Studio 360 goes to Japan

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(Photo: artist Erina Matsui, interviewed by Lisa for her piece)

Lisa Katayama says:

In November, I went to Tokyo with the producers of Studio360 to work on an hour-long radio show about Japanese art and culture. It aired February 7 on NPR, and has tons of great content based on our reporting there – a visit to suicide forest, a peek into the world of depressed youth, wisdom from travel writer Pico Iyer, as well as interviews with local poets, designers, and architects. I produced my own segment about three provocative, successful young female artists whom I thought would be vocal feminists. But interestingly, when I asked them to explain the deeper meaning behind their work, they said there was none. Later, in New York, I met an artist who told me that she, too, grew up painting provocative women in Japan, but she only realized she was a feminist when she went to art school in the US and was encouraged to think about the hidden meaning behind her work. The audio segments and some awesome video clips that the highly talented Studio360 producers made are all up on their web site.

Studio360 in Japan via TokyoMango

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  1. Hmmm… Is the meaning always there in their minds, just unacknowledged, or is the meaning artificial because they were told it should be there?

    Seems like the latter to me.

  2. It always cracks me up when people start reading “deep meaning” into artwork, especially song lyrics. I see some shmuck at a piano… “(what can I rhyme with dry? Rye! Here we go:
    Bye, bye Miss American Pie
    Drove my Chevy to the levy (ooh! that’s good!)
    But the levy was dry.
    And good old boys were drinkin’ whiskey and rye,
    Singing ‘This will be the day that I die.’ Perfect!”
    People hounded Don McLean for many years about the deep meaning. He was just rambling thru American grafitti, and rhyming lyrics.
    Enjoy the art, kids, but remember that for the most part, they’re just “choppin’ broccoli”.

  3. More excellent work From Lisa K, but I totally agree with Troofseeker.

    However, I vote BB bring her back; not on a guest blogger basis, but full time. I know she has a great blog herself, but I think she brought the freshest air to BB in a long time.

  4. @ Zoopyfunk

    I second that. I also fondly remember Lisa and her Boing Boing stay.

    Later, in New York, I met an artist who told me that she, too, grew up painting provocative women in Japan, but she only realized she was a feminist when she went to art school in the US and was encouraged to think about the hidden meaning behind her work.

    I wonder how much this has to do with America typically having a ‘goal-oriented’ culture while asians tend to have more regards for the process itself. I loved how Scott McCloud expanded on this while pondering on the differences between manga and US comics. But reading this, I see it is applicable in all other forms of art.

    For the most part, art (in North America) isn’t respected or taken seriously unless it has some deep social/political meaning attached to it (even when it is made-up bullshit snobbery). That’s why I call myself an illustrator and not an artist: ‘Artist’ comes with way too much expectation and I just can’t spin yarn that well.

    If I’d draw a girl eating meat, it would just be a girl eating meat. If I’d want to express something really deep and important, I’d write an essay.

  5. Sitting on a curb smoking at breaktime, three of us came to realize that we’re all artists.
    Next day, Jimmy brings in a portfolio. Some great stuff! Pencil and ink, great drawings. One was a half-woman, half black panther. Beautiful.
    Next day Frank brings in drawings. Again, really good stuff! A lot of tatoos, sexy hispanic women. A half-woman, half-horse. Beautiful.
    They asked me to bring in some stuff. I felt dismay- shoot, I never drawed no half-woman.
    Got busy that night- I drew SeaLion Girl. Portly, yes. Homely? Yes. Starfish on breasts? Yes. Eating donut? Yes. It really cracked the guys up, but I felt guilty, so I did a “glamor shot”. Pretty make-up,clamshells, on a beach beneath a palm tree. I should post that picture- I love SeaLion Girl.
    Meaning: you can put lipstick on a pig. It’s your pig. And the pig likes it!

  6. “f I’d draw a girl eating meat, it would just be a girl eating meat.”

    Only until you showed it to someone else. The moment another person sees it, it becomes something more than just a girl eating meat. Things are never as they appear only.

    “If I’d want to express something really deep and important, I’d write an essay.”

    “Essayist” is not an art? Don’t sell yourself short. You’re an artist even if you do “mere” illustration but there is another level. It is possible to communicate deep important ideas in the visual language of the Arts. e.g. Steam Punk is a visual language with it’s own grammar that communicates some fairly important ideas.

  7. On the feminism/sexual discrimination topic:

    A teacher at my high school here in Japan had some kids watch a video about the famous discrimination class taught by Jane Elliot in the late 60s. After this, the kids wrote an essay about the film, and about discrimination in general.

    My assignment was to read their response essays, correct minor errors, and write a response to their response. These kids are among the top in the prefecture, and they focus on English, so they can write fairly well. But they are, of course, all quite Japanese.

    Although all were shocked at how easily people can slip into discriminatory behavior, several commented that they were relieved that there is no discrimination in Japan. In spite of the fact that the large majority of the class is girls, not a single one mentioned sexual/gender discrimination.

    It’s my general feeling — keeping in mind the caveat that I’m a westerner who has only lived here a couple of years — that Japanese people know abstractly that discrimination and sexism are “bad”, but that these are things that happen in other countries. The upshot is that they basically wouldn’t recognize it if it bit them on the ass, so it really doesn’t surprise me even a little bit that the artists you anticipated would be vocal feminists are not.

  8. “that Japanese people know abstractly that discrimination and sexism are “bad”, but that these are things that happen in other countries.”

    Wow! I mean just wow. There is no sexism in Japan!? Yeah right, there is no racism in the South either. If you treat your coloreds/women right then everything is rainbows and unicorns.

  9. Oh, and you think unicorns have it easy? Some rainbows permit unicorns, sure; but until all unicorns are free to frolic under all rainbows…

  10. @13 I think what he meant is that the Japanese don’t think their is discrimination in Japan. They view it as a foreign problem. That’s not to say there isn’t discrimination; on the contrary Japan is very discriminatory, in pretty much every key category. The Japanese just don’t see it as such.

    Which isn’t all that rare a viewpoint in Japan. AIDS is thought of the same way.

  11. Noen,

    I think a lot if it is a communication issue. We have defined our ideas of racism and discrimination in the context of our own culture, and they have a lot of implications particular to us. As an American I sometimes couldn’t help but feel that people were being deliberately obtuse, but I can’t really blame them for wanting to define their culture in their own terms. I don’t think it would be particularly helpful to anyone to insist they do it our way.

  12. @ Andrea N — Sorry, I don’t buy your cultural relativism. The exact same argument could have been made about the south. i.e. “The North shouldn’t impose it’s morality on Southern slave plantations. It isn’t particularly helpful to anyone to insist they do it our way.”

    That’s a load of BS. I do understand that people within a culture do not even perceive it’s various shortcomings. I don’t have any problem with that.

  13. “The Japanese” = “a group of well-sheltered young female elites asked to reply in classroom context in a language foreign to them?”

    Come on.

    I’m a Japanese female and I talk about this shit all the time. “The Japanese” you guys are talking about is just not there.

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