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Japanese Art: Tradition and Modernity At A Crossroads

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Japanese Art: Tradition and Modernity At A Crossroads

Japanese art has a very long history, with pottery being considered one of its oldest forms. One of the most recent forms is computer art and anime. Japanese art means many very different things to different people. There is no single definition of what it is or what really connects the various genres.

I believe that in Japan modernity has affected tradition, but vice-versa, we can see how some of the greatest artists display works of tradition affecting modernity.

In Japan, art was always changing and, contrary to popular belief, never static. Some people want to cling to an idealized version of the past, even though it may never have existed. Japanese art is always changing and forming new representations of itself. There is a conflict of images from the paintings and statues of Buddhist gods to the modern expressionist and anime works.

Many Japanese traditional arts have been built around a system of imitating the teacher and adhering to the affiliated school’s principles. Today, many artists are breaking away from this tradition and experimenting with their own individuality. They are not exactly breaking the rules, more bending them to accommodate their own goals and style as well as the traditions’.

The technologically advanced society that we live in today now enables artists and people in general to look to the Internet and media to experience cultures other than their own. Is this breaking down tradition? Historically speaking, in a way it is. But it is also opening the door to never-before-seen experiments in the Japanese art world.

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Looking at a living art form like Japanese gardens, an example can be made of the recent winning national garden design. Unlike the traditional gardens of Kyoto which are often looked at from one fixed, distant position, this garden incorporated a small table and chairs on natural deck within the garden. The artist said that he felt that tradition was best used and observed by allowing people to experience the garden first hand, actually being in the garden. This type of combination of tradition and originality impressed the judges enough to be awarded first prize among many beautifully precise gardens.

To me, Japanese art should not be seen as being in a state of conflict or loss of identity, but at the crossroads of where different ideologies are crashing together. It is only when conflicting ideas collide that true creativity and art emerge.

At places like Grand Island Serene Gardens there is a respect for both the preservation of tradition and the experimentation of new blends of culture and art.