AAS Annual Meeting

Japan Session 411

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Session 411: New Visual Interfaces in Modern Japan: Art Magazines from 1900-1960

Organizer: Maki Kaneko, University of Kansas, USA

Discussant: Shigemi Inaga, International Research Center for Japanese Studies, Japan

This panel explores the social, political and artistic significance of art magazines in the first half of the twentieth century in Japan, the period when development of print technologies radically changed the means of communication and expression. Many artists recognized print media, and more specifically art magazines as a specific mode of artistic expression, as a new tool of collaboration and mass-communication and, as the most dynamic space to interface with a broad spectrum of Japanese society. Art magazines, however, have primarily been used as a documentary resource for historical investigation, and it is only recently that art magazines themselves have become a subject of serious scholarly inquiries. Panel members will examine the multifaceted roles of art magazines and artists’ creative use of them by investigating the visual and discursive forms that were generally excluded from the category of “Art”: watercolor painting, graphic design, portrait photography and Japanese flower arrangement (ikebana). Precisely because they were not regarded as “Art,” conventional art venues were not always readily available or considered suitable. Art magazines gained particular importance as alternative and challenging spaces, which could serve as powerful vehicles to (re-)produce as well as propagate artists’ works. By focusing on the creative use of art magazines by practitioners of these four art forms, this panel seeks to cast new light on the mode of production/consumption of modern art as well as print culture in 20th century Japan.

Critical Journalism as Intervention: Shaping an Avant-Garde Discourse for the Japanese Flower Arrangement in Ikebana geijutsu
Noriko Murai, Sophia University, Japan

This paper considers the role of critical journalism in ikebana or Japanese flower arrangement in the early 1950s by examining the short-lived yet influential monthly magazine Ikebana geijutsu (Ikebana Art). Ikebana geijutsu was published between 1949 and 1955 in the heyday of the so-called “avant-garde ikebana” movement. It presented a rich cacophony of voices that collectively sought to produce a more open, critical, and shared culture of ikebana beyond the accepted praxis that was disparately prescribed by various established schools. The magazine was supervised by Shigemori Mirei, the doyen of anti-establishment ikebana, and published critical, oft incisive, texts by figures such as the art critic Mizusawa Sumio. The title of the journal announced the magazine’s intention to present ikebana as “art,” and implied that critical journalism had been the missing link that separated ikebana from art. As such, Ikebana geijutsu embodied the symbiosis of critical journalism and creative practice in shaping the most dynamic moment in the history of ikebana in the twentieth century. Despite its substantial and engaging content, Ikebana geijutsu became a commercially unviable venture only after five years of publication. The short life of Ikebana geijutsu is thus also revealing of the insubstantial presence of critical journalism in the overall culture of ikebana. This paper argues that this relative absence more generally represents the conflicting tension between radicalism and formalism, individualism and institutionalism, and avant-garde practice and entrepreneurial commercialism that has defined the practice of innovative ikebana since the 1950s.

Mizue: an alternative art magazine promoting Anglophilia, modern landscape and watercolor movement
Toshio Watanabe, University of the Arts London, United Kingdom

This paper will examine the early period (1905-1911) of Mizue, one of the most long-lasting art magazines in Japan, to argue that during this period with Ôshita Tôjirô at its helm, Mizue showed and promoted in many ways an alternative view of art to the mainstream. Firstly, at a time when most of the centres of Yôga (western-style) painting were Paris-oriented, Mizue showed striking Anglophilia with many articles on and by artists and writers from Britain. Secondly, the magazine promoted a new and modern way of looking at nature and landscape, where places such as the mountains were more for leisure pursuit by urban population and less for religious or literary contemplation. Finally, Mizue, a magazine on watercolor painting (mizu = water and e = painting), tried to establish watercolor as an independent medium of its own worth. Watercolor painting was already known to early Yôga painters, such as the pupils of Antonio Fontanesi, the first publicly appointed teacher of western-style painting. However, it was oil painting, which was important for the mainstream Yôga painters and therefore watercolor played only a secondary role for them. Mizue with some help also from the Nihonga (Japanese-style) painters campaigned for watercolor and became the bastion of the watercolor movement. Together with Ôshita’s extraordinary 1901 bestseller Suisaiga no shiori (a guidebook to watercolor painting), Mizue democratized watercolor painting which spread to a new constituency of younger mostly urban generation across Japan.

Department-Store Publicity Magazines in Early Twentieth-Century Japan: Promoting Products and Producing New Cultural Perspectives
Julia Elizabeth Sapin, Western Washington University, USA

During the early twentieth century in Japan, while art magazines were dispersing ideas about art to artists, critics, and connoisseurs, department stores’ publicity magazines were spreading information about art and culture to a broader population. These magazines were designed primarily to market products, but they also molded contemporary Japanese life. The variety of visual forms employed in these magazines—cover designs by famous artists, photographs of objects that had won prizes for the stores at international expositions, visual instructions about how to wear novelty textiles, and displays of designs gathered through the stores’ national recruitment campaigns—contributed to a level of cultural literacy in Japan that had been previously unattainable. This paper will examine how visual forms functioned in these magazines as media for communicating new perspectives on Japanese culture. Anyone could go into a department store and, through these magazines, become privy to news about the stores’ entries to international expositions, contemporary fashion, and a range of art activities such as gallery openings and artists’ new designs for textiles. Through their broad availability and their relative depth of information compared to other promotional media, these magazines leveled access to information: they marketed and ultimately helped manufacture a sense of shared Japanese culture. Department-store publicity magazines can be seen as one of many democratizing forces in early twentieth-century Japan that helped pave the way for an increasingly egalitarian society later in the century.

Photographic Representation of Artists: Domon Ken’s Portrait Photographs and Shashin Bunka (Photographic Culture) during the Asia-Pacific War
Maki Kaneko, University of Kansas, USA

In 1941, three major photography magazines, Camera (1921-1940), Camera Club (1936-1940) and Shashin Salon (1933-1940) were merged into Shashin Bunka (Photographic Culture; 1941-1945). This was a result of the government’s magazine consolidation policy during the Asia-Pacific War (1937-1945), which aimed at economizing resources, as well as, making their censorship on printed matters more easily conducted. Acknowledging this oppressive political background behind the inauguration of the magazine, Shashin Bunka has been given scant attention and treated merely as evidence of the dark period in the history of Japanese photography, if recognized at all. While it is indeed true that the magazine eventually gained a nationalistic tone as the war was intensified, some photographic projects carried out in this magazine are not necessarily fully compatible with the dominant wartime cultural discourse. Domon Ken’s (1909-1990) Jinbutsu Shashinshū, or Photo Portrait Collection, was one such example. Featuring artists in their studios or private moments, Domon’s Portrait Collection accentuated their interiority and individual personality, and celebrated their creative energy. Despite that such representation of artists was at odds with the wartime official discourse which emphasized collective values and selfless devotion to the nation, the first Shashin Bunka Award was given to this series in 1943. Focusing on Domon Ken’s Portrait Series, this paper will explore the desperate effort made by Domon and the associates of Shashin Bunka to secure a space for their artistic creativity within wartime society, while tactically avoiding direct confrontation against the authority.