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Herald Tribune asahi
Japanese People Do Not Know Japan
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Urushiori

Needless to say, a thingfs value is relative and depends on the knowledge and information of the person who evaluates it. It is also dependent on the background and experiences of the person. So many men, so many opinions. If you are not interested in or do not have knowledge of art works and antiques, they are little more than useless objects. Sad to say, even in the 21st century, many people in many countries lack the necessities of everyday life and cannot enjoy any art. Fortunately, I was born and grew up in Japan in this life, one of the wealthiest countries on the earth, and enjoy opportunities such as to write these articles, something I am now appreciating anew.
 
Nowadays major cities in the world are full of art works and antiques. However, as I wrote in previous articles (available on http://www.fuji-torii.com), the standards by which some things are defined as garth and gantiqueh are problematical. Sold prices in open auctions could be a guideline. But an auction is like a popularity contest, and even though the sold price of a work is high, its value is different depending on who buys and why they buy. On the other hand, even though something is bought at a low price, it can be valuable in terms of beauty. Prices do not always reflect art workfs values.
 
Definition of Energy

I was asked a question by one of my readers, who read the previous article, about values and prices of woodblock prints called gukiyoehproduced during the Edo period (1603-1867) and those of replicas. Like many foreign people who think so, he misunderstood that only few dozens of woodblock prints were made from one original painting when it was created. In fact, printing blocks of popular design have been carved many times and a large amount of prints have been printed since the Edo period when the original was painted.
 
In the Meiji period (1868-1912), many Japanese woodblock prints were shipped overseas and their Japanese design and composition were highly praised, and their exoticism also contributed to their vogue. Since Renoir collected and Van Gogh imitated, ukiyoe became well known and many museums in Europe and the United States came to own large collections. Works of Utamaro and Sharaku are sometimes dealt in auctions at surprisingly high prices. However, woodblock prints were originally cheap printed works for the amusement of commoners in Japan. Certainly, some first-printed prints are special because the painter of the original painting, carving and printing artisans, and publishers got together for deciding colors or subtle adjustments.But, from the second printing, publishers freely reduce the number of printing blocks, change colors and continue printing many times.
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What we cannot see

I would never deny that woodblock prints are beautiful and charming. My antique shop deals with woodblock prints that were made from the Edo to Meiji periods, as well as their current reproductions, along with hand painted folding screens and hanging scrolls. Based on the energy of the original painting, carving artisans carve many blocks for each color, and printing artisans carefully print over and over. Woodblock prints produced through such processes definitely constitute beauty in which each personfs energy is fused. But, perhaps someone may wonder why these mass-produced prints are sold at such high prices at auctions. The reason is that works of rare creators or rare composition are priceless for collectors.
 
Recently offset prints and print-outs from a computer or scanned photographs have been sold as art works much as if they were hand paintings, woodblock prints or lithographs. These new types of works using new technology are sometimes sold at higher prices than those of hand paintings made in the Edo or Meiji periods, depending on the creatorfs popularity. To me this is a strange phenomenon. Of course, each person has his or her own view of values. However, energy of prints is different from that of hand paintings, and the popularity of this or that work or its creator is different from the intrinsic worth of its beauty. I believe readers who have been reading this series of articles already understand these things.
 
Energy of Beauty

As I wrote in the previous article, such confusion surrounding values and prices of art works and antiques stems from lack of education and information regarding beauty. In addition, I think there are fabrication and manipulation for profit behind this confusion. As I wrote in gThe Power of Beauty,h the 13th article of this series, if you have money, you can manipulate the evaluation and price of some art works. And not only in art, such fabrication and manipulation has been done in various other fields in the 20th century as the economy expanded decade after decade.
 
In the fifth essay of gThe Power of Beauty,h I have been explaining that beauty is a kind of energy. I cast doubt on evaluation of art as mere gperformanceh and also on speculation-driven prices of art works. At the same time, I proposed that we try to measure every type of beauty with the same scale of energy, apart from monetary values of the 20th century. My intention is to view contemporary society through the prism of beauty and in doing so to reexamine what exactly are our standards of judgment and values regarding art and other things, what these standards are based upon, and who it is that decides these standards and values. While continuing to think about beauty, I sincerely hope to share such thoughts with you.
 
Please send your comment or opinion to hadv@asahi.com
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