Just like the origins of Chinese art, the origins of Japanese art date back thousands of years. From the earliest examples, Japanese art reflects its complex history which was marked by frequent invasions and relatively long periods of virtually no contact with the rest of the world.
Painting is the most popular art form in Japan from a very early period. As a result, it is one of the most highly developed and distinguished of all Japanese art forms. However, just like other types of art, Japanese painting reflects a conflict between native aesthetic views and ideas from the outside, most notably China and after the late 19th century, the Western world. Despite that, Japanese artists managed join the most incompatible ideas, giving rise to distinctively Japanese painting which also had a profound influence on Western art.
With the exception of the so-called dogu figurines that date to the Jomon period (c. 14,000 – 300 BCE), Japanese sculpture was mainly Buddhist. Buddhist sculpture that was typically made from wood and bronze flourished by the end of the Edo Period (1603-1868) when it started to decline rapidly, mainly due to lack of commissions by the temples and wealthy nobles.
Japanese Pottery and Porcelain
Pottery and porcelain are among the oldest Japanese art forms, dating back to prehistoric times. From the 4th century onwards, both Japanese pottery and porcelain were influenced greatly by those from China and Korea. Despite that, Japanese artists managed to fuse the influences from outside with the native perspective of aesthetics, creating pottery and porcelain with a unique Japanese character that earned Japanese ceramics the reputation of one of the world’s finest.
Ukiyo-e refers to a type of Japanese woodblock print that was produced from the 17th to the 20th century. The prints, mostly depicting landscapes, history tales and stories, theatre and similar subjects was hugely popular also because it was much more affordable than paintings.
The traditional Japanese art of paper folding emerged in the 17th century. By the mid-20th century, it became increasingly popular outside Japan and gave rise to the modern art of paper folding.
Contemporary Japanese Art
Many contemporary Japanese artists follow the traditional Japanese art styles and techniques, and depict the traditional subjects. Some, however, also experiment with the traditional media, while others adopted the Western art styles. Some of the most respected and influential Japanese contemporary artists include Takashi Murakami, Miwa Yanagi, Makoto Aida, Yayoi Kusama, Yoshitomo Nara and Nahoko Kojima, to mention only a few.