S-Space Graduate School of International Studies (국제대학원) Institute for Japanese Studies(일본연구소) Seoul Journal of Japanese Studies Seoul Journal of Japanese Studies vol.5 no.1(2019)
“Lineage of Eccentrics”: The Popularization of Art History, or Rewriting Japanese Art History
- Choi, Jaehyuk
- Issue Date
- Seoul Journal of Japanese Studies, Vol.5 No.1, pp. 45-80
- Lineage of Eccentrics; Japanese art boom; popular art history; Tsuji Nobuo; Itō Jakuchū; asobi (playfulness); kazari (decorativeness)
- In 1968, art historian Tsuji Nobuo categorized a number of Edo-era painters under the description “Lineage of Eccentrics.” These were artists not bound to any art historical schools, but whose work was characterized by displays of bizarre and fantastical images. Since then, the concept of kisō (eccentric ideas) has acted as a driving force and an academic support for the phenomenon of the “Japanese art boom”—the popularity of Japanese traditional art since the 2000s. It has also contributed to the rediscovery of its representative artist, Itō Jakuchū.
The concept of kisō had an avant-gardist feature in that it denied conventional formality, and at the same time sought to become a new mainstream. In that pursuit, the concept enthusiastically embraced Western art styles such as Maniérisme and Surrealism in order to guarantee its universality. It also reflected the enthusiasm for postwar democracy by emphasizing the artless character of the populace. This effort in turn established a basis for writing pro-audience art history.
Furthermore, the concept of kisō sought to expand its boundaries as a genre to include not only paintings, but also crafts and everyday objects, through the key concepts of asobi (playfulness) and kazari (decorativeness) in its media. This allowed the idea of kisō to extend its lifespan as a concept not limited to the Edo era, but one which pertained to the entirety of Japanese art. In conjunction with the Japanese art boom, the concept was employed in writing easily comprehensible art history by using, in place of art historical jargon, more familiar terms such as expression, freedom, playfulness, decorativeness, humor, and the grotesque. This rewritten art history has been visualized in the form of “fun exhibitions” curated around themes of happiness, cuteness, and joy. The idea of kisō rejected elitism and oriented itself toward the general public. This allowed it to coexist readily with contemporary Japanese art that actively adopted subculture as its major theme. Japanese Neo-pop, as exemplified by the work of Murakami Takashi, and Murakami’s “Superflat” aesthetic, is known to have been greatly influenced by Tsuji’s Lineage of Eccentrics (2004), and it summons the painters of this lineage by means of parody and homage.
The concept of kisō, at first glance, might appear to be inconsistent and illogical, as it has advanced by embracing and rebuilding conflicting elements: the universal and the specific, the mainstream and the avant-garde, the yin and yang, and so on. However, one may say that it has been this flexibility that has permitted it successfully to gain the popularity it has enjoyed.