by Alex Tinsley
First off I’d like to thank all of those who viewed my last article on this site positively! It has encouraged me to write more based off my knowledge of Japanese culture, how its evolved, and how it invalidates contemporary feminist narratives.
This article will approach this on two fronts. First with how the openness of Japanese sexuality makes men and women equal but differing halves of our species. Secondly how when within the same class and profession its rare to find actual sexism in traditional Asian cultures. To do this we’ll touch upon one of my favorite artists in history, Katsushika Hokusai, and his daughter, Oei. My sources will be the biography on the official Hokusai website and the recent anime adaptation of Oei’s biography – Miss Hokusai: Sarusuberi.
Oei became an artist early on when her father encouraged her to start drawing alongside him when she wanted to play with him. With this an unusual father-child apprenticeship had begun. Whether this was simply to try to reduce distraction from his work or to try to bond with his child in a more masculine manner is up to interpretation. It is implied, though, that something the two shared was an immense creative talent. While a lot of their original works had been destroyed over the years, enough still exists to examine the similarities and differences between the two artists. To get the obvious out of the way they shared styles in line work and work ethics.
The differences are where it gets interesting. Most of Katsushika-sensei’s work tends to border more on the nature of the world, depicting things he sees in person or some of his Zen Buddhist beliefs. His belief was that in creating a work of art you are summoning different spirits or even demons from the Earth, sealing them in place once completed. This might seem silly or even ridiculous by our standards today. Oei-sensei’s mindset is seen to be unusual by comparison as her work doesn’t show the same level of spiritual influence. Her women are shown as very eroticized, as for whatever reason, she had been chosen to make more erotica in comparison. Some of her more well received works on this subject were lesbian couplings. Her men, however, tended to be drawn clumsily and always felt out of place.
The collaborations between the two as time goes on are shown to be obvious, namely due to the fact that the two approach color differently. Katsushika-sensei, being very masculine in his work, uses more solid colors early on while Oei-sensei uses a more westernized gradient coloring. It is even theorized that in the last 15 years of his life after Oei divorced her husband that father did the linework and daughter did the coloring as his health started to falter. It may have been an annoyance to both of them, as Oei had been recorded to regularly ridicule him out of her own frustrations and Katushika had been recorded to be pathologically afraid of all illnesses.
How does this translate to the subject I brought up before on Japanese culture dismantling feminist talking points? Looking at the two artists in question we find that Katsushika-sensei usually approaches higher minded and more introspective subjects and works of a more appreciated beauty.
Oei-sensei however is shown depicting more base natural concepts and
developing the style pioneered more by her father. Certain feminists
contend that Oei should be more revered, seeing her as the better artist. I think the reverence is actually fairly given as Katsushika’s concepts are more timeless and are the very reason that Oei is as good as she is. He is both her father and her mentor, after all.
Lets also make note that whether they lived together or not at any given time any work made by the two separately or in collaboration is considered to be done by the same studio. So if you had commissioned a work by either of the two you commissioned Studio Hokusai. Its for this reasoning that some works by Oei are seen to have been done by her father
Disney in the West works very much the same way, once you are a Disney studio your work isn’t yours, its Disney’s. This is a typical misunderstanding of the art world as its viewed from the outside. In group studio settings the individual artist isn’t seen as the sole owner of their work. In that day and age in which they were working together Oei was seen as her father’s equal for most of her career. There was no wage gap there as the funds were distributed equally within the studio to care for all the artists in it.
Once again I encourage all of you who read my articles to do their own research and add your own input. I like to know other interpretations and see such things as a way to hammer away at the narrative even further.
The author of this article, while he has not fully graduated from
university, has taken 6 years worth of a degree based in the Fine Arts minoring in Japanese linguistics and culture. Sponsored and aided in the running of the convention OMG!Con, an anime and video game enthusiast convention, originally based in Paducah, KY through the years 2006-2009.
Through such endeavors having learned about Japanese culture as a whole, but how it interacts with and affects our own culture in the West through not only talking with acquaintances in both fields from both countries but through interactions with Japanese exchange students as well.
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“Secondly how when within the same class and profession its rare to find actual sexism in traditional Asian cultures.”
One example of this is the way samurai women were expected to be every bit as lethal as their men, when lethality was at the root of their class status and impermanence at the root of their artistic expression.