How to Look at Japanese Art by Stephen Addiss

How to Look at Japanese Art
Stephen Addiss
(Harry N. Abrams: New York, 1996)

With a chapter on gardens by Audrey Yoshiko Seo

READ: December 2005

I wrote a paper on the importance of nature in Japanese religious architecture last semester for my Art History class, and this was one of the books I consulted. It was fascinating, and while it didn't offer much towards my essay topic, it provided invaluable context for the larger issue of Japanese art, of which I must admit to being a fan. Stephen Addiss writes in his introduction: What is it about the artistic culture of Japan that can so transform a life? Words alone cannot answer this question; only looking, seeing, and understanding can. But how shall we look at Japanese art in order to truly see it?

This book is both a brief history of Japanese art and a critical exploration of Japanese art styles. Each of the six chapters takes an art-form - ceramics, sculpture and traditional Buddhist art, secular and Zen painting, calligraphy, woodblock prints, and gardens - and looks at the development of this art along with the concepts (mythology, technique, etc.) key to a better appreciation of the art. At under 150 pages, it is a short read and a necessary read for anyone who wants to better understand Japanese art and culture.

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