Maximum Embodiment: Yoga, the Western Painting of Japan, 1912-1955

Maximum Embodiment: Yoga, the Western Painting of Japan, 1912-1955

Bert Winther-Tamaki

Language: English

Pages: 216

ISBN: 0824835379

Format: PDF / Kindle (mobi) / ePub


Maximum Embodiment presents a compelling thesis articulating the historical character of Yoga, literally the “Western painting” of Japan. The term designates what was arguably the most important movement in modern Japanese art from the late nineteenth to the mid-twentieth centuries. Perhaps the most critical marker of Yoga was its association with the medium of oil-on-canvas, which differed greatly from the water-based pigments and inks of earlier Japanese painting. Yoga encompassed both establishment fine art and avant-gardist insurgencies, but in both cases, as the term suggests, it was typically focused on techniques, motifs, canons, or iconographies that were obtained in Europe and deployed by Japanese artists.

Despite recent advances in Yoga studies, important questions remain unanswered: What specific visuality did the protagonists of Yoga seek from Europe and contribute to modern Japanese society? What qualities of representation were so dearly coveted as to stimulate dedication to the pursuit of Yoga? What distinguished Yoga in Japanese visual culture? This study answers these questions by defining a paradigm of embodied representation unique to Yoga painting that may be conceptualized in four registers: first, the distinctive materiality of oil paint pigments on the picture surface; second, the depiction of palpable human bodies; third, the identification of the act and product of painting with a somatic expression of the artist’s physical being; and finally, rhetorical metaphors of political and social incorporation. The so-called Western painters of Japan were driven to strengthen subjectivity by maximizing a Japanese sense of embodiment through the technical, aesthetic, and political means suggested by these interactive registers of embodiment.

Balancing critique and sympathy for the twelve Yoga painters who are its principal protagonists, Maximum Embodiment investigates the quest for embodiment in some of the most compelling images of modern Japanese art. The valiant struggles of artists to garner strongly embodied positions of subjectivity in the 1910s and 1930s gave way to despairing attempts at fathoming and mediating the horrifying experiences of real life during and after the war in the 1940s and 1950s. The very properties of Yoga that had been so conducive to expressing forceful embodiment now produced often gruesome imagery of the destruction of bodies. Combining acute visual analysis within a convincing conceptual framework, this volume provides an original account of how the drive toward maximum embodiment in early twentieth-century Yoga was derailed by an impulse toward maximum disembodiment.

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be equated primarily with oil painting, partly because of its striking contrast to the water-soluble media of earlier East Asian painting practice. At first, oil painting was esteemed in Japan as a means of obtaining realistic and durable representations. But in one of the most momentous developments in the history of the Yōga movement, the fused brushstrokes of academic realism were progressively disaggregated into gestural brushstrokes. Thus, with increasing awareness of European modernist

of Aimitsu’s actual plight, which saw him fall ill and die in a military hospital in Shanghai shortly after the war’s end, this third self-portrait consolidates a strong physical presence. But how do we interpret the sense of invulnerability conveyed by the stable structure of the position of the artist’s head between the dry scumbled impasto of his wall-like chest and the flat black background? Is it a stand of defiance against the tragic destiny that the artist foresaw when he painted the

iru].”80 Thus, presumably the other mission Matsumoto identified for Yōga—that of “digesting Europe and overcoming it”—had not compromised the possession of Japanese flesh by Yōga self-portraiture. Nevertheless, this view was disputed not only by the military officers who provoked Matsumoto’s defensive remarks by deriding Yōga as a “French colony,” but also by Sonobe Yūsaku, who declared that (except for Kishida Ryūsei) modern Japanese painters painted Japanese people’s faces in such a way that

Embodiment private and public sponsorship. For example, the army and navy jointly sponsored the First Greater East Asia War Art Exhibition in December 1942, and the publicity provided by its cosponsor, the Asahi Newspaper Corporation, helped attract 3,854,000 visitors, a phenomenal attendance record, ten times the number of visitors to the annual government salon exhibition.3 Moreover, Yōga composed the lion’s share of war painting presented at such exhibitions and indeed was widely regarded as

Nihonjin,” c. 1928, reprinted in Koide Narashige zuihitsu shū, ed. Haga Tōru (Tokyo: Iwanami Shoten, 1987), 347. 3. For various periodizations of the history of Japanese engagement with European painting, see Shimada Yasuhiro, Henyō suru biishiki: Nihon Yōga no tenkai (Kyōto Shinbunsha, 1994), 9; Takashina Shūji, “East Meets West: Western-Style Painting in Modern Japanese Art,” in Tomoko Sato and Toshio Watanabe, eds., Japan and Britain: An Aesthetic Dialogue, 1850–1930 (London: Lund Humphries,

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