East meets West: Japonisme in the discourse of colonialism in the development of modern art
Kim, Chae Ryung
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The influence of Japanese art in the late nineteenth century in Europe is inspirational and influential. In the works of Realists, Impressionists, Post-Impressionists, and Symbolists, there are many traces of Japanese art, such as coloration, composition, space, and form as well as the presence of Japanese artifacts, clothes, prints, and their materiality. In the late nineteenth century, Western art was confronted with a moment of rapid change, driven by the development of technology, industry, and Haussmann's modernization. Since the Western artistic style confronts with its crisis of representation, patron system, development of dealer and critic system, they need something new for the art market and its crisis. The Japanese artistic vision was very new to the Westerner and it could be a part of the solution of the Western artistic crisis and its search for novelty. The West adopts the Japanese style of art in order to supplement a cultural crisis and achieve the newness/novelty. Many art historians focus on the stylistic influence of Japonisme, ignoring the social, political, and cultural context. It is important to note the power relations, the misconceptions and repressions of discourse, and hegemony behind the phenomenon of Japonisme. By exploring the causations of the rapid dissemination, adoption, interpretation, and representation of Japanese art, and further applying the theory of Jacques Derrida's conception of differance, Edward Said's notion of Orientalism, and Antonio Gramsci's cultural hegemony to Japonisme, this paper seeks to reveal the hidden discourse and hegemony of European consciousness in the late nineteenth century. Through the investigation of the history of the contact between the West and Japan (history of modern Japan), the dissemination of Japonisme, the representation of Japan in European paintings, and the similar cultural trajectory between the Europe and Japan in the late nineteenth century, it supports Japonisme was used as cultural hegemony. It also reveals that although the Japanese style of art functioned as a cultural engine, the West considered Japonisme as a secondary, supplement, and inferior to their artistic tradition. However, as Jacques Derrida points out, the process of supplement and a binary opposition do not have starting and ending point and hierarchical relationship, which is the undecidability and equality. By supplementing the Japanese artistic style, the West demonstrates its lack of fullness and unity. Similar to the Orientalism of the Near East and North Africa, Japonisme is marked by the unmarked Western consciousness, voices, and gaze, in order to establish the West's superiority, rationality, power, and authority over the Occident. Ultimately, revealing the cultural hegemony and hidden discourse of Japonisme in the paintings, this paper seeks to demonstrate the West is not full in itself, it could be fulfilled by the East.