Explore the Beautiful Pages of the 1902 Japanese Design Magazine Shin-Bijutsukai: European Modernism Meets Traditional Japanese Design

We read much about the role of Japanism in the art of late 19th Europe and North America. “The craze for all things Japanese,” writes the Art Institute of Chicago, “was launched in 1854 when American Commodore Matthew Perry forced Japan to recommence international trade after two centuries of virtual isolation.” Britain, the Continent, and the U.S. were awash in Japanese art and artifacts and ideas about the pre-industrial purity of Japanese forms proliferated. “Westerners were... drawn to traditional Japanese artistic expression because of its ties to the natural world. Japanese artists in all media treated the subjects of birds, flowers, landscapes, and the seasons.”

Westerners like Louis Comfort Tiffany emulated these patterns in their designs, and they appeared in the work of van Gogh and Gaugin. We may be familiar with how much the admiration for Japanese woodcuts, furniture, architecture, and poetry influenced Impressionism, the Arts and Crafts Movement, and early 20th century Modernism.

We may not know that the influence was mutual, with Japanese artists developing their own forms of Art Deco, European-influenced Modernism and a nationalist Japanese Arts and Crafts Movement called “Mingei” that was heavily inspired by earlier British artists who had themselves been inspired by the Japanese.

An earlier example of the cross-cultural exchange in the arts between Europe and Japan can be seen here in these prints from Shin-Bijutsukai (新美術海)... a Japanese design magazine that was edited by illustrator and designer Korin Furuya (1875-1910),” notes Spoon and Tamago. These images come from a collection of issues from 1901 to 1902, bound together in a huge 353-page design book (view it online at the Internet Archive or the Public Domain Review). We can see in the traditional images of flowers and birds the influence of industrial design as well as “hints of art nouveau and other influences of the time” from European graphic arts.

There was a reluctance among many Japanese artists to acknowledge their debts to Western artists, a symptom, writes Wendy Jones Nakanishi, professor at Shikoku Gakuin University, of “the ambivalence felt by many Japanese towards the rapid westernization of their country at the cost of the loss of indigenous cultural practices.” Despite the enormous popularity of Japanese art in Europe, “the ambivalence was mutual.” Many appeared to feel that “the subtle beauty of the Japanese art threatened European claims to cultural supremacy” when it appeared in Victorian exhibitions in London and elsewhere.

These fears aside, the meeting of many cultures in the exchanges between Europe and Japan helped to revitalize the arts and shake off stagnant classical traditions while responding in dynamic ways to rapid industrialization. The emphasis on folk and decorative art, brought into the realm of fine art, was culturally transformative in Europe. In Japan, the stylizations of modernist painting disrupted traditional scenes and techniques, as in the woodblock prints here and in the several hundred more in various issues of the monthly magazine. See them all at Public Domain Review.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

Salvador Dalí Explains Why He Was a “Bad Painter” and Contributed “Nothing” to Art (1986)

Not so very long ago, Salvador Dalí was the most famous living painter in the world. When the BBC's Arena came to shoot an episode about him in 1986, they asked him what that exalted state felt like. "I don't know if I am the most famous painter in the world," Dalí responds, "because lots of the people who ask for my autograph in the street don't know if I'm a singer, a film star, a madman, a writer — they don't know what I am." He was, in one sense or another, most of those things and others besides. But we can safely say, more than thirty years after his death, that Dalí will be remembered first for his visual art, with its vast seas and skies, its impossible beasts, its melting clocks. And what did Dalí himself believe he had contributed to art?

"Nothing," he says. "Absolutely nothing, because, as I've always said, I'm a very bad painter. Because I'm too intelligent to be a good painter. To be a good painter you've got to be a bit stupid, with the exception of Velázquez, who is a genius, whose talent surpasses the art of painting." In other words, when Dalí's ever-present detractors said he was no Velázquez, Dalí's wholeheartedly agreed.

Over the past few decades, appreciation of the distinctive combination of vision and technique on display in Dalí's paintings has won him more official respect (as well as a lavish new collection published in book form by Taschen), but the debate about to what extent he was a true artist and to what extent a calculatedly eccentric self-promoter will never fully simmer down.

Dalí also claimed to owe his life to painting badly. "The day Dalí paints a picture as good as Velázquez, Vermeer, or Raphael, or music like Mozart," he says, "the next week he'll die. So I prefer to paint bad pictures and live longer." That he had already entered his ninth decade by the time Arena came calling suggests that this strategy might have been effective, though he wasn't without his health troubles. In his first public appearance after having had a pacemaker implanted that same year, he declared that "When you are a genius, you do not have the right to die, because we are necessary for the progress of humanity." Dalí's kept his askew arrogance to the end, even through the controversial final years that saw him sign off on the large-scale production of shoddy lithographs of his paintings. About the people who made them and the people who bought them, Dalí had only this to say: "They deserve each other."

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles and the video series The City in Cinema. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall, on Facebook, or on Instagram.

Thomas Jefferson’s Great-Great-Great-Great-Great-Great Grandson Poses for a Presidential Portrait

We hold these truths to be self-evident: that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness…  —Thomas Jefferson, 3rd President of the United States of America

He was a brilliant man who preached equality, but he didn’t practice it. He owned people. And now I’m here because of it. —Shannon LaNier, co-author of Jefferson’s Children: The Story of One American Family

Many of the American participants in photographer Drew Gardner's ongoing Descendants project agreed to temporarily alter their usual appearance to heighten the historic resemblance to their famous ancestors, adopting Elizabeth Cady Stanton’s lace cap and sausage curls or Frederick Douglass’ swept back mane.

Actor and television presenter Shannon LaNier submitted to an uncomfortable, period-appropriate neckwrap, tugged into place with the help of some discreetly placed paperclips, but skipped the wig that would have brought him into closer visible alignment with an 1800 portrait of his great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather, Thomas Jefferson.

“I didn’t want to become Jefferson,” states LaNier, whose great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother, Sally Hemings, was written out of the narrative for most of our country’s history.

An enslaved half-sister of Jefferson’s late wife, Martha, Hemings was around sixteen when she bore Jefferson’s first child, as per the memoir of her son, Madison, from whom LaNier is also directly descended.

She has been portrayed onscreen by actors Carmen Ejogo and Thandie Newton (and Maya Rudolph in an icky Saturday Night Live skit.)

But there are no photographs or painted portraits of her, nor any surviving letters or diary entries. Just two accounts in which she is described as attractive and light-skinned, and some political cartoons that paint an unflattering picture.

The mystery of her appearance might make for an interesting composite portrait should the Smithsonian, who commissioned Gardner’s series, seek to entice all of LaNier’s female and female-identifying cousins from the Hemings line to pose.

While LaNier was aware of his connection to Jefferson from earliest childhood, his peers scoffed and his mother had to take the matter up with the principal after a teacher told him to sit down and stop lying. As he recalled in an interview:

When they didn’t believe me, it became one of those things you stop sharing because, you know, people would make fun of you and then they’d say, “Yeah, and I’m related to Abraham Lincoln.”

His family pool expanded when Jefferson’s great-great-great-great-grandson, journalist Lucian King Truscott IVwhose fifth great-grandmother was Martha Jeffersonissued an open invitation to Hemings’ descendants to be his guests at a 1999 family reunion at Monticello.

It would be another 20 years before the Thomas Jefferson Foundation and Monticello tour guides stopped framing Hemings’ intimate connection to Jefferson as mere tattle.

Now visitors can find an exhibit dedicated to her life, both online and in the recently reopened house-museum.

Truscott lauded the move in an essay on Salon, published the same week that a yearbook photo of Virginia Governor Ralph Northam in blackface posing next to a figure in KKK robes began to circulate:

Monticello is committing an act of equality by telling the story of slave life there, and by extension, slave life in America. When my cousins in the Hemings family stand up and proudly say, we are descendants of Thomas Jefferson, they are committing an act of equality…. The photograph you see here is a picture of who we are as Americans. One day, a photograph of two cousins, one black and one white, will not be seen as unusual. One day, acts of equality will outweigh acts of racism. Until that day, however, Shannon and I will keep fighting for what’s right. And one day, we will win.

Watch a video of Jefferson descendant Shannon Lanier’s session with photographer Drew Gardner here.

See more photos from Gardner’s Descendents project here.

Read historian Annette Gordon-Reed's New York Times op-ed on the complicated Hemings-Jefferson connection here.

via Petapixel

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

An Immaculate Copy of Leonardo’s The Last Supper Digitized by Google: View It in High Resolution Online

Romantic poets told us that great art is eternal and transcendent. They also told us everything made by human hands is bound to end in ruin and decay. Both themes were inspired by the rediscovery and renewed fascination for the arts of antiquity in Europe and Egypt. It was a time of renewed appreciation for monumental works of art, which happened to coincide with a period when they came under considerable threat from looters, vandals, and invading armies.

One work of art that appeared on the itinerary of every Grand Touring aristocrat, Leonardo’s da Vinci’s fresco The Last Supper in Milan, was made especially vulnerable when the refectory in which it was painted became an armory and stable for Napoleon’s troops in 1796. The soldiers scratched out the apostles’ eyes and lobbed rocks at the painting. Later, in 1800, Goethe wrote of the room flooding with two feet of water, and the building was also used as a prison.

As every curator and conservationist knows well, grand ideas about art gloss over important details. Art is bound to particular cultures, histories and materials. One of Leonardo’s most influential frescoes during the Renaissance, for example, almost completely melted right after he finished it, due to his insistence on using oils, which he also mixed with tempera in The Last Supper. Just a few decades after that painting's completion, one Italian writer would describe it as “blurred and colorless compared with what I remember of it when I saw it as a boy.”

Historical decay is one thing. Recent fires at Brazil’s National Museum and Notre Dame served as stark reminders that accidents and poor planning can rob the world of cherished cultural treasures all at once. Institutions have been digitizing their collections with as much detail and precision as possible. For their part, England’s Royal Academy of Arts has partnered with Google Arts & Culture to render several of their most prized works online, including a copy of The Last Supper on canvas, made by Leonardo’s students from his original work.

More than any other contemporary description of the painting, this faithful copy, probably made by artists who worked on the fresco itself, provides art historians “key insights into the long-faded masterwork in Milan,” and lets us see the vivid shades that awed its first viewers. Presented in “Gigapixel clarity,” notes Artnet, the huge digital image with its “ultra high resolution” was “made possible by a proprietary Google camera.” As you zoom in to the tiniest details, facts appear about the painting and its larger, more battered original in Milan.

It is either a “miracle” that The Last Supper has survived, as Áine Cain writes at Business Insider, or the result of an “unending fight” to preserve the work, as Kevin Wong details at Endgadget. Or maybe some mysterious mixture of chance and near-heroic effort. But what has survived is not what Leonardo painted, but rather the best reconstruction to emerge from centuries of destruction and restoration. Get closer than anyone ever could to a facsimile of the original and see details from Leonardo’s work that have left no other trace in history. Explore it here.

via Smithsonian

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness


Explore 1,100 Works of Art by Georgia O’Keeffe: They’re Now Digitized and Free to View Online

Lake George Reflection (circa 1921) via Wikimedia Commons

What comes to mind when you think of Georgia O’Keeffe?

Bleached skulls in the desert?

Aerial views of clouds, almost cartoonish in their puffiness?

Voluptuous flowers (freighted with an erotic charge the artist may not have intended)?

Probably not Polaroid prints of a dark haired pet chow sprawled on flagstones…

Or watercolor sketches of demurely pretty ladies...

Or a massive cast iron abstraction…

If your knowledge of America’s most celebrated female artists is confined to the gift shop’s greatest hits, you might enjoy a leisurely prowl through the 1100+ works in the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum’s digital collection.

A main objective of this beta release is to provide a more complete understanding of the life and work of the iconic artist, who died in 1986 at the age of 98.

Her evolution is evident when you search by materials or date.

You can also view works by other artists in the collection, including two very significant men in her life, photographer Alfred Stieglitz and ceramicist Juan Hamilton.

Each item’s listing is enhanced with information on inscriptions and exhibitions, as well as links to other works produced in the same year.

If your explorations leave you in a creative mood, the museum’s website has devised a host of  O’Keeffe-inspired, all-ages creative assignments, such as an advertising challenge stemming from her 1939 trip to Hawaii to design promotional images for the Hawaiian Pineapple Company (now known as Dole).

Visit the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum’s online collection here. And watch a documentary introduction to O'Keeffee, narrated by Gene Hackman, below:

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine. Follow her @AyunHalliday.


How Georgia O’Keeffe Became Georgia O’Keeffe: An Animated Video Tells the Story

When Georgia O’Keeffe first saw the home in Abiquiú, in Northern New Mexico that she would purchase from the Catholic Church in 1945 “the 5,000-square-foot compound was in ruins,” writes the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum. The artist immediately seized on its potential: “As I climbed and walked about in the ruin,” she remembers, “I found a patio with a very pretty well house and bucket to draw up water. It was a good-sized patio with a long wall with a door on one side. That wall with a door in it was something I had to have.”

Designated a National Historic Landmark in 1998, the “pueblo-style adobe (mud brick) hacienda” became one of the most renowned of artists’ houses, associated as closely with O’Keeffe as Frida Kahlo’s Blue House is with her work. O’Keeffe moved to the Southwest for good in 1949, three years after her husband Alfred Stieglitz’s death. Her spiritual connection to the region began with a visit to Taos in 1929, and she continued to visit and paint the area throughout the 30s and 40s.

The story about her discovery of the famous house—photographed hundreds of times by her and dozens of others—seems emblematic of the decades of decisive, mature painting and photography. Her vision seems supremely confident and entirely sui generis—a passionate way of seeing as distinctive as van Gogh’s. But like van Gogh, and every other famous artist, O’Keeffe served an apprentice period, which at the turn of the 20th century meant learning classical techniques. Once in New York, she became known for experimental paintings of skyscrapers and her stunning abstract flowers.

In the TED-Ed lesson above by Iseult Gillespie, we learn how O’Keeffe turned her early formal training into her first series of abstract drawings, in charcoal. These works “defy easy classification, suggesting, but never quite matching, any specific natural reference.” O’Keeffe mailed the drawings to a friend in New York, who showed them to Stieglitz, who “became entranced." Soon after, he arranged her first exhibit. Her student days at an end, she moved to New York in 1918 and quickly became associated with a circle of American Modernists.

She married Stieglitz, but O’Keeffe’s path would take her away from her husband, and from the metropolitan centers most associated with early 20th century Modernism, and into the hermetic desert solitude for which she became known—a path the painter Agnes Martin would follow decades later. O’Keeffe’s process was that of a desert ascetic—“based on ritual and close observation. She paid meticulous attention to small details, and spent hours mixing paints to find exactly the right colors.” She kept track of her blazing palette with handmade color cards.

O’Keeffe’s work has often been reduced to prurient speculation about the resemblance of her flowers to female genitalia, a Freudian lens she categorically dismissed: “She resented the male gaze that dominated the art world and demanded her work be respected for its emotional evocation of the natural world.” See high-resolution scans of O’Keeffe’s body of work, from the 1900s to the 1980s, at the Georgia O’Keeffe Collections Online and learn more about her at the Georgia O’Keeffe Museum Library and Archive.

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

John Trumbull’s Famous 1818 Painting Declaration of Independence Virtually Defaced to Show Which Founding Fathers Owned Slaves

Statues of slaveholders and their defenders are falling all over the U.S., and a lot of people are distraught. What’s next? Mount Rushmore? Well… maybe no one’s likely to blow it up, but some honesty about the “extremely racist” history of Mount Rushmore might make one think twice about using it as a limit case.

On the other hand, a sandblasting of the enormous Klan monument in Stone Mountain, Georgia—created earlier by Rushmore sculptor Gutzon Borglum—seems long overdue.

We are learning a lot about the history of these monuments and the people they represent, more than any of us Americans learned in our early education. But we still hear the usual defense that slaveholders were only men of their time—many were good, pious, and gentle and knew no better (or they agonized over the question but, you know, everyone was doing it….) People subjected to the violence and horror of slavery mostly tended to disagree.

Before the Haitian Revolution terrified the slaveholding South, many prominent slaveholders, Jefferson and Washington included, expressed intellectual and moral disgust with slavery. They could not consider abolition, however (though Washington freed his slaves in his will). There was too much profit in the enterprise. As Jefferson himself wrote, “It [would] never do to destroy the goose.”

What we see when we look at the Revolutionary period is the fatal irony of a republic based on ideals of liberty, founded mostly by men who kept millions of people enslaved. The point is made vividly above in a virtual defacement of Declaration of Independence, John Trumbull’s famous 1818 painting which hangs in the U.S. Capitol rotunda. All of the founders’ faces blotted out by red dots were slaveowners. Only the few in yellow in the corresponding image freed the the people they enslaved.

These images were not made in this current summer of national uprisings but in August of 2019, “a bloody month that saw 53 people die in mass shootings in the US,” notes Hyperallergic. Their creator, Arlen Parsa sought to make a different point about the Second Amendment, but wrote forcefully about the founders' enslaving of others. “There were no gentle slaveholders,” writes Parsa. “Countless children were born into slavery and died after a relatively short lifespan never knowing freedom for even a minute.” Many of those children were fathered by their owners.

Some founding fathers paid lip service to the idea of slavery as a blight because it was obvious that kidnapping and enslaving people contradicted democratic principles. Slavery happened to be the primary metaphor used by Enlightenment philosophers and their colonial readers to characterize the tyrannical monarchism they opposed. The philosopher John Locke wrote slavery into the constitution of the Carolina colony, and profited from it through owning stock in the Royal African Company. Yet by his later, hugely influential Two Treatises, he had come to see hereditary slavery as “so vile and miserable an estate of man… that ‘tis hardly to be conceived” that anyone could uphold it.

There were, of course, slaveholding founders who resisted such talk and felt no compunction about how they made their money. But lofty principles or no, the U.S. founders were often on the defensive against non-slaveholding colleagues, who scolded and attacked them, sometimes with frank references to the rapes of enslaved women and girls. These criticisms were so common that Thomas Paine could write the case for slavery had been “sufficiently disproved” when he published a 1775 tract denouncing it and calling for its immediate end:

The managers of [the slave trade] testify that many of these African nations inhabit fertile countries, are industrious farmers, enjoy plenty and lived quietly, averse to war, before the Europeans debauched them with liquors… By such wicked and inhuman ways, the English are said to enslave towards 100,000 yearly, of which 30,000 are supposed to die by barbarous treatment in the first year…

So monstrous is the making and keeping them slaves at all… and the many evils attending the practice, [such] as selling husbands away from wives, children from parents and from each other, in violation of sacred and natural ties; and opening the way for adulteries, incests and many shocking consequences, for all of which the guilty masters must answer to the final judge…

The chief design of this paper is not to disprove [slavery], which many have sufficiently done, but to entreat Americans to consider:

With that consistency… they complain so loudly of attempts to enslave them, while they hold so many hundred thousands in slavery and annually enslave many thousands more, without any pretence of authority or claim upon them.

Jefferson squared his theory of liberty with his practice of slavery by picking up the fad of scientific racism sweeping Europe at the time, in which philosophers who profited, or whose patrons and nations profited, from the slave trade began to coincidentally discover evidence that enslaving Africans was only natural. We should know by now what happens when racism guides science....

Maybe turning those who willfully perpetuated the country’s most intractable, damning crime against humanity into civic saints no longer serves the U.S., if it ever did. Maybe elevating the founders to the status of religious figures has produced a widespread historical ignorance and a very specific kind of nationalism that are no longer tenable. Younger and future generations will settle these questions their own way, as they sort through the mess their elders have left them. As Locke also argued, in a paraphrase from American History professor Holly Brewer, “people do not have to obey a government that no longer protects them, and the consent of an ancestor does not bind the descendants: each generation must consent for itself.”

via Hyperallergic

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Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Durham, NC. Follow him at @jdmagness

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