Japanese Art: Six Genes You Should Know

With our focus this week on all things Japan, we thought we’d point you in the direction of six genes on Artsy that capture important threads of Japanese art and its influence. Look at these not as a definitive overview, but rather as your entry points to further discovery. Happy browsing!

Woodcut: A printmaking technique in which an image is carved into a block of wood, which is then inked with a roller and printed. Though the technique originated in China, it was Japan’s masterpieces in woodcut that would first reach the West, profoundly influencing generations of artists.

Japonisme: In the late 19th century, many Western artists (from Whistler to van Gogh) became fascinated with the aesthetic of Japanese art, and several of its major elements—flattened forms, calligraphic marks, pure colors, and everyday scenes—would form the foundations of modern art.

Gutai Art Group: The subject of a blockbuster exhibition at the Guggenheim earlier this year, Gutai is one of Japan’s most important postwar movements. Founded in 1954, the group (whose name translates literally as “concrete”) pushed past its avant-garde contemporaries to explore elements of performance and materiality, blurring the boundaries between art and life.

Calligraphic: The art of beautiful writing, calligraphy has a rich, millenia-old tradition in Japan. Contemporary artists incorporate calligraphic marks in their works both as a nod to their forebears and as a tool for further experimentation, often blurring the aesthetics of text with its literal meaning.

Comic/Cartoon: One of Japan’s most recognizable exports is manga, the incredibly popular comics whose tales of romance and action/adventure are read the world round. Some of Japan’s best-known artists, including Takashi Murakami and Yoshitomo Nara, riff off the flattened aesthetic and youthful characters found in these comics.

Contemporary CeramicsJapan is home to some of the world's foremost ceramic artists, like Takuro Kuwata, whose radical experimentation with the medium nonetheless draws on the country's rich ceramic tradition.

Explore In Focus: Japan on Artsy.

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