Painting is among the oldest and most substantially refined of the Japanese arts
Japanese painting stemmed from classic continental traditions of the early historical era (6-7 century C.E.) As with the history of Japanese arts in general, the history Japanese painting is a long history of synthesis and competition between native Japanese aesthetics and adaptation of imported ideas. Japanese printmaking especially from the Edo period exerted enormous influence on Western painting in France during the 1800’s.
The origins of painting in Japan date well back into Japan’s prehistoric period. While native Japanese traditions reached their peak while in the Heian era (794-1185 C.E.) During this time many inventive devices used in painting were created that are still used today. During periods of deep-seated Chinese influence a variety of original art styles ended up being adapted. These included such styles as the Buddhist works in Nara. And the ink painting during the Muromachi era as well as the landscape painting by literati within the Tokugawa era was also adapted. When Western painting theories had been introduced in the Meiji period, Japan already had an extended history of adaptation including the import of composition ideas and had established a copying practice ranging from emulation to synthesis.
However it wasn’t until well into the twentieth century that the Japanese were in a position to incorporate the new medium of oil paints with new ideas of three-dimensional projections on level surfaces. The majority of contemporary Japanese artists may possibly be separate into individuals who worked in a broadly international technique and those who maintained Japanese artistic traditions. Following World War II, painters, calligraphers, as well as print-makers flourished within the large cities, particularly Tokyo, and became preoccupied with the mechanisms of city life, reflected in the flickering lights, neon colors, and frenzied pace of their abstractions. Each and every one of the “isms” of the New York-Paris art world were fervently embraced.
After the abstractions of the 1960’s, the 1970’s saw a return to pragmatism strongly flavored by the “op” and “pop” art movements. This was personified within the 1980’s in the explosive works of Shinohara Ushio. A significant amount international prize winning avant-garde artists worked both in Japan and abroad. These artists felt that there was “nothing Japanese” regarding their works and undeniably belonged to the ‘international school’. By the late 1970’s, the hunt for Japanese qualities and a national technique prompted numerous artists to reconsider their creative ideology and turn away from what some felt were the meaningless formulas of the West.
Modern paintings within the modern idiom began to make conscious use of traditional Japanese art forms, devices, and ideologies. A number of mono-ha artists turned to painting to bring back customary nuances in spatial arrangements, color harmonies, along with lyricism. Japanese-style painting (nihonga) had continued in a contemporary fashion, updating traditional expressions whilst retaining their intrinsic character. A number of artists within this style nevertheless painted on silk or paper along with time-honored colors and ink. While others used new materials, such as acrylics.
Lots of the older schools of art, most notably the ones from the Tokugawa era, were still trained. For instance, the ornamental naturalism of the ‘rimpa school’. The ‘rimpa school’ was characterized by brilliant, clean colors and bleeding washes. This was reflected in the work of many postwar artists as well as in the 1980s art of Hikosaka Naoyoshi. The realism of the ‘Maruyama-Okyo school’, the calligraphic and spontaneous Japanese variety of the gentlemen-scholars had been both extensively practiced in the 1980’s. From time to time all of these schools in addition to older ones ended up being drawn upon by modern artists within the Japanese style as well as in the modern idiom.
Numerous Japanese-style painters were honored with awards as a result of renewed, fashionable demand for Japanese-style art which started in the 1970’s. The international modern painters also drew on the Japanese schools as they turned away from Western styles in the 1980’s. The propensity had been to synthesize East and West. Although innovative artistic approaches used to be less in favor of a conscious blending rather than recapturing the Japanese spirit within a contemporary idiom. Consequently, the 100-year split between Japanese-style and Western-style art began to mend. A few artists had by now lept the chasm between the two, as did the exceptional painter Shinoda Toko. Her daring sumi ink abstractions were inspired by long-established calligraphy but realized as lyrical expressions of modern abstraction.The term “National Treasure” has been used in Japan to denote cultural properties since 1897. The definition and the criteria have changed since the inception of the term. These paintings adhere to the current definition, and were designated national treasures when the Law for the Protection of Cultural Properties was implemented on June 9, 1951. As such, they are restricted in transfer and may not be exported.
There are also a number of contemporary painters in Japan whose work is largely inspired by anime sub-cultures and other aspects of popular and youth culture. Takashi Murakami is perhaps among the most famous and popular of these, along with and the other artists in his Kaikai Kiki studio collective. His work centers on expressing issues and concerns of postwar Japanese society through what are usually seemingly innocuous forms. He draws heavily from anime and related styles, but produces paintings and sculptures in media more traditionally associated with fine arts, intentionally blurring the lines between commercial and popular art and fine arts.