Ben Hammond: Nihonga

As a CIP this semester I took private lessons in Nihonga, or traditional Japanese painting. The action of painting itself was a very tedious process. The materials are all natural so you have to mix the paint, set the silk, and create the oil all by yourself. However, this was not the main reason of the CIP.

In terms of social observations, I was primarily watching interactions between sensei and the kids that would come on either Friday or Monday. Even though the relationship was the same, the interactions on the two days were vastly different. Since Fridays were days for kids who wanted to do arts and crafts, the atmosphere was more laid back. Kids could talk and move around as they pleased and sensei would only briefly check to see how their progress was going. In contrast, the kids on Mondays had a much more serious environment. This was due to the fact that they were practicing writing in pencil and calligraphy, a skill which does not translate to America. The quality of one’s physical writing is not that important but and that translates to my mind set. I was always shocked when sensei corrected a writing that to me seemed fine. It was all in the tiny details.

The difference in the two days, at least to me, speaks to a difference in importance between the two disciplines in Japanese culture. At least at a younger age, writing is valued much higher that drawing, and therefore requires more intense and focused practice. In contrast, there was one child who was a bit older and sensei focused on because they were

seriously working on art on a level past the crafty nature of everyone else. In this case, sense it was good for the future, it was valued highly.

2 thoughts on “Ben Hammond: Nihonga

  1. It’s really interesting that you were learning about Japanese arts and observing two different environments! Did you participate in creating art yourself? Were there things you enjoyed? You said that writing was valued more highly at a younger age. Does your observation have to do with the fact that calligraphy traditions might be more set than drawings? Or does value depend on the student’s talent?

    • I did a lot of painting myself but didn’t get much time to try calligraphy. Ended up using a lot of natural paints which have both definite up and down sides. In terms of the importance, I asked on my last day. Even though writing is becoming more or less unneeded in the professional world, due to traditional values, the balance of ones writing is very important. The calligraphy felt more like an actual class for school while the art felt more like a club.