Bodies and Structures 2.0: Deep-Mapping Modern East Asian History

Art-related Collections

Books and other printed media served as vehicles within Japan's imperial art world, transporting the knowledge of artistic practices, artworks, and the art milieu itself throughout the empire. The art-related books available in the public libraries constituted the most informal level of artistic education, available to anyone with some Japanese language skills. Authors of advice books and critics encouraged aspiring artists to look at artworks and visit the library. Although learning from books alone would not make one an artist, it kindled the imagination of young readers and provided access to reproductions.

By March 1939, the Arts section of the Taiwan Government-General Library had 6,450 volumes, 199 in western languages and 6,251 in Japanese and Chinese (Taiwan Sōtokufu Toshokan 1939, 3). The fine arts related chunk of the collection covered topics ranging from pre-modern to modern art in Japan, China, and the West, yet was especially strong in Japanese art. In addition, some of the Japanese language books in the collection were recent translations from European languages, for example: John Ruskin's Lectures on Art (originally published in 1870; translated by Sakuma Masakazu, Geijutsu kōwa, 1924), Konrad Adolf Fiedler's Über den Ursprung der Künstlerischen Tätigkeit (originally published in 1887; translated by Kaneda Sunao, Geijutsuteki katsudō no kigen, 1921), or Ascanio Condivi's Biography of Michaelangelo (translated by Takata Hiroatsu, 1922; originally from 1553).

Furthermore, the collection of the Taiwan Government-General Library featured many books relevant for amateurs and aspiring artists, such as exhibition catalogues, books with reproductions (gashū), and a large selection of how-to-make-art and how-to-look-at-art books. It also had books about contemporary masters in Europe and Japan, including essays and memoirs penned directly by the artists.

Guo Xuehu emphasized this self-study-oriented and comprehensive character of the library collection in an article from 1955, in which he described his debut as an artist (English translation from Lin 2008, 26):

…[the library] could be a better solution comparing with any other schools since it offers rich collections of specific books for a self-study student… People usually give compliments to the alma mater or praise the great personality of their teachers, and even exaggerate the times spent abroad for research. If all these can raise their social status, I would like to mention my school library that contains dozens of thousands of people [sic].

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