Manga Kamishibai – Book Review

Ryan Hudson
ART 335
Book Review

Manga Kamishibai: The Art of Japanese Paper Theater. By Eric P. Nash. (New York Abrams Comicarts, 2009 304.).

Americans are, for the most part, aware of the expansive world of comics and animation. Especially in recent years, comics have had a rebirth in American culture- some could argue larger than in the 1930s. Theaters are becoming over-saturated with masked vigilantes and villains. While most Americans know the origin of Superman and the tragic tale of Batman’s past, people in Japan are more familiar with other names such as Golden Bat. What may be surprising is Golden Bat even predates Superman. Eric P. Nash’s book, Manga Kamishibai, dwells into the underground Japanese artistry of story and image, unbeknownst to most  Americans.

Manga Kamishibai tells the story of 19th century Japan through the history of a lost medium known as, Kamishibai (a way of telling stories through panels of image and improvisation.). Nash tells this history in an unconventional, yet effective, way. Instead of a clean consecutive timeline, he travels back and forth through the past. He finds a point in time- one story leads to another until the chapter ends and time reverts back to its original point. Nash backs up his arguments through the claims of actual Japanese artists and their stories. For this reason, the chapters tend to focus on a Kamishibaiya (kamishibai storyteller) or the artist. He follows that person’s story through time until the next person’s story begins. The people he brings forward are travelers through time and direct connections to history. This allows for multiple viewpoints of Japan and the different goals of Kamishibai.

At some parts in the book, Nash tends to make assumptions that seem far-fetched, but this is also the greatest strength of his writing. While the book does give factual information that the Japanese fictional hero, Golden Bat, was conceived before superman, he goes as far to say that Golden Bat may very well have been the “first” superhero. It is self-evident that Nash has a love (bias) towards Japanese culture and history. To be the first of anything is a bold statement. A superhero can mean different things to different people- most stories are never brought out of thin air, they are simply manipulations of past stories and events. To say something was the “first” is to ignore the influences before it. Though his points can be argued, there is no denying that his writings are no less as exciting as his passion. He is aware of his audience and their understanding, or lack of, of the topic. When reading his book there is a strong sense of empathy- neither the people, stories, or audience is left out. A sense of bias comes out from his book because of his love for the topic. He truly understands the Japanese and leaves no room for the reader to fall short of empathy towards the subject.

There is an irony to the story of kamishibai. Influences can be interpreted as homages to past works- where the intention is hardly to replace, but to carry on. “TV Killed the Kamishibai Man,” this was the second to last chapter of Nash’s book and the metaphor suits it well. It is obvious that television drew influence from kamishibai, stories told through image- the difference is that television was not saluting kamishibai, but replacing it. In most writings the last chapter is left to talk about the future. Nash transitions to this in a way that evokes feelings of loss towards the medium. What the future holds for kamishibai is… Death. However, he turns back to the artists and what their future holds. He talks of kamishibai men evolving to a new medium, manga, Japanese graphic novels. Manga was the next big thing for the artists. They could still tell stories through images, only instead of a voice there were words. Manga would later find its way into the spotlight of young children just as its predecessor had. And although, the golden days of Kamishibai may had come to an end, the book was never about the single medium. It was about the artists.

After reading Eric P. Nash’s book, Manga Kamishibai, nothing is lost. There is a gain in knowledge that steps out of the confounds of one’s borders. He has been on the same journey as his readers. The realization that America is not the father of animation, but merely a brother of a nation who found their own path to the same medium. The evolution is captivating- the reader can clearly visualize the unknown life of an artist in Japan during the early to mid 20th century. It is the stories of the people in Japan and the obvious love for the subject that convinces readers to believe a history that is not a part of their own.

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“Designing Design” Book Review

Designing Design. By Kenya Hara. (Lars Muller Publishers; 4th ed. Edition 2015. 467)

Kenya Hara or rather Hara Kenya is a Japanese designer, his book Designing Design is about the next step in design. It could be design as a whole, or personally, either way it is about thinking past conventional thinking of what makes an object an object. For example, in the introduction he describes a glass, if one were to ask someone what a glass is more than likely that person would know. Now if one was asked to design a glass everything changes, the designing of the glass begs the question of how should it be designed, in what style or how functional should it be, in essence as Hara Kenya states “you lose a little bit of your understanding of ‘glass’”. Hara Kenya is really getting at the essence of what design becomes once you get past the basics. It is not just about making things functional and pretty, which ultimately is the end goal but in that process you must really come to an understanding of what you are making and why you are making it. This statement I think really holds true, often designers get bogged down in making things nice and convention but forget what they are doing. This creates the problem of people getting caught up in the loss of understanding that Hara Kenya describes. This book defiantly sheds the light on design in a way that isn’t quite ordinary.  Showing examples of Japanese design, something elegant in nature, well thought out, and impeccably crafted.

Hara Kenya Starts the book with his view of how a design process works when re designing familiar items, items that one would use every day without a second thought of why they are the way they are. He Starts to show examples of what he means not with just words but with pictures of what he is talking about. The first Chapter is an examination of a show he hosted called Re-Design. This show is a collective of designers from many different fields many of them architects, taking on design challenges. The challenge of this show was to take on ordinary objects and look at them as if it was the first time you have come across such an object and design them. This is only one example given throughout the book. He goes on to review not only the shows that he has put together but other peoples and his own work as well. With these examples he gives he further travels into the idea of really rethinking the things that one designs. One of the Objects that was redesigned was a simple match stick. The man to do it is Kaoru Mende or Mende Kaoru. Mende Kaoru is lighting designer; his specialty is designing spaces with light in mind. The redesign is simple, a twig with a Phosphorus tip on the top. This design makes us reevaluate human’s relation with fire not just the functionality of the match itself. While it still serves its purpose and works well. The design is thoroughly thought out from its packaging, to the name of the object itself. The Matches are called Anniversary matches because of the use will most likely be used for special occasions like that.

The book fails to really go into the process of the invention but rather focus on the object itself and a short synopsis of it. At this Hara Kenya decided that it was more important to show many rather than go into deep analysis of each object given. While going through each item in his show it slowly pieces the puzzle of his main idea together. At first the concept is interesting but semi unattainable but through his method of showing project after project in order to slowly show how one can be redesign design. The use of redesigning everyday objects into something different hones into this idea, because it primes the readers mind to start to think about the world in a different way than normal. The example above is just one of many given. The matchstick is a simple and effective way to rethink how a match stick works and what we use them for. The aesthetics of it is not as important as the idea behind it. The idea shifts from being an everyday tool to light things on fire to a special occasion where we uses these matches to signify the lighting of something special, almost ceremonial. By rethinking how the object is used Mende Kaoru redesigns the original design. This hits upon the idea of what design is, not only making something aesthetically pleasing but to show the function of a design becomes the main focus of the designer.

As every designer knows form follows function. This means that the function of a design is the most important part of design. Designers tend to get bogged down with this and tackle problems in one way rather than multiple. Breaking down the function of an object and really rethinking what the function is challenges the designer in new ways. Hara Kenya really pushes the idea that the designer should try to break down the idea of what they are working on down to what they think the essence of what it is in order to proceed. Like Hara Kenya states “Even if you lose touch a little with your understanding of design by reading this book, it doesn’t mean you know less about design than you did before.” This train of thought might feel as if the designer is taking steps back and losing understanding, it is exactly that which makes them better and more thoughtful designers.

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Mende Kaoru’s Anniversary Matches

Anna Fusick

ART 335

Book Review

Artists Under Hitler: Collaboration and Survival in Nazi Germany. Jonathan Petropoulos. (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2014. 407 pp.).

In his book, Artists Under Hitler: Collaboration and Survival in Nazi Germany, Petropoulos boldly declares that modernism was not destroyed by fascism and continuously argues that modernism excelled under Hitler’s regime. His argument maintains the idea that modernism is defined as the rejection of “verisimilitude and traditional historicist idioms” (xi) and the process of abstraction, and non-realistic art components.   Throughout his argument the author expands the definition of modernism. He argues that modernism itself has a very loose definition and later uses his unique interpretation of said definition in his argument. His analysis applies this definition to the specific perspective on daily life, culture, resistance, and collaboration by the Third Reich. Petropoulos discusses both groups of artists who succeeded in the Nazi Regime and artists who tried but failed to find support. Those artists who did fail were not actually interested in working for the Nazi party but just wanted to continue practicing their craft safely.

Petropoulos creates a sound argument by organizing in three main sections which together highlight ten exemplary artists. First he reviews the history of the relationship between modernism and the Third Reich. In this section he discusses specific art exhibits such as the Degenerate Art Exhibition and the Thirty German Artists. Joseph Goebbels, the “cultural czar” of the Nazi party, is introduced in this section. Goebbels is an important figure in Petropoulos’ argument, as he organized most of the art exhibits under Hitler’s reign.  In this section Adolph Hitler’s management style regarding the arts is defined to the reader. Hitler himself was an anti-modernist yet he allowed his higher-ranked officials to fight his “design wars”. In the second section of his argument the author reviews five artists who tried but failed to continue working under the Nazi regime. The last section reviews five more artists who continued to work under Hitler and even adapted to the ideals and goals of the Third Reich. Throughout the entire book, Petropoulos continues to go against the more conventional argument that Nazi culture was too constraining for modernism.

Most notably in the first section, Petropoulos emphasizes the support given to the modernist movement from senior Nazi officials. Many of the older Nazi officials, such as Joseph Goebbels, were collectors of modernist works. Goebbels himself is said to have collected work from Ernst Barlach, an “unsuccessful” modernist sculptor. While this may be true, many of Barlach’s pieces were later put in the Degenerate Art exhibition in 1937 because they didn’t align with the Third Reich’s ideology. All degenerate art was banned from the grounds, despite having a senior official’s aesthetic approval. The author explains that there was a great deal of tension within the art community at this time, resulting in a lot of “grey area” when it comes to what was considered degenerate. . This “grey area” holds little weight when discussing the regime as a whole. He argues that because higher officials admired modern artwork themselves, they represented the true ideals of the party. If the party as a whole condemned certain works, historically, these decisions of a handful of senior officers do not pull much weight in the argument.

Artists such as Richard Strauss, Gustaf Gründgens, and Arno Breker were successful through the Nazi regime, and considered themselves modernist artists. I believe that Petropoulos fails to look critically at these artists through a historical lens. Despite his argument that these artists were expressionists, which was a “Nordic” form of modernism, these artists are truly expressionists and not completely categorized as modernists. These artists were more passionate supporters of Hitler than their unsuccessful counterparts, and were still loosely considered modernists. One of Petropoulos’ main arguments for these artists highlighted Breker’s support of Picasso. Despite this support, Breker actually altered his original style to align with the Nazi ideal. His new style was more violent and powerful than before. Even though he made these changes to fit the Nazi ideal, Petropoulos argues: “Breker hailed from a truly modernist milieu and never entirely gave up that identity, even after 1935, as he rose to the pinnacle of the Nazi cultural establishment.” (262).  Due to this change in style there are holes in the author’s argument. This reinforces the conventional conversation discussing the rejection of traditional modernism during the Nazi regime.

Despite his unique and sound argument, Petropoulos’ argument is easily disputable. Even though there were a select few successful modernist artists working under the Third Reich, the regime as a whole rejected modernism. Because of Hitler’s own opinions and decisions regarding art during this time, all other officials’ opinions were not relevant. Hitler himself essentially controlled all aspects of his party so his beliefs were the beliefs of the party as a whole.   Also many of the successful artists discussed in the author’s argument would not have been historically categorized as modernists. It is important to note that the goal of Petropoulos’ argument was to create a deeper understanding of these artists and their work in a historical lens. Overall his analysis offers an interesting and worthwhile perspective on the effect that fascism had on design, most notably during the Nazi regime in Germany.

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The Art of Rivalry

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The Art of Rivalry. By Sebastian Smee. (New York: Random House Publishing, 2016)

What is modern art without the inclusion of the undeniable presence of tension and competitive strife between creative masters? It can be argued that this complicated  dynamic between artists,  the incessant pursuit to out-innovate their peers, is in essence, what has shaped the history of modernism. In The Art of Rivalry, Pulitzer Prize-winning art critic Sebastian Smee explores this very topic. Through depictions of the relationships between some of modern art’s most renowned names, the book, as Smee presents it in his introduction, aims to reckon with “an intimacy in art history that textbooks often ignore” (p. xvi). The result is an engaging account of the creative tensions that characterized the friendships between four pairs of artists: Lucian Freud and Francis Bacon, Edouard Manet and Edgar Degas, Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso, and Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, and how that tension shaped their art.

When reading The Art of Rivalry, one may attempt to pinpoint a unifying force or common theme tying together these four friendships. While he gives no apparent explanation to his decisions for choosing these particular artists, it is interesting to note that all four friendships presented involved  an audacious, more dominant individual, and one who never quite matched the other’s boldness. If not for Pollock’s complete innovation and abstract exploration of paint on canvas, would de Kooning have broken free from the restraint of the figurative, finally pushing the boundaries of his own work?  It’s impossible to say for sure, but what is in fact certain, is that in each story presented, these relationships were impactful. Each story involves the artists reaching a peak in his success shortly after a significant event occurred between the two.  It can be argued that some of these artists may never have reached the height of their success, if not for the influence that these rivalries had on their careers. 

In his work, Smee finds a fantastic balance between informative biography and gripping narrative. The stories were fast-paced (as each section recounted the careers of these artists in merely 90 or so pages), but well fleshed out. This book is not merely a factual account of these artist’s careers, it also includes juicy details about Pollock’s anarchic behavior, for example, like the time he was a friend’s house and punched out a window after telling a guy he needed some air, a moment de Kooning describes as “so delicious—so belligerent…Terrific” (pg. 308), and  details of Picasso’s many lovers and opium usage, and the underlying sexual tensions of Freud and Bacon’s relationship.The inclusion of these titillating details, hooks more than your expected art historian. It appeals to a wider audience, those interested in drama, in tragedy, in intimacy, and is a key component in the success of Smee’s work.

The Art of Rivalry, with all of its admirable qualities, is not without inherent flaws. Smee’s at times unnecessary use of flowery language, detracts from the the story, and even paints him as pretentious in some instances. Also, while it does appeal to a more general audience than say, an art history textbook, those with absolutely no previous knowledge of the history of art may struggle to completely understand the stories in the context of what was happening in the art world at that time. If someone were to read this with only today’s art as their reference, they may not understand why Manet and Degas’ rejection of the history painting, or Pollock and de Kooning’s journey into complete abstraction were so revolutionary at their time. The inclusion of   a brief summary of the art movements and key players during the specific time period, would greatly benefit each of the four sections, at least for those with little to no background in art. Another issue is that some readers may disagree with claims that Smee makes throughout the novel, like when he states that de Kooning and Pollock are the “two most celebrated artists of the twentieth century”. These allegations paint him as biased in some instances throughout the novel.

Overall, in this interesting exploration of friendship and strife between some of modern art’s notable figures, Smee successfully details how these relationships ultimately created a competitive tension that brought their art to great new heights. While some minor flaws may be pointed out in The Art of Rivalry, Smee’s ability to fluidly implement details about the artists’ lives that are more personal than what would be presented in any art history book, provides the reader with an exceptional look into how impactful these relationships were to the history of modern art.  

Symbols of Power in Art

Dezmond Carter

Art 335

Book Review draft

Symbols of Power in Art By Paola, Repelli. (Los Angeles,CA: J. Oaul Getty Museum, Getty Publication. 2011. Print)

The Symbols of Power in Art, constructed and assembled by The J. Paul Getty Museum and author Paula Rapelli, has proven to be a miraculous book. Serving more as a survey, rather than an in-depth literary resource, this book visually shows, rather than describes, how “power” was depicted through a series of visualizations. These visuals can be categorized via paintings, tapestries, and of course, “symbols” that were then idolized and praised throughout the centuries. This book genuinely introduces what “symbols” actually are and how they were used to symbolize power in six scholarly chapters.

For starters, this book opens up with a generic study of symbols and exemplars, which by definition mean, a mark, sign, or word that indicates, signifies, or serves as a typical example or excellent model. With in this chapter, the reader is educated on terms, such as “Lion”, “Crown”, “Purple” and “Caesar”, just to name a few. Following each term a series of pictures are displayed and further explained as to what and how each subject became recognized as a symbol of power. For example, although we all may know what a crown is, or even seen one from watching television or movies—most would fail to realize the difference in variations. On pages 21-25, Paula Rapelli, lays out several photographs and vector images, depicting crowns of respective regions and the materials that distinguish its sovereignty. I.e. “ The crown of a n Italian prince is surmounted by eight gold acanthus leaves or fleurons set atop points that alternate with pearls…” while “the crown of an Italian noble’s crown is only surmounted by eight pearls” (pg 25).

Each page is coupled with a one to two page long summary that briefly describes each of the subjects within the running head. Followed by these pages are images and/or portrait with callouts to further describe phenomenal historical feats. The use of this feature is very ideal and has beneficiary motives that bring light to symbolism that would otherwise go unnoticed. Examples that populate the book can be found on pages 26 and 28, where the Getty Museum not only describes what a Scepter is, but provides contextual references of how it came to be and how its perceived — based on geo-location, religion, and time. According to the authors, “ a scepter is a staff made of fine wood or richly decorated gold, held by a king; but in ancient Greece, the scepter was a long staff used by the elderly as an aid in walking or by shepherds to lead their flocks”. Further development of the scepter soon came to identify with the Christian iconography of the “Good Shepherd”. Societies outside of Europe, a scepter appeals as a rod that indicates social rank and is exhibited during ritual ceremonies. This book definitely takes into account every last bit of detail, going as far as to mention the origin of the word, related concepts and area of diffusion. The pages that follow depict historic examples of how “scepters” were displayed. In these paintings, call outs are found useful when explaining its significance and its impact.

The resourcefulness offered from this book can make all the difference when applying it to a magnitude of assignments that include, but are not limited to; case studies, research papers, and scholarly essays. Within this book, exclusive information can be found on a surplus of rulers, paintings, and how their influences impacted the century. Skipping over the section titled medieval sovereigns, pages 160-161 exists a brief description of Ivan the Terrible. Here you can find a one-page summary of the most iconic Czars to ever influence history. The book describes Ivan to be a “good ruler”, despite his ominous title. In fact, on page 161, to the left of a gesso that’s been photographed and documented, it claims that the term “terrible” other wise referenced as terrifying, can be misleading. The book further explains that not only does the term refer to the character in power, but explains that it was a necessary virtue of a Czar. Supporting facts highlight his action(s) that allowed for him to “organize the first nucleus of a permanent standing army, found the port and city of Archangel, introduce printing to his territories, and began commercial exchanges with the West.”

While this book serves as a great reference and provides phenomenal visuals, the source would be better applied if compiled with additional primary sources. There is no doubt that the material within this book is beneficial; however, majority of the information is summarized and/or condensed within a couple of pages before moving on to the next subject. Even with the incorporation of in-depth callouts to appeal to the countless signs of the symbolism, the book doesn’t necessarily concern the, ’s whose paintings were incorporated and their history. This book has been previewed and critiqued by a league of scholars that are other than the original artist. So instead of getting a truly understanding of the craftsmen, we get a series of blurbs that single out features that are only relative to the term. Rapelli, stays focused on the subject being sure to capitalize on the term(s) and their influence(s).

As mentioned before, recommendation of this book does come highly; but however, it has grievous fallbacks. This book certainly lives up to its name, but can be as convenient as watching a 20 minute documentary on an exemplar an/or key figure that takes a full two hours just to introduce. With that being said, there’s definitely information that’s that can be useful, but thee is also information that’s bound to be left out. This point is highly emphasized throughout its shortened summary’s and lack of accredited artists and symbolic determination.

In conclusion of this book review, Symbols of Power in Art is a great secondary source for those participating or studying to pursue a higher education within the field of Art or Art History. It can be argued that writing a lengthy report based solely off of the research provided with in Symbolism of Power in Art would truly prove to be difficult. Thus it would be most beneficial to find additional first primary sources to further expand one’s overal knowledge