If anyone is in the Honolulu area, a symposium is being held next month on the role of copying on Japanese art. The talks look like they will be most interesting, and I invite you to attend. I wish I could be here myself, but I’ve already organized my flights and everything for a short trip back home to attend a good friend’s wedding.
The symposium is entitled Utsushi: The Art of Copying, and will be held at various locations on the Univ of Hawaii at Manoa campus, throughout the day on Tuesday, October 12. All of the talks are completely free to attend and open to the public, though the organizers ask that you contact them ahead of time to state your intention to attend. There is also a dinner that evening which is $55/person and requires reservations.
Speakers will include Kate Lingley (Prof. of Chinese Art, UH Manoa), Joshua Mostow (UBC), Stephen Little (former director of Honolulu Academy of Arts), and Princess Akiko of Mikasa, as well as a number of other very prominent scholars. Several prominent scholars from Japan will be presenting in Japanese, but English translations of their papers will be available.
I don’t consider myself an expert on anything, really, and Muromachi era ink painting is not exactly my strongest suit, but I find the topic quite interesting. Essentially, unlike Western painting (speaking broadly), which traditionally (in certain times, places, and schools of thought) emphasized and valued the pursuit of realistic depiction based on direct observation of the subject, East Asian painting traditionally drew upon earlier paintings, earlier artistic models, and not upon direct observation, in the production of new works. It was all about referencing established ways in which the great masters of the past described trees or rocks or water, while exploring new ways of twisting or shifting these forms. Utsushi, a Japanese word translated loosely as “copying”, really refers to a process of emulating a given earlier work while introducing one’s own reinterpretation, or constructing a new composition by lifting (copying) individual elements from different paintings and reassembling them in a new way. Much like clever, witty cultural references seen throughout any form of media, from paintings to great literature to stand-up comedy, copying older works, emulating older styles, was seen not as stealing or plagiarism, but as a way of demonstrating one’s cultural sophistication, artistic knowledge and skill. It can be fun, actually, and extremely interesting and fruitful, to identify the specific models a given painting was based upon, but beyond that, this process of copying and modeling played an extremely important role in the development of Chinese and Japanese art.
It’s a fascinating topic, and I truly wish I could attend, but I look forward to hearing about how it went.
All the information about the event can be found here, and if you have any other questions, please feel free to ask me, as I am in close contact with the organizers, or to simply email or call Kazuko directly; her contact info is on the flyer.