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MFA for Educators

Engage your students with the collections of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston, to illustrate themes and concepts in any discipline.

The Prolific and Ingenious Hokusai

This Lesson is based on the exhibition, Hokusai, on view April 5 – August 9, 2015. The exhibition showcases a diverse array of works from Katsushika Hokusai’s prolific seven-decade career. Totaling over 200 artworks on view, examples from his vast repertoire include how-to-draw manuals, paintings on silk and on paper lanterns, dioramas, textiles, and of course his famous woodblock prints from the legendary series, Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji.


Though perhaps best known for his woodblock prints, Hokusai was also a skilled painter, teacher, performer, and father. This Online Lesson highlights examples from each of these arenas.


Born in Edo (modern day Tokyo), Hokusai lived during a time when Japan had very limited contact with the outside world. The Dutch were permitted to trade with Japan, so some Western goods were present. Since travel within Japan was greatly encouraged, some of these imports made their way through the country. As a result, Hokusai and his contemporaries were able to explore and experiment with new and exotic ideas.


Trained in the ukiyo-e school (paintings, illustrated painted books, and woodblock prints that depict the ephemeral, or “floating,” world of urban pleasures), Hokusai’s early works include kabuki actors and beautiful women—the most common subject matter of ukiyo-e prints at the time. Later, Hokusai became singlehandedly responsible for broadening the popularity of prints to include the subject matter of landscapes and nature scenes. Known for his wit, humor, and skill at self-promotion, Hokusai also worked on commission, both privately and publicly through “performances” and demonstrations. As a teacher and publisher of how-to manuals, his influence extended far beyond his own pupils within his lifetime (including one of his daughters who became an accomplished artist in her own right), to artists through the ages, both within and outside of Japan—from Hiroshige to Monet. Hokusai was one of the first Japanese artists to be internationally recognized in the 19th century, and continues to inspire artists to the present day.



Grade Level

·         Can be adapted for various subjects in grades K-12

·         World History, Visual Arts, World Languages


Learning Goals

Exploring this gallery, you will discover:

·         The range of different mediums in which Hokusai produced art

·         The variety of techniques that Hokusai mastered


This discovery will require students to:

• Look closely at objects and observe details
• Use prior knowledge in conjunction with observation
• Generate hypotheses based on observation and prior knowledge


Using this Resource:

·         World History teachers and students will be interested in the role that visual art plays in the representation of developments in history.

·         Visual Arts teachers and students will be interested in ways in which Hokusai utilized shapes and forms to render a composition.

·         Art teachers and students will be interested in the techniques and design of varying media in the types of art that Hokusai made.

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