This Lesson explores Japanese culture and identity as expressed through the visual arts, particularly in modern Japan, from the second half of the 19th century to today.
Description: The history of art in Japan is a long one, ranging from prehistoric times (around 8,000 BCE) to the present. Japanese art can be found in a variety of media, including ceramics, wooden sculpture, ink painting, woodblock printing, and many other forms. This Lesson explores Japanese culture and identity as expressed through the visual arts, particularly in modern Japan, from the second half of the 19th century to today.
After a brief overview of traditional aesthetics as a point of departure, we explore the role of urbanization, Western and industrial influences on the production of art; the way in which Japanese art began to influence Western artists; Japan’s response to global movements in the world of art and use of new techniques and mediums; and contemporary artists’ modes of expression.
Learning Goals: By exploring this lesson students will be able to...
- Gain a reference of early-modern to contemporary Japanese art across several mediums.
- Appreciate how shifts in artistic style can be incremental and subtle as well as rapid and dramatic.
- Understand some of the social-historical contexts that changed Japanese society from the 19th century going into the 20th century.
- Discuss how art can communicate certain ideals or messages through abstract ways as well as more tangible, figure-centric, compositions.
Using this Resource: Social Studies teachers will be interested in using this lesson as a visual supplement to any East Asian history curriculum, as the objects used help communicate events ranging from Japan's "opening" to the Western world up to the Hiroshima bombings, and the development of cultural phenomena like kawaii. Visual arts teachers will be interested in using this lesson to explore more traditional forms of art-production, like print making, to more contemporary practices like abstract installations, which will demonstrate to students how a single culture can produce art through various mediums. Language Arts teachers may be interested in using this lesson as some of the objects visualize concepts originating from Japan's literary tradition.
For relevant supplementary materials and classroom activities, refer to the web links posted under Related Resources at the bottom of this page. The objects in this Lesson are just a beginning. We encourage you to further explore the Museum's online collection through this web resource—or even better, to visit the Museum and walk through the physical galleries—to look for other objects that will provide further insights into the concept of identity as expressed through art.