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  • Concerning the Institutions of Art Education (1897)
  • Okakura Kakuzō
    Translated by Kevin Singleton (bio)

As a matter of course, art gives expression to people's thoughts and emotions and is of absolute necessity a prime vessel of civilization. The importance of its relationship to the national economy is also beyond debate. The natural talents of our nation's people, having certain inimitable characteristics, are particularly suited to artistic craft and for this reason, the glory and profit our manufacturing industry has enjoyed in foreign trade is due not to the firm and sound quality of its mechanical production, but rather to the refined splendor of our artistic tastes. It is my belief that the future of enterprise in this country should not rely only on products from nature. Industrial development is also a matter of the utmost concern. Thus, although it is at present imperative that we foster the development of our mechanical industry, which is currently in its infancy, with regards to the art industry,1 our particular strength, we must preserve its existing level and further efforts to render it a source of national wealth. Were we to begin with the unique aspects of our lacquerware, bronzeware metal engravings, wood carvings, ceramics and cloisonné, woven and embroidered textiles, and all other artistic manufactures, and make adjustments to them according to foreign demand, we could expect that before long our exports would increase several times over. However, given the current situation, I foresee a grave concern, namely, that the situation resulting from the Restoration threatens to sever entirely the traditions of our art. The reason for the splendor of our fine arts, which now shed our nation's light even on foreign lands, lies in the fact that until now the graces of the imperial family and stipends from the shogunate and its vassals have provided the means to protect artists and for masters to cultivate disciples. However, at present, the pathways by which art had been encouraged and supported have been peremptorily blocked, and the light of the torch is dying out before it has been passed on. The old master craftsmen eking out an existence today on the meager skills acquired in the final days of the Tokugawa era are already few and far between. There are certain [End Page 184] techniques we shall lose for all time, following the demise of one or two declining elders. This is to say nothing of the hallowed masterpieces and treasures, indices of such exquisite subtlety, which year after year are carried abroad pell-mell, leaving behind not even a shadow of their glory. Now, to hope for prosperity in the trade of our fine arts with things as they are is akin to expecting water to flow with abundance when we have blocked its source. In the realm of trade, in our present condition we merely rely on the virtues of our forefathers as an emergency stopgap measure. Collecting momentary profits from items of inferior design, haphazardly produced, in no wise forms a solid plan to last the century. How can such a state continue for very long? Recently, we have seen the establishment of exhibitions and competitive exhibitions. It has not required an expert to see that although art education appears to have begun in earnest, the miniscule scale and the contracted reach of the arrangements have precluded regaining our former glory. If future generations were to inquire into the responsibility of the Meiji period in preserving the arts that have long been our special strength, how would we answer them? The crisis at hand truly causes one to feel sorrow. Meanwhile, on observing the state of affairs in Europe, we see that within the administrative apparatus, a Ministry of Art or a special department for art has been established, some of which are administered by national or local funds, others by private means. All levels of society are united in their efforts at preservation and support. In France, the budget for the Ministry of Art is no less than 12,760,000 francs (this is not from a recent survey, but there is likely not much difference in the number). In Europe and America it is no...