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The Life of Animals in Japanese Art

On view June 2 to August 18, 2019

At the entrance to this exhibit you are shown both digital media created by teamLab next to large -scale twelve banners of the zodiac animals with figures from Japanese and Chinese myth and history from around 1840 by Utagawa Kuniyoshi.  The exhibit is arranged in the following manner: Ancient Japan, the Zodiac, Religion, Myth and Folklore, the World of the Samurai, Exotic Creatures and the Study of Nature, the Natural World, and the World of Leisure.

And all I want to know; how did we get to Pokémon?

  1. Sixth century, Japan adopted the Chinese Zodiac and Buddhism from China and Korea. Importation of images of elephants and lions, which were unknown in Japan. Artists began to illustrate different unknown animals with spiritual symbolic meanings.
  2. Shinto – the spirits, deities, or forces that inhabit all things in nature. Animals serve as messengers linking humans to the divine. Therefore, the religious sects used animals in art to explain religious concepts.
  3. Zen – nature of existence through spontaneous insight instead of logic. Animals are subjects that illustrate symbols of this process.
  4. Myth and Folklore – Rehashing old tales and morality stories by using animals is always more fun to listen too. Rats having weddings. And, there is a fox in the moon.
  5. Exotic Creatures – in 1543 Portuguese sailors were the first Europeans to visit Japan. They brought exotic animals from African, India, and the Americas. Being gum struck at the sight of these exotic animals, artists had new materials to generate a vast array of different types of exotic animal art, which became high fashion.
  6. The trade in exotic animals enhanced the desire of understanding natural history. This led to a naturalistic approach to the portrayal of animals and their environments.
  7. Leisure time – when the animals behave like a Pokémon it is way too fun. This was begun in the Edo Period with an act of censor. Images of contemporary figures were banned.  Consequently, a work around for artists was to use the comical animal.
  8. And, now we have arrived to the 1980’s – Pokémon.

Besides my simple blog that has found away to use the word Pokémon more than once, please go spend a lot of time in this exhibit.  I enjoyed seeing over 3,000 objects of Japanese art so much I bought the catalogue.