Keeping Art Alive — Hokusai

I’m not much for game playing. I always got picked last in girl’s basketball games. But, since friends were doing it, I reluctantly joined an art game — Keeping Art Alive. Instead of dropped shoulders and high pick-and-rolls, players got an artist’s name, checked out their work, reported back to the group. It’s not a game like Monopoly where you buy four houses and get a hotel or Scrabble where oryx puts you in the winner’s circle. This game sounded easy enough.

The rules are like the old TV show “Mission Impossible,” where you get an assignment and decide if you want to accept it or act like you’re blow drying your hair — can’t hear, don’t care. But, I found after agreeing to play that I got some hot creative ideas and fluffed up my art appreciation style. I guess the point of the game is the chance to amaze friends and family, as well as yourself — and in the process, Keep Art Alive.

Here’s my artistic game piece: Katsushika Hokusai. Yes, what you think you see happening, is … ahem … happening.

The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife, Hokusai 1820 wood block pring

I learned that some years before Japanese artist Hokusai’s death in 1849 at the age of 89, he reportedly said: “At the age of five years I had the habit of sketching things. At the age of fifty I had produced a large number of pictures, but for all that, none of them had any merit until the age of seventy.

“At seventy-three finally I learned something about the true nature of things, birds, animals, insects, fish, the grasses and the trees. So at the age of eighty years I will have made some progress, at ninety I will have penetrated the deepest significance of things, at a hundred I will make real wonders and at a hundred and ten, every point, every line, will have a life of its own.”

Although Hokusai did not reach 110, his vision has endured and 165 years after his death his art is continually being adapted by contemporary artists — notably tattoos, photos, movies and graphic arts, including posters and clothing and other textiles. That’s particularly evident in modern iterations of “The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife,” created when Hokusai was 60 years old.

Examples of Hokusai’s imagery in contemporary culture

I ran across Hokusai recently while writing a flash fiction piece (once you know, you know) that ended in the stealing of an ivory netsuke, which Hokusai created, but in wood-block carvings, as far as I can tell. Netsuke are erotic images or sculptures, produced for hundreds of years by both Chinese and Japanese artists. They’re sometimes called “pillow art.” Intended I suppose to give girls ideas, as if we don’t have plenty of our own.

But, I think what the art game players want is to highlight that art history is part of understanding our culture. Buying a pair of jeans with an image on the pockets may be cool, but chances are the purchaser has no idea of the fascinating history behind them. Hang a shower curtain in a bathroom with an Asian motif? Looks good, but the decorator probably doesn’t realize the orgins and rich history of the graphic design.

I guess since I now know more about this master Japanese artist and the art forms he worked in than before, I’ve won the satisfaction of helping “Keep Art Alive.” That feels awesome.

I hope you’ll try the game — get together with friends, create an art history challenge, draw artists’ names out of a hat or randomly online, everybody does some exploring and returns to the playing table to roll the dice.

The original print by Katsushika Hokusai
Bathing suit available on Etsy.com
The shower curtain can be ordered online

Think this game is silly? Click the link and find out why this company desperately needed to hire an art history major.

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