Tuesday, May 08, 2012
Today I discovered Katsushika Hokusai, the greatest of Japanese artists, who lived between 1760 and 1849. I was already familiar with the best-known of his work -- I think everyone has seen his "Great Wave" and block prints of Mt. Fuji, but didn't know him by name.
Even though I'm just learning about Hokusai, I've already concluded that one cannot fully appreciate his stature without seeing the manga, which is simply the Japanese term for "sketches." The Hokusai Manga is about 3,000 small drawings rendered as woodblocks and published serially between 1815 and 1878. They show scenes from everyday life, animals, monsters, and other fantastic creatures. The two-block, two-page work shown here is "The Dragon Ascending Mt. Fuji."
As soon as I began looking at Hokusai's Manga, I realized he was one of the great ones, a member of that exclusive club of artists whose names function as cultural ideals, but I couldn't tell why. Looking at the greatest European artworks, say those of Leonardo or Jan Vermeer, I know why they're great, because I'm cognizant of the values for which they are seeking the perfect expression.
I began to understand more about Hokusai's skills when I went to a neurobiologist's site to see portions of the manga that illustrate an article explaining how the motion that is only implied in the master's sketches might fool the brain into thinking it's seeing a moving image.
"Hokusai," the proprietor of Neurophilosopy.com says, "used a different and innovative technique to convey motion. The simple line drawings in his Manga strips lack all of the commonly-used motion effects, yet give a strong impression of movement by depicting the human body in highly unstable postures. As a new study just published in the journal NeuroReport shows, the figures in the sketches are perceived to be moving because their gravity-defying postures activate regions of the visual cortex that are sensitive to motion."
I think I need to get a print copy of at least some of the manga, and study this artist some more.