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English Research Essay

1125 words - 5 pages

The artist I have chosen for this analysis is Katsushika Hokusai, and his masterpiece known as The Great Wave off Kanagawa. Hokusai is renowned for his woodblock print series, Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji, which includes one of the best recognized Japanese artworks, The Great Wave off Kanagawa. It was this series that enabled Hokusai to expand his reputation both in Japan and overseas. This piece of art is composed of many different meanings behind it, which may be invisible to the naked eye, however with further analysis it is possible to unveil the symbolism behind Hokusai's legendary woodblock print.

Born in 1760 in Edo (former name of Tokyo), Katsushika Hokusai was a Japanese painter ...view middle of the document...

On the horizon is Mount Fuji, the snowy peak mountain, basking in the dawn of the morning.

At a glance this print may seem like it simply portrays a landscape, though professional study shows that symbolism is abundantly incorporated behind this work of art, specifically the Western perspective Hokusai included in the scenery. According to Carol Fineley, author of Art of Japan: Wood-block Color Prints, Hokusai skillfully uses European techniques to create a spatial illusion. In this action scene, a gigantic wave is poised to come down on two boats. The wave is the focal point of this print. Viewers have to look carefully to even see the boats. The power of the wave is immense and the boatmen appear to be at the mercy of nature. Even majestic Mount Fuji, seen in the background, looks small in comparison. The dynamic composition creates a tension between human frailty and the supremacy of nature. In other words, Hokusai wanted to show that humanity seems humble and insignificant when juxtaposed against the powerful and destructive natural forces represented by the wave.

Another symbolism aspect to take note of within this composition is the hidden message conveyed through the contrast of the environment between the foreground and the background. The impending crash of the wave and the boatmen bracing for impact brings tension into the painting, on the other hand, the calm, immutable mountain sitting below a serene morning sky far off in the distance is like a spectator of the fight taking place in the foreground. Dr. David Peat, a physicist of Pari Center in Italy, states that the image is telling us how to live our lives. We have to have regularity and order, represented by the calm, bright sky, nevertheless we also need to learn to face adversity, represented by the brutal, monstrous wave. Despite a raging storm, the seamen are able to witness a majestic sunrise that illuminates the sky brightly.

Furthermore, there is a deeper meaning encrypted into the imposing wave. During Hokusai's era, Japan was largely closed off to the world and only limited interaction with few countries were permitted due to the constant threat of invasion, notably the Mongol invasions in the late eighteenth century. As a result, the wood engraver conceived this masterpiece with Japan's fears of foreign...

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