movement, such as paintings in the Yamato-e style, are two common themes throughout Japanese art styles. Wabi (transient, fleeting beauty) and Sabi (natural grace) are two important ideals in Japanese art; combined, they essentially capture the idea of the beauty of aging and imperfection.

When it comes to specific styles, ukiyo-e, or woodblock prints, are likely some of the most recognizable Japanese art pieces in the west. Ukiyo-e art depicts everything from sumo wrestlers to popular landscapes. Although we now identify this style as Japanese, some of the earliest ukiyo-e prints were influenced by the paper Dutch merchents would package their wares in. Artists like Hokusai and Hiroshige popularized woodblock prints of landscapes, which previously had been far less popular than portraits. Widely acknowledged as masters of the ukiyo-e craft, the style largely declined after their deaths.

Japanese Tea Houses as Art
An important part of the tea ceremony is the tea bowls used. Potters creating these tea bowls emphasized the unique patterns that the glazes, shape of the bowls, and heat of the kiln produced. Any designs were typically applied with an unrestrained hand to capture the sensation of “wabi.”

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