Contextual and Theoretical Studies – Transnational Histories

On today’s CTS session we were on about transnational histories, starting on cave paintings in Lascaux (FR) through how did Western European art was influenced by Japanese art of ukiyo-e and ending on inequalities in art.

Cave paintings (dated 17,000 and 15,000 BCE) are often mentioned as the origin of illustration, painting, comics, graffiti. This idea also suggests a universal human history of art.

Japanese art in the 19th Century was based on everyday life. We had a chance to see a very recognisable work by Katsushika Hokusai ‘Under the wave of Kanagawa’ (1830-33). We focused on what is typical for the ukiyo-es. We based our research on work by Toyokuni called ‘Actor Iwai Hanshiro’. As a sum up we can highlight the following:

  • flat background;
  • one colour;
  • outlines;


Katsushika Hokusai ‘Under the wave of Kanagawa’ (1830-33)

Japanese are well known for having an eye for detail so even more than 100 years back when they opened trade, they packed their trade products in ukiyo-e kind of prints. The drawings rapidly became very popular across Europe, mainly in France. At this point, we can observe how the Japanese art influenced European art.

A love child of European art and Japanese art was called as an Impressionism. We can clearly notice the reference between Utamaro’s ‘A woman in a summer kimono washing clothes’ and Edgar Degas’s ‘Woman ironing’. Most important was that the impressionists painted everyday life and followed ‘The ordinary & everyday’ as a subject of art. However, their works were much more graphic than the Japanese ones, for instance Gustav Klimt based few of his works on some ukiyo-e works. On the other hand, Japanese art was somehow influenced by European art as well. Japan started showing Japanese men dressed up in a western style to show the western influence in Japanese everyday life.


Edgar Degas, ‘Woman ironing’ 


Utamaro, ‘A woman in a summer kimono washing clothes’

Thought as for me the most surprising and questionable topic was about the inequalities in art. When we were asked to list the most popular artists it turned out that most of the names were men while only one woman was mentioned – Frida Kahlo. That was the moment when I realised how unfair the world was and still is. In the past, women’s rights weren’t respected and it wasn’t acceptable for them to be an artist or to be trained in any way. These days we learn about Picasso, Dali, Van Gogh or Warhol but there’s one common thing about each of them – they are all Western Men. As I thought it’s the end of inequalities in art, unfortunately it wasn’t. We were given a blog note about Picasso which said, he was massively influenced by African art which was displayed and kind of popular these time.

Outstanding figures such as Andy Warhol or any other listed above, made an impact, but colonialism influenced inequalities in art. Western modern art owes its roots to African art. Western culture equals to what is modern, as for us an art is western modern art and nothing more.


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