An Online Archive of Beautiful, Early 20th Century Japanese Postcards

The world thinks of Japan as having transformed itself utterly after its defeat in the Second World War. And indeed it did, into what by the nineteen-eighties looked like a gleaming, technology-saturated condition of ultra-modernity. But the standard version of modernity, as conceived of in the early 20th century with its trains, telephones, and electricity, came to Japan long before the war did. “Between 1900 and 1940, Japan was transformed into an international, industrial, and urban society,” writes Museum of Fine Arts Boston curator Anne Nishimura Morse. “Postcards — both a fresh form of visual expression and an important means of advertising — reveal much about the dramatically changing values of Japanese society at the time.”

These words come from the introductory text to the MFA’s 2004 exhibition “Art of the Japanese Postcard,” curated from an archive you can visit online today. (The MFA has also published it in book form.) You can browse the vintage Japanese postcards in the MFA’s digital collections in themed sections like architecture, women, advertising, New Year’s, Art Deco, and Art Nouveau.


These represent only a tiny fraction of the postcards produced in Japan in the first decades of the twentieth century, when that new medium “quickly replaced the traditional woodblock print as the favored tableau for contemporary Japanese images. Hundreds of millions of postcards were produced to meet the demands of a public eager to acquire pictures of their rapidly modernizing nation.”

The earliest Japanese postcards “were distributed by the government in connection with the Russo-Japanese War (1904–5), to promote the war effort. Almost immediately, however, many of Japan’s leading artists — attracted by the informality and intimacy of the postcard medium — began to create stunning designs.” The work of these artists is collected in a dedicated section of the online archive, where you’ll find postcards by the commercial graphic-design pioneer Suguira Hisui; the French-educated, highly Western-influenced Asai Chi; the multitalented Ota Saburo, known as the illustrator of Kawabata Yasunari’s The Scarlet Gang of Asakusa; and Nakazawa Hiromitsu, creator of the “diver girl” long well-known among Japanese-art collectors.

Surprisingly, Nakazawa’s diver girl (also known as the “mermaid,” but most correctly as “Heroine Matsuzake” of a popular play at the time) seems not to have been among the possessions of cosmetics billionaire and art collector Leonard A. Lauder, who donated more than 20,000 Japanese selections from his vast postcard collection to the MFA. “In 1938 or ’39, a boy of five or six, or maybe seven, was so enthralled by the beauty of a postcard of the Empire State Building that he took his entire five-cent allowance and bought five of them,” writes the New Yorker‘s Judith H. Dobrzynski. The youngster thrilling to the paper image of a skyscraper was, of course, Lauder — who couldn’t have known how much, in that moment, he had in common with the equally modernity-intoxicated people on the other side of the world.

via Flashbak

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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.

The Rembrandt Book Bracelet: Behold a Functional Bracelet Featuring 1400 Rembrandt Drawings

Admittedly jewelry is not one of our areas of expertise, but when we hear that a bracelet costs €10,000, we kind of expect it to have a smattering of diamonds.

Designers Lyske Gais and Lia Duinker are getting that amount for a wristlet comprised chiefly of five large paper sheets printed with high res images downloaded free from the Rijksmuseum‘s extensive digital archive of Rembrandt drawings and etchings.

Your average pawnbroker would probably consider its 18-karat gold clasp, or possibly the custom-made wooden box in which it can be stored when not in use the most precious thing about this ornament.


An ardent bibliophile or art lover is perhaps better equipped to see the book bracelet’s value.

Each gilt edged page – 1400 in all – features an image of a hand, sourced from 303 downloaded Rembrandt works.

An illustration on the designers’ Duinker and Dochters website details the painstaking process whereby the bookbracelet takes shape in 8-page sections, or signatures, cross stitched tightly alongside each other on a paper band. Put it on, and you can flip through Rembrandt hands, Rolodex-style. When you want to do the dishes or take a shower, just pack it flat into that custom box.

Gais and Duinker also include an index, which is handy for those times when you don’t feel like hunting and pecking around your own wrist in search of a hand that appeared in the Flute Player or  Christ crucified between the two murderers.

The Rembrandt’s Hands and a Lion’s Paw bracelet, titled like a book and published in a limited edition of 10, nabbed first prize in the 2015 Rijksstudio Awards, a competition that challenges designers to create work inspired by the Rijksmuseum’s collection.

(2015’s second prize went to an assortment of conserves and condiments that harkened to Johannes Hannot’s 1668 Still Life with Fruit. 2014’s winner was a palette of eyeshadow and some eyeliners inspired by Jan Adam Kruseman’s 1833 Portrait of Alida Christina Assink and a Leendert van der Cooghen sketch.)

But what about that special art loving bibliophile who already has everything, including a Rembrandts Hands and a Lions Paw boekarmband?

Maybe you could get them Collier van hondjes, Gais and Duinker’s follow up to the book bracelet, a rubber choker with an attached 112-page book pendant showcasing Rembrandt dogs sourced from various museum’s digital collections.

Purchase Rembrandt’s Hands and a Lions Paw limited edition book bracelet here.

And embark on making your own improbable thing inspired by a high res image in the Rijksmuseum‘s Rijks Studio here.

via Colossal/Neatorama

– Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and creator, most recently of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

3,200-Year-Old Egyptian Tablet Records Excuses for Why People Missed Work: “The Scorpion Bit Him,” “Brewing Beer” & More

Image via The British Museum 

We marvel today at what we consider the wonders of ancient Egypt, but at some point, they all had to have been built by people more or less like ourselves. (This presumes, of course, that you’ve ruled out all the myriad theories involving supernatural beings or aliens from outer space.) Safe to say that, whenever in human history work has been done, work has been skipped, especially when that work is performed by large groups. It would’ve taken great numbers indeed to build the pyramids, but even less colossally scaled tombs couldn’t have been built alone. And when a tomb-builder took the day off, he needed an excuse suitable to be written in stone — on at any rate, on stone.

“Ancient Egyptian employers kept track of employee days off in registers written on tablets,” writes Madeleine Muzdakis at My Modern Met. One such artifact “held by the British Museum and dating to 1250 BCE is an incredible window into ancient work-life balance.” Called ostraca, these tablets were made of “flakes of limestone that were used as ‘notepads’ for private letters, laundry lists, records of purchases, and copies of literary works,” according to Egyptologist Jennifer Babcock.


Discovered along with thousands of others in the tomb builder’s village of Deir el-Medina, this particular ostracon, on view at the British Museum’s web site, offers a rich glimpse into the lives of that trade’s practitioners. Over the 280-day period covered by this 3,200-year-old ostracon, common excuses for absence include “brewing beer” and “his wife was bleeding.”

Beer, Muzdakis explains, “was a daily fortifying drink in Egypt and was even associated with gods such as Hathor. As such, brewing beer was a very important activity.” And alarming though that “bleeding” may sound, the reference is to menstruation: “Clearly men were needed on the home front to pick up some slack during this time. While one’s wife menstruating is not an excuse one hears nowadays, certainly the ancients seem to have had a similar work-life juggling act to perform.” Most of us today presumably have it easier than did the average ancient Egyptian laborer, or even artisan. Depending on where you live, maybe you, too, could call in sick to work with the excuse of having been bitten by a scorpion. But how well would it fly if you were to plead the need to feast, to embalm your brother, or to make an offering to a god?

via My Modern Met

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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 or on Facebook.

Google App Uses Machine Learning to Discover Your Pet’s Look Alike in 10,000 Classic Works of Art


Does your cat fancy herself a 21st-century incarnation of Bastet, the Egyptian Goddess of the Rising Sun, protector of the household, aka The Lady of Slaughter?

If so, you should definitely permit her to download the Google Arts & Culture app on your phone to take a selfie using the Pet Portraits feature.

Remember all the fun you had back in 2018 when the Art Selfie feature mistook you for William II, Prince of Orange or the woman in “Jacob Cornelisz. van Oostsanen Painting a Portrait of His Wife”?


Surely your pet will be just as excited to let a machine-learning algorithm trawl tens of thousands of artworks from Google Arts & Culture’s partnering museums’ collections, looking for doppelgängers.

Or maybe it’ll just view it as one more example of human folly, if a far lesser evil than our predilection for pet costumes.

Should your pet wish to know more about the artworks it resembles, you can tap the results to explore them in depth.

Dogs, fish, birds, reptiles, horses, and rabbits can play along too, though anyone hailing from the rodent family will find themselves shut out.

Mashable reports that “uploading a stock image of a mouse returned drawings of wolves.”

We can’t blame your pet snake for fuming.

Ditto your Vietnamese Pot-bellied pig.

Though your pet ferret probably doesn’t need an app (or a crystal ball) to know what its result would be. Better than an ermine collar, anyway…


If your pet is game and falls within Pet Portraits approved species parameters, here are the steps to follow:

  1. Launch the Google Arts & Culture app and select the Camera button. Scroll to the Pet Portraits option.
  2. Have your pet take a selfie. (Or alternatively, upload a saved image.)
  3. Give the app a few seconds (or minutes) to return multiple results with similarity percentages.

Download the Google Arts & Culture app here.

Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

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Tate Kids Presents Introductions to Art Movements: Cubism, Impressionism, Surrealism & More

Tate Kids has a solid grasp on the sort of hands on art-related content that appeals to children – Make a mud painting! Make a spaghetti sculpture! Photo filter challenge!

Children of all ages, grown ups who skipped out on art history included, will benefit from their breakneck overviews of entire art movements.

Take cubism.


The Tate Kids’ animation, above, provides a solid if speedy overview, zipping through eight canvases, six artists, and explanations of the movement’s two phases – analytical and synthetic. (Three phases if you count Orphism, the abstract, cubist influenced painting style married artists Robert and Sonia Delaunay hatched around 1912.)

Given the intended audience, the fond friendship between the fathers of cubism, Georges Braque and Pablo Picasso looms large, with nary a peep about Picasso’s narcissism and misogyny. And it must be said that the narrator’s tone grates a bit – a bit too loud, a bit too wowed.

The Impressionists come off as the real cool kids, with a different narrator, and nifty collage animations that find Camille Pissarro throwing horns and a Mohawked Alfred Sisley as they reject the Salon‘s insistence on “myths, battles and paintings of important people.”

Their defiant spirit is supported by criticism that most definitely has not stood the test of time:

Pure evil! 

Wallpaper! 

Like a monkey has got hold of a box of paints!

Kid presenters seize the controls for an introduction to the mid-century Japanese avant-garde movement, Gutai.

Their conclusion?

Smashing things up is fun!

As are manifestos:

Let’s bid farewell to the hoaxes piled up on the altars and in the palaces, the drawing rooms and the antique shops…Lock up these corpses in the graveyard!

Yay!

Those who are poorly equipped to stomach the narrators’ whizbang enthusiasm should take a restorative minutes to visit the museum oranges in hand, with 12-year-old Jaeda and 9-year-old Fatimatu. Their calm willingness to engage with conceptual art is a tonic:

When I started art, I though art was just about making it perfect, but you don’t have to care what other people say. That could still mean an art to you.

Watch a Tate Kids Art Movements playlist on YouTube. Supplement what you’ve learned with a host of Tate Kids activities, coloring pages, games, quizzes, artist bios and a gallery of crowdsourced kid art.

Related Content 

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Discover Khipu, the Ancient Incan Record & Writing System Made Entirely of Knots

Khipus, the portable information archives created by the Inca, may stir up memories of 1970s macrame with their long strands of intricately knotted, earth-toned fibers, but their function more closely resembled that of a densely plotted computerized spreadsheet.

As Cecilia Pardo-Grau, lead curator of the British Museum’s current exhibition Peru: a journey in time explains in the above Curators Corner episode, khipus were used to keep track of everything from inventories and census to historical narratives, using a system that assigned meaning to the type and position of knot, spaces between knots, cord length, fiber color, etc.


Much of the information preserved within khipus has yet to be deciphered by modern scholars, though the Open Khipu Repository — computational anthropologist Jon Clindaniel‘s open-source database — makes it possible to compare the patterns of hundreds of khipus residing in museum and university collections.

Even in the Incan Empire, few were equipped to make sense of a khipu. This task fell to quipucamayocs, high born administrative officials trained since childhood in the creation and interpretation of these organic spreadsheets.

Fleet messengers known as chaskis transported khipus on foot between administrative centers, creating an information superhighway that predates the Internet by some five centuries. Khipus’ sturdy organic cotton or native camelid fibers were well suited to withstanding both the rigors of time and the road.

A 500-year-old composite khipu that found its way to British Museum organics conservator Nicole Rode prior to the exhibition was intact, but severely tangled, with a brittleness that betrayed its age. Below, she describes falling under the khipu’s spell, during the painstaking process of restoring it to a condition whereby researchers could attempt to glean some of its secrets.

Visit Museo Chileno de Arte Precolombino’s website to learn more about khipu in a series of fascinating short articles that accompanied their groundbreaking 2003 exhibit QUIPU: counting with knots in the Inka Empire.

via Aeon.

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How the Inca Used Intricately-Knotted Cords, Called Khipu, to Write Their Histories, Send Messages & Keep Records

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Ayun Halliday is the Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine and author, most recently, of Creative, Not Famous: The Small Potato Manifesto.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

Download 215,000 Japanese Woodblock Prints by Masters Spanning the Tradition’s 350-Year History

If you enjoy Japanese woodblock prints, that appreciation puts you in good company: with Vincent van Gogh, for example, and perhaps even more flatteringly, with many of your fellow readers of Open Culture. So avid is the interest in ukiyo-e, the traditional Japanese “pictures of the floating world,” that you might even have missed one of the large, free online collections we’ve featured over the years. Take, for instance, the one made available by the Van Gogh Museum itself, which features the work of such well-known masters as Katsushika Hokusai, artist of The Great Wave off Kanazawa, and Utagawa Hiroshige, he of the One Hundred Views of Edo.

Edo was the name of Tokyo until 1868, a decade after Hiroshige’s death — an event that itself marked the end of an aesthetically fruitful era for ukiyo-e. But the history of the form itself stretches back to the 17th century, as reflected by the United States Library of Congress’ online collection “Fine Prints: Japanese, pre-1915.”


There you’ll find plenty of Hokusai and Hiroshige, but also others who took the art form in their own directions like Utagawa Yoshifuji, whose prints include depictions of not just his countrymen but visiting Westerners as well. (The results are somewhat more realistic than the ukiyo-e London imagined in 1866 by Utagawa Yoshitora, another member of the same artistic lineage.)

As if all this wasn’t enough, you can also find more than 220,000 Japanese woodblock prints at Ukiyo-e.org. Quite possibly the most expansive such archive yet created, it includes works from Hiroshige and Hokusai’s 19th-century “golden age of printmaking” as well as from the development of the art form early in the century before. Even after its best-known practitioners were gone, ukiyo-e continued to evolve: through Japan’s modernizing Meiji period in the late 19th and early 20th century, through various aesthetic movements in the years up to the Second World War, and even on to our own time, which has seen the emergence even of prolific non-Japanese printmakers.

Of course, these ukiyo-e prints weren’t originally created to be viewed on the internet; the works of Hokusai and Hiroshige may look good on a tablet, but not by their design. Still, they did often have the individual consumer in mind: these are artists “known today for their woodblock prints, but who also excelled at illustrations for deluxe poetry anthologies and popular literature,” writes the Metropolitan Museum of Art curator John Carpenter. His words greet the visitor to the Met’s online collection of more than 650 illustrated Japanese books, which presents ukiyo-e as it would actually have been seen by most people when the form first exploded in popularity — not that, even then, its enthusiasts could imagine how many appreciators it would one day have around the world.

Below you can find a list of prior posts featuring archives of Japanese woodblock prints. Please feel free to explore them at your leisure.

Related content:

Download Hundreds of 19th-Century Japanese Woodblock Prints by Masters of the Tradition

Download Vincent van Gogh’s Collection of 500 Japanese Prints, Which Inspired Him to Create “the Art of the Future”

Download 2,500 Beautiful Woodblock Prints and Drawings by Japanese Masters (1600-1915)

Enter a Digital Archive of 213,000+ Beautiful Japanese Woodblock Prints

The Met Puts 650+ Japanese Illustrated Books Online: Marvel at Hokusai’s One Hundred Views of Mount Fuji and More

Watch the Making of Japanese Woodblock Prints, from Start to Finish, by a Longtime Tokyo Printmaker

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities 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 or on Facebook.

How to Make Comics: A Four-Part Series from the Museum of Modern Art


A painting? “Moving. Spiritually enriching. Sublime. ‘High’ art.” The comic strip? “Vapid. Juvenile. Commercial hack work. ‘Low’ art.” A painting of a comic strip panel? “Sophisticated irony. Philosophically challenging. ‘High’ art.” So says Calvin of Bill Watterson’s Calvin and Hobbes, whose ten-year run constitutes one of the greatest artistic achievements in the history of the newspaper comic strip. The larger medium of comics goes well beyond the funny pages, as any number of trend pieces have told us, but as an art form it remains less than perfectly understood.  Perhaps, as elsewhere, one must learn by doing: hence “How to Make Comics,” a “four-part journey through the art of comics” from the Museum of Modern Art.

Created by comics scholar and writer Chris Gavaler, this educational series begins with the broadest possible question: “What Are Comics?” That section offers two answers, the first being that comics are “cartoons in the funnies sections of newspapers and the pages of comic books” telling stories “about superheroes or talking animals” — or they’re longer-format “graphic novels,” which “can be more serious and include personal memoirs.”


The second, broader answer conceives of comics as nothing more specific than “juxtaposed images. Any work of art that divides into two or more side-by-side parts is formally a comic. So if an artist creates two images and places them next to each other, they’re working in the comics form.”

That second definition of comics includes, say, Andy Warhol’s Jacqueline Kennedy III — a work of art that conveniently happens to be owned by MoMA. The museum’s visual resources figure heavily into the whole “How to Make Comics,” in which Gavaler explains not just the process of creating comics but the relationship between comics and other (often longer institutionally approved) forms of art. And to whatever degree they juxtapose images, the works of art in MoMA’s online collection — rich as so many of them are with action, character, narrative, humor, and even words — offer inspiration to comic artists budding and experienced alike. The better part of two centuries into its development, this thoroughly modern medium has the power to incorporate ideas from any other art form; the high-and-low distinctions can take care of themselves. Enter “How to Make Comicshere.

via Kottke

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities, language, and culture. His projects include the Substack newsletter Books on Cities, 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 or on Facebook.

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