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The Journal of Aesthetic Education 37.4 (2003) 84-93

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Arthur Wesley Dow's Address in Kyoto, Japan (1903)

Researchers concerned with the historical development of American art education cannot help but acknowledge Arthur Wesley Dow's significant contribution to the field. Although many writers have recognized him as one of greatest figures in art education, 1 it was not until the end of the twentieth century that art historians discovered his impact on the early development of modernist American art.

Several exhibitions of Dow's work have been shown recently, most notably: "Arthur Wesley Dow and American Art and Crafts," in Stanford, Chicago, and Fort Dodge, Iowa (1999 and 2000) and "Harmony of Reflected Light: The Photographs of Arthur Wesley Dow," at the New Mexico Museum of Fine Arts (2001). 2 In addition, two galleries in New York showed exhibitions of Dow's work in 1999 and 2000, respectively. These exhibitions indicate a rediscovery of Dow's work and his role, as well as a wider interest in the integral aspects of modernism in American artworks.

Joseph Masheck recognized Dow's post-impressionistic aesthetic of flat surface design as influential on modernism in painting and the graphic arts. 3 Nancy Green sees Dow as "one of the first Western artists who did not simply imitate Japanese art, but who actually used the traditional Japanese woodcut techniques to create modernist prints." 4 Leah Ollman writes, "Those who credit Dow as a conduit to American modernism see his traces everywhere" because "Dow is revealed at the end of the rainbow, as the common ancestor" who spread his theory and practice of art and art education. 5 James Enyeart states that Dow can now receive appropriate critical assessment of his work as a photographer and his impact on pictorial and modernist photography. 6 [End Page 84]

Dow is one of the few Americans whose work in the field of art and art education was influenced by Japanese traditional art. He came to Japan in October 1903 and spent three months in Japan, including six weeks in Tokyo and a month in Kyoto. His address in Kyoto in mid-December of that year has been mentioned in biographical studies. 7 However, a detailed account of what Dow said to the Japanese public has previously been unknown due to lack of a historical source.

Contemporary Japanese newspaper articles are the primary source for the contents of this address. The purpose of this essay is to translate these source materials into English, providing a definitive description to encourage further research on Dow as an outstanding artist and educator. This essay describes his activity in Japan, provides useful primary sources about his address, and discusses the content of the address. Implications for a cross-cultural interpretation are discussed in the concluding remarks.

Dow in Japan

Dow was born in Ipswich, Massachusetts on April 6, 1857. He studied art in Boston and Paris, and exhibited his paintings at Salon, in Paris from 1886-1887. He established his summer school of art in Ipswich (1891-1907) and became the curator of Japanese art at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts in1897. He was an instructor of art at the Pratt Institute in Brooklyn from 1895-1904; taught composition at the Art Student's League in New York from 1897-1903; and served as a professor and the director of fine arts at Teachers College, Columbia University from 1904-1922. 8 Dow first studied Japanese art at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts under the direction of Ernest Fenollosa, and then during his residence in Japan.

Arthur Johnson's 1934 biography provides the most detailed description of Dow's life and works. 9 In fact, "every subsequent publication about Dow has relied on this biographical information, and in some cases Dow's aesthetic sources, contained in Johnson's short text of about one hundred pages." 10 According to Johnson, Dow

kept a careful day-by-day record during these months, and to read these notebooks, some six in number, is to see the world through the eyes...


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