Analysis of “Aspects of Japonisme”

Aspects of Japonisme
Author(s): Gabriel P. Weisberg
Source: The Bulletin of the Cleveland Museum of Art , Apr., 1975, Vol. 62, No. 4 (Apr.,
1975), pp. 120-130
Published by: Cleveland Museum of Art
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This article begins by getting into the impressive impact that Japanese art had on France and French artists like Degas and Manet. It discusses in depth how fashionable it had become to collect Japanese art as well as for artists to co-opt Japanese motifs and aesthetics, eventually creating a new category of art: Japonisme. Despite it being seen as a trend and a craze, the article claims that artists “Did not pander to to overblown misconceptions which were done to appeal to popular taste of the day” (121). Instead, artists took great care in studying and replicating Japanese art. The article goes into depth about Bracquemond, an artist who quite literally would copy Japanese prints and then paste them onto ceramics, often combining multiple Japanese motifs onto one ceramic. The author claims that Bracquemond was reliant on “exact borrowing”. The article also puts into question some of the commonalities between works by Manet and pre-existing Japanese works, asking whether or not he intentionally lifts certain poses or concepts for art pieces and if he does so with the intention to make commentary.

The article concludes that the trend that started with Bracquemond of “exact copying” eventually devolved to artists making vague references to Japanese stereotypes without fully assimilating them. It also acknowledges that while some artists were “serious” about executing Japonisme in a sensible fashion, other artists were replicating Japanese works for the sake of selling to the middle class to satiate their need for “novelty and exoticism” (129).

In my opinion, this article misses out on crucial points of criticism of Japonisme as a biproduct of colonial attitudes. At several points, the author selects language in order to avoid any level of criticism, repeatedly referring to the literal act of stealing and plagiarizing as “exact copying”. I found the very last sentence of the article the most telling in which the author attempts to include a counterpoint, claiming that not every artist was as serious as the few selected to be mentioned in the article in being careful and studious when copying Japanese art. Not only does this statement assume that just because one is an established artist must mean that stealing art from other cultures is tasteful, but the author seems to exemplify classist sentiments by blaming the middle class for any accusations of stealing art, claiming that there was less honest copying done so that the middle class could afford it. But again, when established artists do it for the elite to admire, it’s quite impressive and noteworthy. Overall, I found this article less than informative due to it’s choice to only focus on a handful of French artists. I still feel as though this article did not improve my understanding of Japonisme and left me with questions about the actual process of the art being assimilated and changed for the sake of being palatable to Western audiences, as well as the underlying Orientalism and Exoticism that drove this trend.

Author: Connor Busch

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