On Other Surfaces │2│

Table of Contents

The question of what constitutes “Japaneseness” in art became established as a theme through the debates involving Meiji era Japanese artists who practiced western style painting (yoga). During the Meiji era, Japanese artists clumsily imitated modern realism and historical paintings of the West using oil paint. Art historians of later periods focused on the feeling of disorientation in these paintings to locate their “Japaneseness.” Their arguments often employ the theories of comparative cultural studies, which assume that any unique characteristics in one culture only become visible through exchanges with other cultures. Nevertheless, such an assumption itself assumes that we have individual “locals” that can be juxtaposed to the “global,” an enduring and increasingly powerful dichotomy in the global art market today.

This paper attempts to critique the above theory and eliminate the binaries of the West vs. Japan and global vs. local. To this end it reassesses the work of Yuichi Takahashi, Japan’s first oil painter, as well as artists such as Naojiro Harada and Hosui Yamamoto, who attempted to bring methods of western historical painting to Japan. We feel a kind of disorientation in their paintings that cannot be reduced to something “western” or “Japanese.” Rather, the disorientation comes from the exposure of the domain of the “other” and the “unconscious.”