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  • From Temple of the Eye – Notes on the Reception of “Fine Art”
  • Kitazawa Noriaki (bio)
    Translated by Kenneth Masaki Shima (bio)

Kitazawa Noriaki’s work represents a significant shift in the study of late nineteenth-century art in Japan and Temple of the Eye: Notes on the Reception of “Art” (Me no shinden: “bijutsu” juyōshi nōto, 1989), which received the Suntory Prize in Literature and Art in 1990, is one of his most representative works. At first, the premise of the book seems hardly novel: art is a practice imported from the West in the mid 1800s. Even though the terminology of bijutsu (fine art) as it was coined during this process has offered art history much food for thought, studies such as Takashina Shūji’s Aesthetic Consciousness of Modern Japan (Nihon kindai no biishiki, 1986) and Okada Takahiko’s Fin-de-Siecle Japan (Nihon no seikimatsu, 1976), just to name two writings on this subject, had already shed considerable light on this historical moment. The significance of Kitazawa’s contribution lies elsewhere, namely in his keen observation that the adaptation of art was accompanied by the production of visual subjectivity that required a far more extensive material and discursive arrangement. Western painting was not simply a set of tools and techniques but also a culture of visuality that sought to educate the viewer and reproduced its means of production. Art, then, is not only the surface to which our eyes are drawn but also a force that orients our mind toward a designated object. Kitazawa was one of the first scholars to point out that modern art history in Japan is inseparable from the epistemological reconfiguration of the eye. Digging into the discursive foundation of art through the writings of the painter Takahashi Yuichi, as well as writers and art critics, Ernest Fenollosa and Okakura Tenshin, among others, Kitazawa has effectively grafted the concerns of contemporary art criticism of the present day that seek to interrogate the discursive parameters of art to the early development of modern art in Japan.

In this excerpt, Kitazawa acquaints us with the painter Takahashi Yuichi (1828-94), who takes us through the mercurial landscape of modern Japan when the notion of art was still only a vague inclination. As the painter assiduously paints art into the [End Page 228] modern history of Japan, as it were, he quickly realizes that art requires an apparatus designed to capture and establish the gaze. One outcome is his plan of a dream-like spiral structure (Rasen-Tenkagaku) that symbolized a universal totality of the scientific gaze and knowledge pursued as art. In discussing this painter’s project, Kitazawa brings to life intriguing social negotiations. Art surely harbors grand revolutionary designs, but the political implications of that dream remain ambivalent in Kitazawa’s assessment. His argument is not to uphold the oil painter over and against the state but to demonstrate that art, a medium without positive existence, can be appropriated and negotiated from different sites. This particular political implication of Temple of the Eye harks back to the art critic Miyakawa Atsushi, whose writings in the 1960s suggested that art is a system of regulated codes. Kitazawa writes, in reference to Miyakawa’s “Transitions in Criticism” (Hihyō no henbō, 1969): “Art production is never carried out ex nihilo. […] It was Miyakawa Atsushi who encouraged us to turn our attention toward museums, art education, exhibitions, art organizations, and art journalism–elements that were earlier exempt from analysis–to effectively grasp art as a system of institutional codes.”5 Kitazawa’s effort to unground art–to momentarily reveal the structure of power inherent in the practice–can be seen as carrying out the discourse analysis first articulated in the context of the postwar avant-garde.

(Kenichi Yoshida)

Reconsidering Meiji from a Contemporary Perspective

When I think about the origins of Western-style oil painting (Yōga) in Japan, and its inconsistent development in imitating the West, what first comes to mind is the shift in cultural leadership from the old faction of The Meiji Fine Arts Society (Meiji Bijutsukai) to the new faction of the The White Horse Society (Hakubakai)1 that took place at...

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Additional Information

ISSN
2329-9770
Print ISSN
0913-4700
Pages
pp. 228-241
Launched on MUSE
2016-02-17
Open Access
No
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