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att. Culture - Fine Art
att. Culture - Fine Art
att.JAPAN Issue 9, November 2002

Fine Art


Fine ArtAntique or Fine Art? Either way, quality is the key. Get to know Japan's real material culture.

 Japan's Dying Craftsmen
It is a saddening thing to see the quality of the Japanese culture picked at and reduced by big industry and pressure applied on cultural integrity. Japan is largely misconceived because of a large cloud of misrepresentation that has plagued the world. Just about everything Japanese, it seems, is misrepresented at least a little, and some things are even believed by the natives. Whether through mean stereotypes or through a new generation of wishful thinkers desiring something exotic, mid-century Japan experienced a newfound boom in exploitation attempts. Perhaps it was through America's newly found occupation as police, or Britain's stronghold in Hong Kong resulting in a mixed idea of what is Chinese and what is Japanese. To those from the so-called 'free world' who even knew Japan's place on the map, Japan became a symbol of a successful democracy in Asia. Looking back though, it is obvious all the corrupt on-goings that continue to make themselves clear even today. Above all though, there was always the successful industry that can never be denied. And everyone knows that success lures in entrepreneurial individuals to get a piece of the pie. From around the world they looked in on Tokyo.

 Living on the Edge-Japan's Ancient World Material Culture Today
Fine ArtFrom around the country came antiques. The tradition of making cultural crafts continues today, but is alive in a delicate balance where craftsmen are on an alarming decrease. They are decreasing greatly due to the latest boom in Asian antiques worldwide. Through this enormous popularity, profiteers are able to undermine Japan's cultural integrity with the creation and dealings of fake antiques to unsuspecting, or unconcerned buyers. The creations are often not even made in Japan. They are often things not historically even Japanese, things that could not be seen in Japan in any point in its history until now, and being sold as antiques.

 Why Do These People Sell Us Fake Things?
Anybody can fall victim to buying things with no value because there may be a lack of understanding about the culture. If the culture is misunderstood, so too will it's material culture be misunderstood. This is apparent to the Japanese vendors (who are largely right about the plague of ignorance overseas regarding their own country). And they cash in on it. But what the vendors may not realize is that by profiting dishonestly, they are not just bad to customers, selling them worthless things, and pretending they don't know a thing about it, but they are also helping to fuel the fires that blaze up the true craftsmen and women of Japan, forcing them to quit their trade and work doing less culturally important jobs just to survive. They help beat the image of their own country down. It is therefore crucial and right to do some studying if you are looking for a traditional Japanese antique or craft to have as your own. Before you set out to buy, you should look around everywhere. Whether it be to a nearby flee market, to a touristy place, or to a museum quality antique vendor, have an idea of what you are looking for and ask lots of questions while you are there. If you have any time to, you should make many knowledgeable friends, study as much as possible about the items that interest you and compare the quality and style of different craftsmen. Do all this before you start buying and you will not go wrong. You will definitely gain a keen knowledge of the culture as well as support a dedicated local craftsman, and possess something that you can rest easy is an authentic representation of the true material culture of Japan.

 Is An Antique A Piece Of Fine Art?
Fine ArtThe definition of fine art seems to be fuzzy, and often controversial. Where does the separation really lie? There is a set definition that is always on the run; the limits it creates are being hacked at evermore as years go on and technology changes the forefront of the arts. The definition most can agree with is this: first, art can be separated into two categories: fine art, and commercial art (among many other possible categories). Since commercial art is one that is made for the purpose of mass production it therefore has less personal meaning to the artist who created it. Even if it is made with a deep personal meaning to the artist, the quality or end result doesn't seem to reflect a true struggle in its creation; it does not become bold and daring in conveying the truths about how the artist really feels. Art is a struggle more than anything else; a struggle to represent some truth about the world. The struggle is one of many levels. The obvious struggle is one that involves the creation itself- how to portray something accurately, realistically, or in a way that has beauty of truth to the senses (whether beautiful or not). Another struggle is one of expression- understanding your own feelings, the feelings that are impressed in you and transferring those ideas to the media accurately and unhindered by anything but your own free will. This is fine art- art that was not whipped up in a day for the purpose of selling something; art that is not cold and void of meaning or feeling. Both fine art as well as commercial art may be pleasing to the eye, both may represent truths about the world or a people and their present culture, and both may convey a feeling or mood, but one of the two most certainly stands out, and is recognized by most as something for us to keep close to us, and keep as our own treasured possessions. This is fine art. It always comes back to an issue of quality and integrity: what kind of things would you want to display around your living room; what kind of things would you like to designate as representations of yourself. Technically, most antiques, often being things of daily use, such as chairs, tools, tableware, and clothing, cannot by traditional definition be classified as a piece of fine art. The only reason preventing them from being considered as such, is the fact that although they do represent a feeling, appeal to the eye, and were made by a true craftsman, the fact is that they were made to fit a certain look, and were most likely mass produced on a handmade scale. No matter. If they are beautiful you can call them fine, and if they have artistic qualities, they can be a fine art by your own definition. Many people hunt for these antiques and display them in their house just as anyone else would with a piece of art. The art lies then with the interior decorator, using these antiques as a medium of their own personal quest to represent themselves.

 Antiques
It is easy to find any kind of antique all around Japan and especially in Tokyo, as this is where most antiques are dealt. It is not so much that Tokyo is the only place to find antiques; it is just a fact that Tokyo is the place with the greatest number of antiques for sale. Although you may find some in other places, you'll find that many of them are not for sale. They are a part of an individual, some number of people or a place and cannot be bargained away. They are indeed priceless treasures. Interested culture sponges, we are eager to get a piece of this and bring it home to show it off. For many it becomes the search for the ultimate conversation piece- something that has meaning to you.

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