A Green Sun

Kōtarō Takamura, 1910

People become stuck in an unexpectedly insignificant place and suffer.

The so-called Japanese-style painters can't move forward, marked by the term ‘Japanese-style.’ The so-called Western-style painters can't either, weighed down by oil paint on their backs. Sometimes you end up being more protective of a pawn than of the knight. Your motive for that may be funny if you think about it, but when you magnify with a lens a situation where you can't move forward, and contemplate it, you may be persuaded that it is cruel. Meaningless confusion and the abuse of the dangerous sonde [probe] are the heavy tolls exacted of every artist at such a moment. In this sense, no other artists than the Japanese today place such expensive but useless stamps on their works, or have done. In revolt against these heavy taxes, there may yet ensue anarchy in the art world. But the anarchy that ensues from such a situation will be reactionary. It won't be the anarchy of the Anarchists.

I seek absolute freedom in the art world. Therefore, I want to recognize an infinite authority in the artist’s personality. In every sense, I'd like to think of the artist as a single human being. I'd like to regard his personality as the starting point and appreciate his work. I want to study and appreciate his personality as it is, and do not want to throw too much doubt into it. If someone sees what I think is blue as red, I'd like to start on the basis that he thinks it’s red, and appreciate how he treats it as red. About the fact that he sees it as red, I wouldn't want to complain at all. Rather, I'd like to take as a pleasant invasion the fact that there is a view of nature different from mine, and would contemplate the extent to which he has peered into the core of nature, the extent to which his feeling has been fulfilled. That done, I then would like to savor his frame of mind. This desire of my mind drives me so that it has minimized the value of local color which is on people’s lips these days. (The expression, in English, has a couple of meanings; here, it will denote the usual one of the character of natural colors of a particular region.) It is my view that for a painter to think and suffer about something like local color is just another way of paying for an expensive but useless stamp of the kind I mentioned before.

If my demand for absolute freedom were wrong as an attitude, all my thoughts that arise from it would be valueless. But this happens to belong in the category where there can't be any mistake. For it is not a theory, but my own feeling. Even if someone says it is wrong, I won't be able to do anything about it as long as my brain exists. So I'd like to put in words at least what I think.

I am born Japanese. Just as a fish can't live out of water, so I can't live as a non-Japanese, even if I remain quiet about it. At the same time, just as a fish isn't conscious that he’s wet in the water, so at times I'm not conscious that I'm Japanese. At times’ isn't the right expression. I'm more often unconscious than not. I often think I'm Japanese when I'm dealing with someone. The thought doesn't occur much when I face nature. That is, I think of it when I think of my own turf. Such a thought can't possibly occur when I have my own self thrown into an object.

My psychological state while making art is, therefore, where only one human being exists. Thoughts of things like Japan don't exist at all. I simply go ahead, thinking, seeing and feeling as I do, regardless. The work, when you look at it later, may turn out to be so-called Japanesey. It may not. Either way, it won't bother me, the artist, at all. Even the existence of local color, in such an instance, will mean nothing.

There arc quite a number of people in today’s painting world who think highly of the value of local color. There seems to be even some who think that the fate of Japanese oil paints will be determined by the way the painters compromise with the local color of Japan. There also seem to be not a few people who take a step or two, then hesitate, think-ing that nature in Japan has a certain inviolable set of colors peculiar to it, so that if they infringe on it, their works will immediately lose their raison d'etre — all this prompting them to try to suppress the flaming colors and dreamlike ton [tone] in their hearts. Others put themselves in a harshly rigid attitude that doesn't tolerate even the view of according simple evaluation, while they give an absolute value to local color and treat as something out of the question all the works that have recognized different colors to any degree. And the value of local color seems to be recognized by the general public. This you can tell from the fact that the expression ‘There’s no such color in Japan’ is accepted as a condemnatory pronouncement. I'd like to ignore this local color. Needless to say, I am saying this from the standpoint of an artist.

Even if someone paints a ‘green sun', I will not say it is wrong. This is because there may be a time when the sun looks that way to me too. Simply because a painting has a ‘green sun’ in it, I will not be able to overlook the overall value of the painting. The good or bad of the paint-ing has nothing to do with whether the sun is green or flaming scarlet. In such a case, too, as I said before, I'd like to savor the tone of the green sun as part of the work. I will not compare the Buddhist statues of the Fujiwara Era, which are truly like ‘Japanese’ buddhas, with those of the Tempyo Era, which have a great deal of foreign flavor added to them, and then take the former over the latter from the viewpoint of local color. I'd like to place one work above or below another on the basis of the amount of life. I'd like to allow the personality of the artist who has painted a green sun to have absolute authority…

I'd like the artist to forget that he’s Japanese. I'd like him to rid himself entirely of the idea that he is reproducing nature in Japan. And I'd like him to express on his canvas the tone of nature as he sees it, freely, indulgently, willfully. Even if his finished work produces what is the opposite of the local color of Japan that we think we see in our eyes, I will not want to reject it on that account. To the eye of someone with Chinese feelings, even nature in Japan will at times appear Chinese-style. To the eye of someone exotisch, even the torii of a fox shrine may appear tinged with exotic colors. A bystander has no right to complain of something with which he has nothing to do. An appreciator facing a work of art has no need to question the fact that it is different. He should simply recognize that it is different, and then try to see on the basis of the work whether the artist’s sentiments are based on something false or on his innate sincerity. The goodness or badness of the work must come into his mind as a separate issue.

From this standpoint, I am hoping that Japanese artists will use all possible techniques without any reservation. I pray that they will follow their inner urges of the moment and not be necessarily afraid that they may produce something non-Japanese. No matter how non-Japanese, a work made by a Japanese can't avoid being Japanese. Gauguin went as far as Tahiti and created non-French colors, but his works are, when you think of it, not in the Tahitian style but in the Parisian style. Whistler lived in France and for a while indulged in nostalgic’ for Japan, but he is indisputably Anglo-Saxon. Turner painted the streets of London in Italian colors, but when you think of it now, the colors with which he painted Italian nature were in the end English in style.

Monet did not try to reproduce the local color of France; he tried to recreate nature. Of course, the public did not accept his as French colors. Worse, they did not accept them as natural colors, either. He was denounced because he had painted tree leaves sky-blue. Nevertheless, when you look at his works now, they have an unmistakably French touch of the sort that no one from any other country could have. All this is like a fish having a watery touch. Something like that is not gained by effort, but comes with the thing in itself. When you try to obtain something like that through effort, the degradation of art begins.

While I think the shrine fence painted scarlet beautiful, sometimes I am also entranced by the electric advertisements of Jintan. That’s when creative fervor is boiling in my head. When there is no creative fervor, I am irritated to no end by the random confusion of the city today. There always lives in my mind bugs of these two different stripes. Similarly, while I admire so-called Japanese taste, I am also captivated by non-Japanese tastes. Also, while I regard Japan’s local color to some extent as other people do, in my heart of hearts I reduce its value to zero. So when I look at things Westernized, I do not in the least feel repelled by their Westernization. Even if I see a green sun, I do not feel off-ended.

I have ended up writing down my thoughts in their confused state. All I wanted to do was to say a word on local color, which I think is of little import but of which the world at large makes a big deal. I passionately hope that Japanese artists will see not Japan but nature, will not give a damn about local color that has been turned into a set rule, but will express recalculated color tones as they please.

No matter what willful things we may do, all we’ll have left after our death will be works only Japanese can make.

More about
Meiji Art, Industrial Revolution

Meiji Art

The end of feudalism begins with the search for knowledge

1868 – 1912

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