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Japanese People Do Not Know Japan
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Fine Art

Following pure art that is created by energy to make a beautiful thing as I wrote about in the previous article, I would next like to talk about fine art. In this article, I do not use the word "fine art" only to describe art aiming to create beauty. It also includes works depicting misery of wars such as the masterpiece Guernika by Pablo Picasso or works by Vincent van Gogh, which show his inner agony behind the beautifully colorful exterior.
 
In this way, some fine art works express the artists' emotions such as woe, grief, anger, or hatred, as well as their ideological views. Some works do not include the energy of beauty. Furthermore, fine art works reflect an evaluation of the way the artists live, the era they live in, and the thought of the era. In other words, the art is influenced by the surrounding energy, not only by the artists' energy. Unlike in the case of pure art, such energy cannot be accepted by all people without protest. Moreover, the art is also the beauty entirely created by humans and its values are changeable by a third party's evaluation, as I wrote in the third chapter of this series.
 
Meaning of Art

Fine art expresses the mindset and inwardness of a person, aside from pursuit of beauty or skill. In a sense, this is the kind of expression seen in a novel depicting the author's private life, and it is difficult for others to evaluate in some cases. Because feelings of agony and conflict are different individually depending on a person's background or position, it is from the beginning impossible to understand except for the individual. However, the strong energy contained in art works can often move people's feelings and are positively evaluated by those who feel empathy for such works.
 
Budding forth in Europe, fine art established a new concept - spiritual beauty - which afterward combined with, and found expression through, each era's thought and philosophy. However, this beauty is not a pure revelation of pre-existing human energy. It is rather a creation via a social energy which reflects the thought of the era through an artist's performance. Such works have been highly evaluated by certain experts or dealers and their value increased commercially through salons and exhibits.
 
The Japanese Way

After the opening of the country at the end of the 19th century, many people argued that art should emphasize spirituality and the European definition of originality should be accepted even in Japan.
Such a view downgraded Japan's traditional decorative works of art and craft works, which I believe is a complete misunderstanding. For example, such people have evaluated works by Ito Jakuchu higher than those by the traditional Kano School painters, because they think Jakuchu has more originality. However, this understanding ignores the originality and background of Oriental beauty, and also demonstrates a lack of knowledge of the Orient.
 
In Japan, spiritual beauty is something creators seek within themselves before they start creation, unlike in the West where it is expressed through works. In other words, it is not expressed outwardly. It is rather a result obtained through technical training everyday, looking inwardly toward their selves, and heightening their spirituality. It is an absolute beauty than does not need theory or a third party's evaluation. Consequently, there was no Japanese word meaning "art" in Japan until the beginning of the 20th century.
 
From Real Article to Essence

In Europe after the Industrial Revolution, due to social change and development of a money economy, works of art became more and more like financial products, while the newly rich replaced former patron classes. Apart from the original meaning and evaluation of the works, works have also come to be evaluated by monetary value, or market price. Nowadays, evaluation of most works of art, including abstract paintings, is evaluation by experts who have the same awareness and thought as the creators of the works. To be art, a work require authorities' evaluation or contract price at auctions in addition to the creators' energy. However, such evaluation may well change as time passes and evaluation of the authorities changes. The value of a work is an unstable value, in a sense.
 
Contemporary art, whose high contract price at auctions draws a great deal of attention, is evaluated by certain experts, and the value accorded includes the expertise of the experts. In other words, the value of art depends on who evaluated it and how much it was bid at auction. Furthermore, some types of contemporary art are "performance art" not grounded in any real techniques, and I think some of them are not worthy of the name "art." With such chaotic values today, we ought to judge works of art by our own good sense as to whether they are genuinely evaluated as art or rather evaluated as financial products, even if they are created by world prominent artists or highly praised in the world.
 
Please send your comment or opinion to hadv@asahi.com
 


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