Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Study of Skill

The extraordinary and astounding skill of artists of the Edo period makes that era particularly appealing.  Their skill goes far beyond the capabilities of ordinary painters.  Japanese artists were born into their field, and serious students began learning to paint as soon as they were old enough to hold a brush, and they would practice for thirty to forty years before approaching the perfection of their masters.  With such discipline, the artists developed their techniques and control over their medium to visual perfection.  Only when he was truly competent in his master’s eyes was he allowed to paint and embark on his creative journey.

In most paintings of the period, no two brush stokes should ever overlap.  The ink was so thin that the crossing of any strokes would leave a darker mark (See Quail.)  Using thicker, heavier paint was not possible, since the scrolls were rolled up for storage.  Not only was the artist limited by such fundamental necessities, but he also needed the know-how to flawlessly place ink on his brush, since without any guides or outlines, he had to control his stroke, both in direction and pressure, to vary the width of the line.  This had to be done with total control and certainty, since no stroke could be changed, no mistake covered up, and no error eradicated. 

Compare the two paintings below.  Jakuchu's painting is flawless, while Doitsu carelessly painted a reed of grass over the quail.

Jakuchu Rooster, Hen, and Hydrangeas

Doitsu Quail

Unfortunately, after Japan was forced to open its borders in 1868, they entered a new period of Western advancement. They abandoned many of their customs in order to catch up to the rest of the technologically advanced world.  Consequently, artists adopted Western techniques and materials, abandoning their own beautiful traditions and leaving behind the beautiful, incomparable art of the Edo period. 

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