Ancient Japanese Art

Ancient Japanese Art includes a wide range of styles and expressions, ranging from ceramics, sculpture, painting, and calligraphy on silk, paper, woodblock print and more. It has a long and rich history and begins around 10, 000 B.C. when humans began settling in the region. Historically, Japan has been subject to very sudden invasions of new and alien ideas. The term alien here refers to the “other”. In essence, everyone outside of Japan. It is appropriate to say this because Japan has, both geographically and culturally, were very different from their neighbors. Perhaps this is because they separated by a mass of water and as an Island, were quite isolated. Over time, the Japanese have developed the ability to absorb, imitate and assimilate those elements of foreign culture into their artistic preferences.

The first examples of complex art in Japan were produced in the 7th and 8th centuries and were linked to Buddhism. In the 9th century, Japan began to free itself from the cultural influence of China and developed indigenous forms of expression. From this point onwards until around the 15th century, both religious and secular art flourished. After the Onin War which lasted from 1467-1477, Japan entered a period of political strife both socially and economically. This lasted for well over a century and in the shift in political climate saw religious art fall somewhat to the wayside, with secular, representative art coming to the fore. With this came a development and interest in ink painting, calligraphy, poetry, literature, and music as forms of self-expression and entertainment.

Painting as an art style was and still is the preferred artistic expression in Japan. Even today, as they did in ancient times, the Japanese wrote with a brush rather than a pen and their familiarity with the use of the brush techniques has made them particularly sensitive to the aesthetic values of painting. With the rise of popular culture in the Edo period, the style of ukiyo-e woodblock prints became an important art form and its techniques were refined to produce colourful prints. These prints were used to spread information – everything from daily news to issues of school books. The Japanese have always thought that the use of sculpture was a much less expressive and empathetic way of making art as the use of sculpture in Japan had almost always been used in the service of religion and with the decline of traditional Buddhism, sculpture too fell away from the mainstream. The Edo period marked the triumph of political and military power of the Tokugawa, who moved the countries capital to Tokyo and closed all doors to contact with foreigners. Great attention to science and techniques was given in this period. It lasted from around 1603 till 1868. It is also known as the final period of Traditional Japan and was a time of internal peace, political stability and economic growth under the shogunate (military dictatorship.)

Something the Japanese are most well known for would be their ceramics. They are regarded as being some of the best in the world and represent the first known artifacts from Japanese culture. In this and in architecture, the Japanese have always expressed clearly their ancestral preference for natural materials and the harmonious interaction between interior and exterior space. This translates into the materials used to build their homes, the subject matter they chose to paint and represent and also the mirroring of natural elements into the interior space. Ancient Japanese art has grown and evolved in many different ways since the 7th century but none more so than in their own identity. They have undergone many shifts and changes throughout time and it has all influenced the way they make their art and what they make their art about. Moving away from religious depictions made room for more representations of nature and harmony and allowed them in more contemporary times to push boundaries freely and expressively