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Hokusai's Great Wave
September 22, 2012 11:04 AM   Subscribe

The Great Wave off Kanagawa is probably the most iconic Japanese artwork in history, often used to illustrate tsunamis, and scientists have attempted to analyze what kind of wave it depicts. The woodprint is part of the 36 Views of Mount Fuji series, which depicts the famous mountain from different spots in Japan. The artist who made the Great Wave, Katsushika Hokusai, created thousands of images, many of which can be viewed online, such as in the internet galleries of the Museum of Fine Art and Visipix (Visipix' Hokusai page). Besides woodprints, Hokusai produced sketchbooks he called manga, one of which, number twelve, can be flipped through on the Swedish Touch and Turn website.
posted by Kattullus (36 comments total) 70 users marked this as a favorite

 
If you are in Tokyo, be sure to visit the Toppan Printing Museum. It has a demonstration of ukiyo-e printing, creating a replica of The Great Wave print. They show an example of how each plate was carved and how the printing was done, step by step. Unfortunately they don't show it on their website.
posted by charlie don't surf at 11:22 AM on September 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


The Great Wave off Kanagawa is probably the most iconic Japanese artwork in history, often used to illustrate tsunamis, decorate Apple laptops.

Fixed.
posted by Fizz at 11:43 AM on September 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


I love that picture. I love how the foam on the wave is like grasping fingers. It is like the sea is alive and has some intent, is is trying to claw back some of the land, or drag everything down to the depths.

I guess island dwellers have an interesting relationship with the sea.
posted by Ad hominem at 11:59 AM on September 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


I'm no art expert, but I saw that and immediately thought "19th century". I was so pleased with myself when I clicked through and saw that I was correct. It made me feel a little more educated and well rounded. Then that reminded me how much the French people of that period absolutely loved Japanese art and it brought a little smile to my face. That brought a little smile to my face. Thank you for that.
posted by seasparrow at 12:10 PM on September 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


My personal favorite take on The Great Wave by kozyndan.
posted by maryr at 12:14 PM on September 22, 2012 [14 favorites]


It took me a while to realise that the Quiksilver logo is basically a very stylised version of this image.
posted by jontyjago at 12:26 PM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Wave and Shroud

Into the restless deep
The ghostly barges creep;
Who are they,
Lashed with spray,
Bold as the fearless dead?

Who are those
To spurn repose
Safe in an earth-warm bed?



By Easley Stephen Jones, From Hokusai's Views of Mt. Fuji
Published by Charles E Tuttle Co. 1965

(A gift to my mom years ago, returned after she passed away.)
posted by Mojojojo at 12:27 PM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


While wandering around Ireland, I stumbled on the Chester Beatty Library, who were having a Hokusai exhibit. It was fantastic to wander through a collection of Japanese art in Dublin.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:34 PM on September 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Art critic: I just l o v e that picture.
Hokusai: It's fractals, all the way down.
Art critic: What?
Hokusai: I have a quick eyeball.
posted by mule98J at 12:38 PM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Just yesterday I reached the podcast about this in A History of the World in 100 Objects. Well worth a listen (as are the preceding 92 episodes).
posted by rory at 12:39 PM on September 22, 2012 [5 favorites]


From the journal article on what kind of a wave was this:

it has inspired both music (Debussy's La Mer), and literature (Rilke's poem Der Berg)

I never knew that. I have been obsessed with this picture from the first moment I saw it on the internet (I was browsing with Mosaic at the time). Doodle glyph representations of it are all over my notebooks. It has always been the picture on my metafilter user page. Kattullus I love this post.

Kampion's Book of Waves is a great hardcopy version!
posted by bukvich at 12:44 PM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


scientists have attempted to analyze what kind of wave it depicts

That makes about as much sense as scientific analysis to determine which species of mouse Mickey is.
posted by agentmitten at 12:48 PM on September 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Hokusai: I have a quick eyeball.

There are legends of artists with "quick eyeballs." It was said of Courbet that he could look upon a landscape and draw every leaf from memory. Looking at details of his landscape drawings, I doubt it. He was, however, very good at suggesting every leaf in a scene.

But Leonardo da Vinci's fluid dynamics drawings still take the prize for quickest eye.
posted by charlie don't surf at 12:48 PM on September 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


If you enjoy Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, it's worth taking a look at Thirty-Six Views of the Eiffel Tower by Henri Riviere. At the turn of the last century, Riviere was taken with Hokusai's work and reproduced the intent of the series using his own monument. It's quite a pleasure to look at (and was featured in a show at the Palace of the Legion of Honor in SF a few years back). You can see a few of the plates at this site.
posted by GenjiandProust at 1:04 PM on September 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


That makes about as much sense as scientific analysis to determine which species of mouse Mickey is.

He's a rat and rather racist if you ask me. I mean how do you think Goofy feels when he tells Pluto to go take a shit outside. I mean what the fuck is that!?!
posted by Fizz at 1:08 PM on September 22, 2012


The coolest thing about Hokusai is that he didn't consider anything he made before age 70 good. His most famous work was as an old man. That is true humility and devotion to his craft.
posted by scose at 1:08 PM on September 22, 2012 [4 favorites]


"But Leonardo da Vinci's fluid dynamics drawings still take the prize for quickest eye."

Ah, c'mon. He had to be using a camera.
posted by bz at 1:14 PM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


He was a shokunin. I am not any kind of expert on japanese culture so I hope someone can tell me more but traditional Japanese craftsmen and artisans learn craft through careful repetition over many decades. They introduce changes very slowly. Traditionally they had a different relationship with the passage of time, age isn't something to be hidden but cherished. In Tanizaki's In Praise Of Shadows he discusses how unthinkable it would be for the Japanese to polish silver daily the way Americans do, they use a peice of silver for many years carefully cultivating a patina. In America having silver that looked new at all times was a status symbol ( I suppose it meant you had a staff large enough to polish it daily) whereas having a piece that was weathered and aged was more desirable in Japan.
posted by Ad hominem at 1:30 PM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Did Charles Schulz use this wave image in one of his final Peanuts strips?
posted by ovvl at 1:41 PM on September 22, 2012


Yes, AH, the arc of history in Japanese art history moves very slowly. Originality is not a strong trait in Asian art, in fact, traditionally, artists did apprenticeships and were judged by how well they could reproduce artworks that their master's were tested with, and their masters, on for hundreds of years. Many of these chains of artistic heritage were around family lines, which were not necessarily genetic families, but artistic schools.

I will tell you a story that helped me understand the concept of heritage in Japanese art. In one of my art history classes, I watched a film about a Japanese ceramic artist. He was considered a Living National Treasure, and was about 50 years old, the modern descendant of a family of artists that stretched back hundreds of years. He used his family name (I wish I could remember what it was) and he had apprentices that would follow him, only one would inherit the primary name of his clan. He worked in the same location as his predecessors, using the same kilns, etc. just as his descendant would.

So this film is following him around as he works. He explains to the camera that today is the day he has to dig up a clay bed that was buried hundreds of years ago. He said that every year or two, he has to dig it up, mix it, and then rebury it for more aging. Only after a predetermined time would the clay be suitable for use ceramic work. Then he smiles and gleefully says the clay bed is almost ready! Very soon now it will be aged properly. The cameraman asks how long before it is ready. The artist says, "very soon, only about 50 years!"
posted by charlie don't surf at 2:10 PM on September 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


scientists have attempted to analyze what kind of wave it depicts

That makes about as much sense as scientific analysis to determine which species of mouse Mickey is.


Except that Mickey was a character created to be re-drawn over and over, and Hokusai was an artist who claimed to have only grasped "the true nature of things" at age 70. Iwerks and Disney tried to make amusing animated scenarios, Hokusai tried to capture the world around him.

After reading Hokusai's biography in Giants of Japan: The Lives of Japan's Most Influential Men and Women, I am all the more impressed. In Japan, it was (is?) customary for artists to study a few different styles, and sign their work with different names for each style. Where most artists would have four to five names in a lifetime, Hokusai had thirty, including one or two that meant "art crazy (old) man."
posted by filthy light thief at 2:29 PM on September 22, 2012 [1 favorite]


Tomimoto Kenkichi? He was officially designated a national treasure in the 50s. Noguchi did some pretty cool but less traditional ceramics as well.
posted by Ad hominem at 2:31 PM on September 22, 2012


Ooh, good research there, I didn't know about that e-yakimono site. But I don't think it's him, this film seemed more modern. It was produced on good color film and modern film tech, although you'd never know it wasn't the 15th century judging by the tools the potter used.

I'm checking their list of National Treasures, but I can't recall enough details to find a possible match. It would be interesting to track down this video, but I don't know the source.
posted by charlie don't surf at 3:20 PM on September 22, 2012


And there's leggings!
posted by readery at 3:37 PM on September 22, 2012


This is the only piece of art that has ever "spoken" to me. I have it as my avatar wherever such things are required. A print of it has hung in my last few living rooms as well.
posted by reenum at 3:43 PM on September 22, 2012


If you're ever up Nagano way, I heartily recommend a side trip to Obuse and a trip to the excellent Hokusai museum there. Additionally, there's a fabulous sake brewery in town.
posted by smoke at 3:51 PM on September 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


Great post, thanks! And that kozyndan.com site is really interesting.
posted by sneebler at 5:07 PM on September 22, 2012


The Great Wave off Kanagawa is probably the most iconic Japanese artwork in history.

Obviously you mean aside from Urotsukidōji: Legend of the Overfiend.
posted by gurple at 5:09 PM on September 22, 2012 [3 favorites]


Gurple, Hokusai is in some way to blame for that as well - The Dream of the Fisherman's Wife
posted by dragoon at 8:12 PM on September 22, 2012 [2 favorites]


The Great Wave off Kanagawa is probably the most iconic Japanese artwork in history.

Ironically, it seems so tiny, seen in person.
posted by y2karl at 9:47 PM on September 22, 2012


Bought a framed print of it in an auction a few years back for a quid, money well spent
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:05 AM on September 23, 2012


Oh and I saw a great documentary about ages ago... though I hazy on the details, a pity as I'd like to track it down and watch it again
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 4:08 AM on September 23, 2012


Shoji Hamada?
posted by mneekadon at 5:26 AM on September 23, 2012


Old school programmers might remember VM Software's "The Wave Of The Future" poster from 1981. Mandatory decoration for all tech-minded student dorm rooms. (if memory serves you can see it in the background of Real Genius)
posted by quartzcity at 8:37 PM on September 23, 2012 [2 favorites]


Another homage: Ivan Bilibin's Illustration for Alexander Pushkin's 'Fairytale of the Tsar Saltan'.
posted by zamboni at 2:25 PM on September 26, 2012


VM Software's "The Wave Of The Future" poster

Oh man, that is my favorite picture of all time! It came to me in a deck of advertising postcards when I had a Real Job as an IT guy, and I've never seen a larger version. Thank you so much for the link!
posted by Johnny Wallflower at 2:47 PM on September 26, 2012


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