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

Career Guides

In general, painters in Japan in the first half of the twentieth century specialized in one of the two modes of painting: nihonga and seiyōga. The distinction between the two modes was based on the medium, painterly technique, and the presumed set of traditions and masters each mode was indebted to, not on the nationality of the painter or the subject matter of the work.

By the early 1920s, the knowledge of artistic professionalization became codified and made available in how-to-paint books and career guidebooks for aspiring artists. Such publications propagated painting as a modern career that one could pursue by studying artworks in reproduction and in original, by receiving direct instruction at an art school, and by networking.

For example, painter Nakagawa Kigen (1892-1972) and art critic Yokogawa Kiichirō (1895-1973) co-authored a specialized guide entitled Bijutsuka o kokorozasu hito no tame ni (For People Aspiring to Become Artists). Published in 1933, it belonged to the Gendai shokugyō gaido bukku (Guide Books to Modern Professions) series, which included guides on how to become a journalist, musician, writer, pilot, filmmaker, business executive, lawyer, beautician, working woman, and soldier. The book emphasized how art education and a stellar exhibition record constituted the two key paths to establishing oneself as a professional artist.

Bijutsuka o kokorozasu hito no tame ni outlined four methods of studying oil painting, listed according to their desirability and effectiveness: entering an art school, entering an oil painting research studio, receiving individual instruction, and studying from books. The authors indicated that the last method was least effective. However they considered it an option for people who were unable to pursue any of the other three methods. They also suggested that the last option was less desirable in the case of nihonga because of its difficult technique and so the authors strongly encouraged aspiring artists to seek other options beyond studying books (Nakagawa and Yokogawa 1933, 159.).

Ishino Takashi's (1897-1967) Shuppin kara nyūsen made (From Submission to Acceptance at an Exhibition, 1934), and Zenkoku bijutsuten shuppin annai (The Nationwide guide to participation in exhibitions, 1942) provided detailed guidance on successful exhibition participation. The author explained the characteristics of each exhibition and advised potential participants to submit their work to the exhibition with the best fit. He suggested that the work should attract attention of jurors and future audiences by making a lasting impression. He also advised perseverance, as one's work would typically be rejected two or three times before finally securing acceptance.

According to Ishino, artists should create a good working environment by visiting exhibitions and collecting reproductions from art magazines and materials that might make good sources for still lifes. When learning how to paint, artists should engage in critically evaluating their own works, practice painting on a large-sized canvas that one would use to submit to an exhibition, send their work by post to receive a critique through mail (tsūshin hihyō), join a group of fellow painters, and inform themselves about the art establishment. He also suggested that it was possible for a self-taught oil painter to exhibit in any art society, in contrast to nihonga painters, who would typically exhibit only with a group of their artistic affiliation. Having introduced the most important developments in oil painting over the past twenty years, such as fauvism, cubism, futurism, expressionism, abstraction, and constructivism, he strongly advised against blindly copying any of these styles. He stated that painting was akin to science (kagaku/saiensu) and also entailed individual expression. Overall, the author balanced between not imposing anything on the painters while pointing them towards the type of painting that would be accepted at exhibitions.

Ishino's two books were aimed at empire-wide audiences. Shuppin kara nyūsen made directly addressed instructors of drawing and encouraged them to participate in art exhibitions to reap the benefits, such as consolidating one's reputation, having a motivational impact on one's own students, achieving personal cultivation, and gaining an opportunity to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of one's own work in comparison to others on display. The author often addressed the particular situation of artists and art instructors living in the provinces (chihō), for example, by providing detailed information on transport companies that handled artwork for submission to exhibitions. Although the scope of the provinces was left unsaid in his first book, the second book included a typology of exhibitions with official salons in Seoul and Taipei discussed under "regional exhibitions" (chihōten). The book provided a short history of the two salons and reprinted an excerpt of their respective regulations pertaining to eligibility requirements. Clearly, the author recognized that his readership extended to the empire.

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