Friday, June 24, 2005

Turning Japanese?

Scholars outside Japan have begun to take anime seriously because they say it serves as a window onto deeper trends. "I would more accurately call the phenomenon the emergence of an art movement or way of thinking and viewing the world," says Marjorie Manifold, assistant professor of art education at Indiana University, "just as Impressionism presented a new way for artists, musicians, and philosophers to view the world at the turn of the 19th to 20th century."
Source: The Christian Science Monitor, June 24, 2005

As a lifelong fan of Japanese animation (anime) and recent fan of Japanese comics (manga), I have always been convinced of the validity of this art form. But it is only recently, as my generation of TV viewers and video game players enters adulthood and the popularity of this art enters mainstream culture that the media start to ponder questions like this. If it is true that anime represents a new art movement, how does this affect traditional art forms like painting?

Anime is of course a genre of animation. Manga is essentially a genre of comic books. Both comics and animation have been around long enough to have proven their worth as media capable of yielding legitimate artistic expression, so that’s not really the issue. What is drawing the attention of reporters and observers is the way anime and manga have become popular with so many different people all over the world. Especially considering the fact that Japanese culture is notoriously homogenous and even xenophobic, it is notable that these basically indigenous art forms draw the adoration of such diverse audiences.

Is this transcendence of cultural boundaries part of what makes for a successful art movement? Certainly. Enduring art speaks to something eternal, some fundamental human condition. The popularity of anime and manga are absolutely related to their ability to tap into deep human passions. Manga and anime, by definition, tell a story. Painting doesn’t have this restriction, and consequently sometimes becomes a vehicle for self-absorption. If you’re telling a story, you have to relate it to the audience- they enter your world, but you must make it accessible. Painting often is accused of being elitist, and I feel it is partly because of a sometime lack of concern for this public aspect of art.

So, as the professor quoted above states, is this art form a “new way of viewing the world?” I can only conjecture on her logic, as the article did not elaborate. But I can tell you that these arts are not only becoming more and more popular, but they have already begun to influence American pop culture (and what other culture have we got, really). It has even started to seep into fine art with the emergence of kawaii paintings. Some of the more overt examples will surely be trends that disappear with changing tastes, but the way that anime and manga delve into universal human truths and questions has the potential to agitate the fine art world.

I added an image to this post of my current favorite manga, XXXholic by CLAMP, a group of four women who have become the most popular manga artists in the U.S. Below is a link to their official site, but it's mostly in Japanese.



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2:21 PM  

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