This lecture considers how modern art in East Asian countries including Japan construed itself under the influence of Western art, to examine the geographic and pedagogic characteristics of the history of art in each region. How since the early twentieth century, Japanese art has developed in conversation with Western modernism, but by not being at what was represented by Western commentators as the centre, therefore on the periphery, Japanese artists were often wrongly perceived as derivative and somewhat less relevant to their Western counterparts.

Illuminating how Japan dealt with modernity and of what mechanisms, universal and local, we can attribute to the mode of negotiation between tradition and modernity at the birth of modern Japan. It explores how the traditional and modern approaches fed off of one other, how they were represented in the visual arts and literature, and how tradition, whether real or created and artistic production and political discourse, frame the art of late 19th and early 20th century Japan.

After the First Sino-Japanese War, which was fought over the control of Korea, China ceded Taiwan to Japan in 1894. Artists from all over Asia began studying in Japan, and shifting priorities during this period involved a complex set of exchanges whereby Japanese visual artists readily accepted information and inspiration from abroad while at the same time providing training to training to aspiring artists in the Japanese colonies (Korea and Taiwan) who took part in Japan’s colonial governments’ indigenous national exhibitions and academies like those in Japan, where the techniques of contemporary Yoga and Nihonga were taught, either by Japanese instructors or those trained by them. Well-known and respected Japanese artists were often sent as judges for such exhibitions.

Highlighting then how Japanese art did not exist in isolation or on the periphery, but at the intersection of multiple histories of art and very much at the centre of it. This lecture explores the role of Japan in the artistic development of East Asia and the concept of modernity in East Asian art.

Image: Murayama Tomoyoshi, Dedicated to the Beautiful Young Girls, 1927
Copyright and courtesy The Japan Foundation