Japanese Ink Paintings - Art History

The art of any society reflects the national mood and needs of that society. Japan was no different, and from their love of nature and mood of poignant despair came a variety of arts that was among the finest in the world. Their skill with painting and drawing, and ability to distribute it to the populace, put them far above their western counterparts.

Ink paintings started, as many other arts in Japan, with the court culture of the 9th century. Paintings recorded the events and people of these times. The whole style of writing, taken from the Chinese, was brushwork with a heavy emphasis on style and form. Engagements were made or broken on the strength of the other person's handwriting. Children learned from an early age how to wield the brush and to use it well.

When Zen began its introduction in the 11th and 12th centuries, ink paintings seemed a perfect match. Monks who lived an austere life in tune with nature found the elegant brushstrokes, sparse yet very meaningful, a way to record their thoughts and ideas. The works were simple, yet true; they captured the essence of the subject matter. Lines were angular and crisp, drawn with feeling and purpose.

By the 16th century, a torn country came under the unified rule of Oda Nobunaga, who commissioned a huge building - the Azuchi Castle. He ordered paintings of all sizes and shapes put on its walls, to commemerate his actions and to show his culture. From this point forward, leaders were expected to be culturally knowledgeable, and often were great artists themselves.

As peace continued, other styles of painting came into fashion - the woodblock prints with their variety of colors propagated quickly and found their way into many homes. The Japanese had a penchant for the simple; though. They were not ones for multi-layer, multi-color Rembrandt-style paintings, with pre-scetches and middle-drawings. Ink drawings were spontaneous, like their haiku; to the point, clear and direct.

Japanese Woodblock Prints


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