Art and Architecture in Japan
This course—and introductory survey—asks you to look precisely at art and architecture in or associated with Japan, doing so with a sort of “double-vision.” By this I mean the following: we can, and should, study a work’s visual-material and contextual place in the past. What, for instance, was the significance of the Great Buddha at the Buddhist monastery Tōdaiji in the 8th century? What did its iconography, form, and scale signify within imperial rule and East Asian Buddhism? That’s one modality of inquiry, and we might tag it “synchronic” or “historicist” (concerned with meaning at a particular moment in time). But there’s another mode—“diachronic” or “dialectical,” perhaps—that invites us to be nimble in how we “study the past.” Are the meanings of the Great Buddha in the 8th century, the 1930s, and 2012 the same, or have the statue’s meanings and affecting and ideological powers accumulated unevenly, shifted over time? Are there particular sorts of “modern looking” (including “art historical looking”) that we need to assess? What might we learn from the potential tensions, slippages, or continuities between the distant past, more recent periods, and the present? Take the 19th-century woodblock print known as the Great Wave. Although this famous print/image seems so obviously “Japanese,” it’s visual content, context, and reception turn out to be more complicated and less purely “Japanese” than we might think—and, consequently, more fascinating and important. And if we turn to the study of contemporary works of art and architecture in Japan, how should we consider their relationships to the visual/material past and the so-called “Japanese Tradition”?
There is no prerequisite for this course, and students from all majors and disciplines are welcome.