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Herald Tribune asahi
Japanese People Do Not Know Japan
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Naturally occurring beauty

In the previous three articles of this fifth series, I have been writing about my basic view toward art and works of fine art. In this article, I would like to write about naturally occurring beauty, which is the antithesis of the artificial beauty I wrote about in the previous article.
 
Naturally occurring beauty may be created by fire or by other natural causes such as change brought about by the passage of time. Take Japanese pottery such as Bizen-yaki and Shigaraki-yaki, for example. These potteries were originally produced for daily use without any intention of creating beauty. However, they acquired a kind of stored energy from the fire that created them and the passage of time and were appreciated as "beautiful" later. The major difference between artificial beauty, which is created by awareness, and naturally occurring beauty is that two kinds of energy - that of nature and of that of human appreciators - are essential for the latter type of beauty.
 
Power of Mother Nature and appreciation by human beings

In a broad sense, naturally occurring beauty ranges from, say. pebbles on a road to precious stones like diamonds. How we feel and appreciate things that are created by nature is of the essence of naturally occurring beauty. In other words, naturally occurring beauty can not be recognized as "beauty" without natural energy and human evaluators. Who is the third-party evaluator? In Japanese art, Yanagi Soetsu (1889-1961), a notable philosopher, provides a concise example. He advocated a "Mingei" (folk craft) movement in Japan in the late 1920s and 1930s, in which beauty was to be seen in everyday commodity goods, such as daily-use pottery or old agricultural instruments used for a long time.
 


 
His stance is similar to that of Sen no Rikyu (1522-1591) during the Azuchi-Momoyama period, who used commodity utensils for tea ceremonies, and whose aesthetic sense helped develop the ideas of wabi and sabi (beauty to be found in simplicity) that have strongly influenced Japanese people's sense of beauty. Gorgeous furnishings including folding screens and gold-lacquered utensils were also popular during those days. It is interesting that there were two, very different cultures that were favored during the same period.
 
Occurrence and evaluation

These days, some foreigners are aware of the Japanese wabi and sabi, but what we should not overlook is that the beauty of commodity utensils that Rikyu used for tea ceremonies while being an expression of natural energy was also recognized as beauty by a third party such as Rikyu, and it is because of this that they are considered beautiful. I dare say that they would have remained only commodity goods without one such as Rikyu.
 
It is a matter of preference, but I do not feel all tea ceremony utensils are beautiful. Most tea ceremony utensils are dark and somber, excluding some figurative creations such as lacquerware, Kyo, Iga and Oribe potteries. Regarding tea ceremony utensils, insight and a deep knowledge of masters of ceremonial tea who used such utensils is more important, and indeed the spirituality and aesthetic eye for beauty of these masters has long been held in high esteem. Therefore, the origin and history of a given utensil, in other words, who has recognized its beauty and who has owned it, is the most important thing in the tea ceremony world. Thus, the name of a particular utensil given it by a well-regarded aesthete or its owner's name as written on a wooden box used to preserve the utensil - called tomobako, - becomes essential, and this is a uniquely Japanese method to appreciate art works. I would like to explain more about tomobako in the future.
 
Responsibility to the future

What I would like to emphasize is that the artificial beauty I wrote about in the previous article, which is totally created by human beings, such as Japanese paintings and lacquerware, is beautiful on its own, whether you may like it or not. The value accorded to such beauty will never change as long as human beings continue to exist, just as humans recognize beautiful natural scenery as "beautiful."
 
Compared to the artificial beauty discussed in the previous article, in the case of naturally occurring beauty there is no intention to create such "beauty." It is not beauty until a person praises it as beautiful, including even in some abstract or avant-garde sense. If the evaluation or recognition of the evaluator himself changes, there is every possibility that the evaluation of the naturally occurring beauty itself will totally change. Currently in the world of fine art, performance art, which I feel is not firmly established as authentic art, is creating a new type of "beauty" which is gaining popularity, and many critics or museums highly praise such art. As a result such art is traded at a high price in all countries. However, you should decide with your own sensitivity just what such performance art is centered on and who acknowledges its value, with what awareness. At the same time, I feel that professional evaluators, including art dealers such as myself, should seriously think about whether the time has come for us to take responsibility to future generations for our current evaluations of such performance art.
 
Please send your comment or opinion to hadv@asahi.com
 
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