How Japanese Art Presents a Fitting Case for Our Times
Topographically and Botanically-inspired Japanese Art Show at Harvard brings a fitting narrative to our own period of isolation
Over millennia, Japanese gardens have always been an indispensable part of Japanese architecture and art, but they perhaps became the most visible and critical part of the development of highly stylized Japanese art during the country’s most significant historical era known as the Edo Period (1600 – 1868), where for the first time in Japanese history, Edo (present day Tokyo) became the political and economic center of the country.
There is an art show currently on at the Harvard Art Museum, which is closed to the public for in-person viewing but can be enjoyed remotely via virtual tours and talk programs. The largest-ever single art exhibition to take place at the Museum entitled “Painting Edo: Japanese Art from the Feinberg Collection” truly showcases the intricate and playful relationships between botany, landscapes, and art. It is worth a virtual trip to Boston, MA at a click of a button to see what I mean.
Japanese gardens…contributed to the elevated sense of inter-dependency and trans-literacy between different art forms.
Friends at Harvard shared the video links with me to demonstrate how topographical and botanical narratives shaped the unique artistic movements and styles during the Edo Period, which can be characterized by two significant policies of the highest-ranking warrior class lord of the time, Tokugawa Ieyasu. One was total isolationism, and the other a unique mandate to force over 250 regional feudal lords (known as Daimyo) to build their residences in the new capital and spend every other year in order to demonstrate loyal subordination to the Tokugawa regime. This is an important subtext to watching the videos because this meant that now-unified Japan was able to develop its own unique array of artistic expressions and intellectual cultivations amid isolation from the rest of the world. Those regional lords commissioning new residences in Edo, often ending up building two or more residences for different seasons, contributed to the more than 500 constructions of sizable residential buildings across the new city with elaborate gardens.
Alongside providing patronage to numerous artists for their new residences, the burgeoning Japanese gardens commissioned by the ruling class also contributed to the elevated sense of inter-dependency and trans-literacy between different art forms encompassing gardens, architecture, and arts.
Through these short videos and other great audio-visual resources that they offer, I hope there will be some conceptual connections between how you perceive our garden and what you see at art museums walking through the galleries of Japanese art in the future (hopefully in person).
Enjoy these captivating Videos of Japanese Art!
Painting Edo: a 3-minute intro to the exhibition