Katsushika Hokusai's Chinese Boys Learning to Write and Paint (1785) is housed at the Metropolitan Museum of Art. It is from the Edo period and done as a woodblock print, ink and color on paper (Metropolitan, 2013). Researching the Edo period, one finds that the time was characterized by more strict social order, isolationism, economic growth, and a push towards art and culture. For most scholars, this was a period of relative stability for Japan, broken in the 19th century (around 1867) with the end of isolationism, the rise of the peasant class, and issues with the Dutch, other Europeans and the United States (Jansen, 2002). Hokusai was a printmaker, painter and artist known primarily in modern times for The Great Wave off Kanagawa (Figure 1), but also changed the form and subject of his works into a number of different social and cultural levels. He was obsessed with images of daily life, and wanted to express through an artistic means the way of Japanese culture -- not just for the elite, but for all levels. Overall, looking at his works, one notes that he was more focused on realism and expression than many of his contemporaries -- certainly, his works are clearly Japanese and clearly stylized, but his subtle use of expression was not all that common with his contemporaries (Frederic, 2002).Figure 1 - The Great Wave of Kanagwa
The work is very detailed, and includes five students and a professor/teacher. The setting appears to be a studio in which the students are learning and practicing their art/writing skills. The colors are relatively soft and muted, very detailed and stylized. There is a mix of nature throughout the work -- themes of mountains, trees, flowers, and even botanicals (A) that help move the eye from left to upper right (B) (Figure 2):B
Each student seems to have some sort of ornate floral pattern on theirC
Kimono, likely part of the cultural celebration of the natural world. Note too, the contrast between the ornateness of the floral patterns and designs, and the starkness of the shaped sticks that two of the students work. This suggests that there is a pattern of teaching that moves from the simple to the ornate, but that the most important issue is the adherence to the correct form (C ). It is also interesting that the dry branches seem to form beauty in the same manner as florid writing.
Expressions are quite interesting in this work, and seem to range from puzzlement (1), pride (2), questioning (3), to apt interest (4, 7). Too, the professor seems very calm (5), as he looks at a student's presentation, but holds open a book, suggesting that he is either comparing the work or using something else to instruct the student. The book appears to be from a revered set of materials (6) that are part of an inlayed container, prominently placed for reference. 7
From a cultural standpoint, though, the setting is obviously one of learning, but it does not reflect the…
Sources Used in Document:
Frederic, L. (2002). Japan Encyclopedia. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press.
Jansen, M. (2002). The Making of Modern Japan. Boston, MA: Harvard University Press.
Metropolitan Museum of Art. (2013). Chinese Boys learning to Write and Paint. Retrieved from: http://metmuseum.org/Collections/search-the-collections/37191?rpp=20&pg= 1&ft=*&when=A.D.+1600-1800&what=Paper&who=Katsushika+Hokusai&pos=3