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Challenging Past And Present: The Metamorphosis of Nineteenth-Century Japanese Art

Challenging Past And Present: The Metamorphosis of Nineteenth-Century Japanese Art

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The complex and coherent development of Japanese art during the course of the nineteenth century was inadvertently disrupted by a political event: the Meiji Restoration of 1868. Scholars of both the preceding Edo and the succeeding Meiji eras have shunned the decades bordering this arbitrary divide, thus creating an art-historical void that the former view as a period of waning technical and creative inventiveness and the latter as one threatened by Meiji reforms and indiscriminate Westernization and modernization. General texts, academic studies, biographical dictionaries, and exhibition catalogues continue to reinforce this prejudicial chronological divide. "Challenging Past and Present", to the contrary, demonstrates that the period 1840?€"1890, as seen progressively rather than retrospectively, experienced a dramatic transformation in the visual arts, which in turn made possible the creative achievements of the twentieth century. An introduction briefly explores the art historical and historiographical studies of the past half century that have affected both Japanese and foreign responses to the art of the period. It contextualizes the twelve chapters by Japanese, European, and American scholars that interrogate prevailing views and illuminate inventive aspects of this artistic and cultural transformation. The first group of chapters takes as its theme the diverse cultural currents of the transitional period, particularly as they applied to art. They examine the themes of fukka (revival) and ishin (renewal), the responses of early Meiji painters to European history painting. The second section deals with the inconsistent yet determinedly pragmatic courses pursed by artists, entrepreneurs, and patrons to achieve a secure footing in the uncertain terrain of early Meiji. The chapters in this section analyze the intermingling of mediums and techniques by artists in Yokohama, which, they argue, occupied a more central position in the Meiji art world than has been previously recognized. Further chapters look at how painters and sculptors sought to absorb and integrate foreign influences and reinterpret their own stylistic mediums and the ways in which architecture and expositions served as forms of national expression and a means of projecting a national image.
"Challenging Past and Present" opens up new ways of understanding the processes of artistic and social change. Although it focuses on developments in the visual arts, the processes of change articulated here apply widely to literature, theater, cultural history. This ground-breaking collection will prompt readers to reassess the general history and significance of the period and move toward a more incisive and objective consideration of its influence on the creative achievements of modern Japanese art.