Artistic Detachment in Japan and the West: Psychic Distance in Comparative Aesthetics

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The act of over-imposing his face on these pictures or paintings acquires a political significance: it confronts the viewer especially the Western viewer with the beauty of the other and determines her to think more about the cannons of ideal beauty and artistic success. Had Mona Lisa been an Asian man, would we have found her still beautiful? If we experience it in a conceptual vacuum as the purist beauty requires then we miss its point and its beauty altogether. In other words, if we see it without any conceptual content and without having a purpose of its function in mind, it does not seem beautiful.

Yet this may in itself support the reemergence of beauty as a critical category.

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Morimura uses a Western image of feminine beauty to subvert and criticize it. The beauty of this impersonation does not occasion in viewer an immediate and disinterested pleasure and contemplative mood; on the contrary, we experience it as a beautiful piece of art for the political-critical function it performs.

This beauty is neither function-less nor immediately pleasant to the sight. As Elliott acknowledges, Japanese art has achieved great popularity in the West solely through manga and anime. That is the reason why Japanese art is generally misunderstood and misinterpreted as being infantile, shallow and superficial. Bye, Bye Kitty rectifies this opinion through the work of fifteen dexterous politically engaged artists who express their anger and astute social criticism in three interrelated sections.

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The Grandmothers series is a project which attempts to envision visually and conceptually a self-perceived projection into the future of several young women. Women are pushed to conform to a paradigmatic model of beauty at any cost. The stereotyped image of a beautiful woman, the one which is distributed through fashion advertisements, is a disturbing impersonation of artificiality and anonymous conformity to a standard model.


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This imposed glamorization of femininity is not only an issue in Japanese culture: it is a global standard grounded on a certain narrow conception of beauty which still lingers on in aesthetic theory, in which beauty is defined as being inextricable from surface and appearance, immediate perception and disinterested pleasure. My Grandmothers consists of twenty-five photographs of seemingly elderly women.

Every photograph is displayed together with an accompanying text. Actually, the grandmothers are posed by both young men and women in their twenties and thirties.

Towards the end of this project, Yanagi has staged their vision-projection into the future in photographs which make them look older, using special make-up and computer manipulation. Yanagi assumes that once a woman gets older, she becomes more eager to talk openly about her expectations and strange desires. That is the reason why her extraordinary and uncommon grandmothers are all independent women both financially and psychologically.

The beauty of these grandmothers rests in their willingness to express a personal opinion on the current state of affairs, regardless of how old they get and how much their physical appearance declines. By the same token, in her more recent series Fairy Tales , the seductive nightmare of consumer culture is suggested through popular Japanese and Western European stories which simultaneously combine images of old and young women.

The stereotypes of beauty are merely constructed on conventions of a pleasant appearance. One should be courageous in exhibiting these hidden evil desires, which are effectively in control. Harakiri School Girls , and also tackles unsettling beauty as violence by mixing images of high-fashioned pretty school girls with images of the samurai practice of ritual suicide. The idea behind this shocking art piece is that women are simply consumer goods in a society of spectacle. Where these young girls have been shot they release chocolate, strawberries and other juicy and kitsch things instead of blood.

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Artistic Detachment in Japan and the West: psychic distance in comparative aesthetics | Steve Odin

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