2.1. What Is Japanese Beauty?
What is the essence of Japanese beauty? As indicated by Bruno Taut and others, the harmony between humans and nature has always been emphasized and expressed in Japanese artworks and architecture (Taut 1958
; Taut 1962
). Trying to find out the root of such a basic concept, we reach the Chinese philosophers Lao-Tzu and Zhuangzi and their philosophy called “Taoism (Wong 2011
),” in other words “Eastern Monism,” which emphasizes the unification of humans and nature. Although Japanese beauty consists of various factors, based on this, it could be said that one factor of Japanese beauty is not beauty created by humans but beauty hidden in nature. Also, it could be said that one factor of Japanese beauty is what Japanese artists have tried to extract from nature based on their sensitivity and have expressed in the form of their artworks. This means that there is a close relationship between Japanese beauty and natural or physical phenomena. We noticed this based on our experiences described below.
We have focused on the creation of artworks based on the methodology of finding and extracting beauty hidden in natural/physical phenomena by using a high-speed camera. One of the authors, Naoko Tosa, was named as Japan’s Cultural Envoy by the Agency of Cultural Affairs, the Japanese Government, in 2016 and exhibited her artworks in many cities all over the world. During such exhibitions, she received many responses from many people including art critics and art curators saying that “Naoko Tosa’s artworks showing beauty hidden in nature express beauty that has not been noticed by Western people. Her artworks include the essence of Japanese sensitivity and consciousness”.
It sounds a bit strange that Western people feel that there is Japanese beauty in artworks created based on natural/physical phenomena. Next, we will discuss this issue comparing Western and Eastern art history.
The creation of artworks based on beauty in nature is not an idea specific to Japan. This idea has been shared in many countries and cultures. In the West, since the Greek era, the idea that art is “imitation of nature” has long been accepted and this idea became the basis of the inventions of various art techniques such as perspective. However, since the late modern era, along with the invention of the camera, this idea was gradually replaced by another idea that art is the “expression of humans’ inner life” and this trend continues through art movements such as Impressionism, Cubism, Abstract Expressionism, and so on.
On the other hand, in the East, these theories have not been the mainstream in the art world and the basic concept of Eastern Monism that stresses the unification of humans and nature has been dominant. In contrast to Western artists, Eastern artists have neglected the concept of shadows and perspectives which play important roles in Western art. Having the idea of the unification of humans and nature deep in their minds and using their sensitivities, Eastern artists have created their artworks and also their own art world. In China, for example, monochrome ink paintings of landscapes have been popular. In such landscape paintings, based on the old Chinese philosophy of Taoism, Chinese artists tried to draw ideal landscapes—in other words, Arcadia.
As Japan used to continuously import Chinese cultures, Japanese art was deeply influenced by Chinese art. Then gradually merging this with the sensitivity of Japanese people, especially influenced by the isolation policy in the Edo era, Japanese artists began to create their own artworks without shadows, and being planar, exaggerated, etc.
As these Japanese artworks in the modern art era look very fresh to the West, who has denied the idea of “imitation of nature,” in 19th century, the movement called Japonism occurred.
Consequently, we can interpret the impressions of Western people toward Naoko Tosa’s artworks, when they say that her artworks express Japanese beauty, in the following way. As the concept of art in the West has changed from its original idea of “imitation of nature” to the modern and present one of the “expression of human’s inner life or concept,” Naoko Tosa’s artworks, that are created based on capturing and extracting beauty in nature and that are a contrast to Western art, appealed to their sensitivity and made them feel that her artworks express Japanese beauty.
Based on this experience we can make a hypothesis that “One important factor comprising Japanese beauty is based is the extraction and expression of beauty in nature.” For the extraction of such beauty, there could be several ways. One such method is based on the sensitivity or natural gifts of artists. Another method is based on the usage of technologies, which have been adopted by us.
In the next subsection, we will discuss several examples of Japanese artworks and artforms showing that one factor of Japanese beauty is based on the extraction of beauty hidden in nature and the creation of artworks containing such beauty.
2.2. Examples of Japanese Beauty in Japanese Art
In natural phenomena, such as water flow or wave forms, Japanese artists have found beauty and by expressing such beauty, they have created their artworks. One such artform is the well-known artworks by Katsushika Hokusai (Thompson and Wright 2015
). Also, the specific expression of water flow, called “Korin wave,” designed by Ogata Korin is very well known (Fujiura 2018
). Such artworks are typical expressions of Japanese beauty and have been welcomed by Western artists, giving them strong impressions. Figure 1
shows Fugaku sanjurokkei Kanagawa oki Namiura (the Wave off Kanagawa, from 36 Views of Mountain Fuji), a print by Katsushika Hokusai (Clark 2017
). Interestingly, the dynamic waveform expressed well resembles the wave form shot by a high-speed camera. Figure 2
illustrates the fluid form created by injecting air-gun bullets into fluid with color paints. It is interesting to know the resemblance between these two.
Another example is a basic form of Japanese “Ikebana” (flower arrangement). The basic form of Ikebana has been considered an “asymmetric triangle” (Figure 3
). We have succeeded in creating a similar form by letting color paints jump up by applying sound vibration and by shooting the jumped-up color paints by a high-speed camera, which is described later (Figure 4
What produces this resemblance between the artworks and the form expressing Japanese beauty and natural/physical phenomena? Perhaps it is that great Japanese artists, such as Katsushika Hokusai, can find beauty hidden in natural/physical phenomena using their sensitivity and talent and can create artworks using the beauty found. For now, this remains a hypothesis, but we want to reveal this by continuing the creation of artworks based on beauty hidden in nature.