In their ambition to capture “real life,” Japanese painters, poets, novelists and photographers of the nineteenth century collaborated in ways seldom explored by their European contemporaries. This course offers learners the chance to encounter and appreciate behavior, moral standards and some of the material conditions surrounding Japanese artists in the nineteenth century, in order to renew our assumptions about what artistic “realism” is and what it meant. Learners will walk away with a clear understanding of how society and the individual were conceived of and represented in early modern Japan. Unlike contemporary western art forms, which acknowledge their common debt as “sister arts” but remain divided by genre and discourse, Japanese visual and literary culture tended to combine, producing literary texts inspired by visual images, and visual images which would then be inscribed with poems and prose. Noticing and being able to interpret this indivisibility of visual/literary cultures is essential in understanding the social and psychological values embedded within the beauty of Japanese art.
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