Book Review: Japanese Design. Art, Aesthetics & Culture

japanesedesignPatricia J. Graham is a professor and museum curator of Japanese art with a profound educational and practical background and she is the author of many books of Japanese art.

Japanese Design. Art, Aesthetics & Culture was recently published. The book comes with a well constructed content, elaborated articles and beautiful pictures. Therefore it makes anyone, who is interested in Japanese art, familiar with the terms of aesthetics and many examples of Japanese Art and Design. Patricia J. Graham exposes the main characteristics and writes about Japanese art seen through Western eyes on a historical background. This gives the reader a manyfolded overview and new insights into Japanese art.

You can either use the book as a good reference guide or you can read it from page one to the end. The content is profound and it is addressed to the art adept as to the beginner. Patricia J. Graham defines the basic Japanese aesthetic terms and she names their roots in Japanese religion and philosophy. She reflects upon it’s influences in Japan and it’s reception of designers, artists and architects around the world, interesting for further studies.

In the first part about the aesthetics of Japanese Design
she introduces terms like shibui, as a key term of the highest level of beauty, then wabi-sabi, the essence of Japanese beauty and iki (chic and sophisticated beauty), which she links mainly to the ukiyo or floating world, and gives many definitions further on in this chapter.

In the second part the author formulates ten key characteristics of Japanese Design giving many examples and a rich selection of colorful pictures.

The third part focuses on the early promoters of artistic Japan from the 1830’s to 1950’s, where you meet old acquaintances and new faces: John La Farge, Arthur Wesley Dow, Phillip Franz von Siebold, Frank Lloyd Wright and Ernest Fenollosa, just to mention some of the most influential personalities, who deal with Japanese art.

In addition you find a  glossary and a reading list at the end of the book.

My general impression: I have read many books on Japanese art and many of the books chose to guide their reader through history from the early beginnings to the present time and this can be boring sometimes. This book is a real fresh view on Japanese art and the professional photo material is just beautiful and makes it very valuable. A very good book!

Japanese Design. Art, Aesthetics & Culture by Patricia J. Graham was recently published in 2014 by Tuttle.

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