Resisting boundaries: Japonisme and western-style art in Meiji Japan

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The term bijutsu, "fine arts," which was invented out of necessity for the Japanese to participate in international exhibitions, inevitably combined the Japanese field of art with international trade and politics. At the same time, the contemporary Euro-American phenomenon of Japonisme led the Japanese to incorporate Western responses into their process of defining bijutsu. The relationship between Japonisme and Japanese art escapes the binary construction of "Japan versus the West." During this period, the projects of the artist Kuroda Seiki, the art dealer Hayashi Tadamasa, and the scholar and art administrator Okakura Kakuzb played an essential role in consolidating the concept of bijutsu and confronting the subsuming power of Western culture, which was supported by the Eurocentric construction of colonial discourse. They were cosmopolitan elites of the Meiji era and three of the few Japanese at the period who understood the potential uses of visual art as tools in building a modern national identity. Okakura sought to innovate the tradition of Japanese painting by appropriating Western principles of art and firmly established the idea of bijutsu through his tenure at the Tokyo School of Fine Arts. At his commercial establishment and at international exhibitions, Hayashi adapted advanced exhibitionary practices and artistic discourses to introduce contemporary Japanese artworks into an international context. Most importantly, Kuroda Seiki worked directly with the newly imported medium of oil painting and proved that non-Westerners could participate in the international discussions of modern art with his paintings, Morning Toilette and Chi, Kan, Jō. Under Kuroda's direction, yōga, "Western-style painting," became a conscious choice as common artistic language for Japan to perform as a culturally enlightened equal partner in the global stage. By gradually asserting native characteristic that was different from that of the West, Japanese appropriation of Western principles of art by these three figures began to contest the seemingly centralized Western authority of the fine arts into an international dialogue on modernism.

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