New Digital Art and Japanese Aesthetics

prof. Yuko Nakama
(Ritsumeikan University, Kyoto)

Katushika Hokusai (1760-1849), Japanese woodblock (ukiyo-e) painter in the Edo period (1603-1868), published his Tour of Waterfalls of Various Provinces consisting of eight prints in 1833. We notice that in his Waterfall, people are not only amazed by its power and dynamism, but they are surrounded by splashing water conveying physical reality to ukiyo-e viewers. Vapors are precisely drawn with similar to pointillist technique, emphasizing the water dispersing around the fall. In Yōrō Waterfall in Mino Province travelers are awed in silence for powerful nature just before their eyes. The strong contrast of dynamic feature of waterfall roaring down and the silence of people is effectively expressed and the viewers share this extraordinary experience through the integration to figures in the pictorial space.

The desire for being present or integrated in the pictorial space is also seen in the fragmental composition of Japanese traditional paintings. The suggestion of “the whole from a fragment” influenced French Impressionists during the Japonism movement in the last half of the 19th century. Japanese aesthetic satisfied Monet because it suggests expanding space from the canvas. (Roger Marx, Les Nymphéas de M. Claude Monet, “Gazette des Beaux-Arts”, 1909) As the results, the space will be environmental.

This traditional concept reflects also digital art today. TeamLab., Japanese artist group, that expands their activities in global scale, explores to attain the sense of spatial awareness of premodern Japan. The essential factor for TeamLab. is “we are a part of nature”, “the world I am seeing is, the same world the figure in the picture is seeing.” (Miyazu Daisuke, The Age of Art x Technology, Kobunsha, Tokyo, 2017).

Compared to the Waterfalls by Hokusai, the digital work of Team Lab. seems very modern, but both are based on the similar aesthetic concept. The characteristics of Japanese pictorial space which invites viewers to “come into being” will be reconsidered.