Van Gogh’s fascination with Japan

Van Gogh GIF-downsized_large.gif

Japanese art flooded Western Europe when in 1854, America forced Japan to open its borders to trade.

Some of the prints of Japanese woodcuts made it all the way to Vincent Van Gogh in Paris. He grew obsessed with ukyio-e, or “pictures of the world,” joyful elements he copied into his own art.

‘Seeing with Japanese eye’

Van Gogh amassed a collection of Japanese wood prints in his Paris studio. It was there he started emulating the bright and exotic images of Japanese art, an influence he called Japonaiserie.

“My studio’s quite tolerable, mainly because I’ve pinned a set of Japanese prints on the walls that I find very diverting. You know, those little female figures in gardens or on the shore, horsemen, flowers, gnarled thorn branches.

According to the exhibition of Van Gogh & Japan at the Van Gogh museum in Amsterdam, the artist adopted the ‘bold, flat areas of color, bold contour lines, and prominent diagonals.’ He even cropped subjects at the edges of pictures and used the Japanese unique play on foreground/background spatial effects.

Van Gogh’s Japanese obsession permeated his work. “All my work is based to some extent on Japanese art,” he told his brother Theo.

vangoghmuseum-s0116V1962-3840
Courtesan (after Eisen) by Vincent van Gogh (1887)

Find out more about the Van Gogh’s love affair with Japan at the Exhibition Van Gogh & Japan.

Hokusai’s great wave: a lesson in persistence

Can we improve our craft over time? The Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849) seemed to think so.

“Until the age of 70, nothing I drew was worthy of notice. At 110, every dot and every stroke will be as though alive.”

He only lived until 89, but he proved his theory of incremental improvement. He finished his most famous work, The Great Wave, at the age of 71. Van Gogh, an artist that only sold one painting during his lifetime–to this brother– remarked: “These waves are claws, the boat is caught in them, you can feel it.”

Hokusai’s other works also revolve around Mount Fuji in series that became to be called Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. 

Story short: age is but a number. Life is about continuity. You may have more energy to practice when you’re younger, but the only difference between you and others will be how long you’re willing to stick with it. Hokusai played the long-game, acting like professional with pertinacity.

You can check out the Hokusai: Beyond the Great Wave exhibit at the British Museum, London, until August 13th.

The internet could save your life

jj-ying-215319.jpg

The internet could save your life because it allows you to skip the process of being picked. Anyone can be an author, musician, photographer without waiting to partner up with a label or a distributor.

Standing out in a sea of DIY artists is the real challenge. Ryan Holiday argues that most people should not publish a book. But why not?

The internet encourages possibility and weirdness.

Your work, even if you’re a so-called ‘amafessional,’ is doing nothing to get in the way of die-hard professionals who make a living off their art. Just because your creations don’t belong in the Louvre shouldn’t hold you back from showing others what you made. The market generally favors the marketing budgets anyway.

Mediocrity never hurt anybody. If you really want to go pro, you’ll spend the extra time to improve and seek the feedback that makes you better. Everything good comes from practice, trial and error, allowing your creativity to pour and shimmer.

Remember, Van Gogh only sold one painting in his lifetime, and to his brother. With a leap of faith, casual work can turn into your most important work and stand the test of time.

Loving Vincent: When nobody becomes a somebody 

giphy (4)
The world’s first oil painted feature film: Loving Vincent

Vincent Van Gogh was a nobody. He only sold one piece of art while he was alive and it was to his brother!

But that’s who we all are at the core — small sprinkles on Earth in a vast universe. If the solar eclipse was any reminder, the cosmos operate whether humans exist or not.

Sure, we like to think we’re special. The neurological software in our head makes accomplishments feel significant. But as Zat Rana puts it: “We’re nothing more than a fraction of a ripple in an infinite sea of entropy.”

Aren’t we just all bits of code blindly riding the opportunity of free will? 

Art is just one instrument for coping with such human triviality. It’s a narcotic for nobodies. But so are distractions. The sterile glow of computer screens and pocket rectangles manufacture ‘busyness.’ Human minds have succumbed to habit design, never mind TV and shopping.

Given such meaninglessness, we have no choice but to seize the day. Perhaps Van Gogh was right, the real thrill of life is showing through our work what a nobody has in their heart.

giphy (3)
Artists painted 62,000 frames to pay homage to Vincent

Success, no matter the age

gemma-evans-131781.jpg

When it comes to success, age is just a number. Van Gogh only sold one piece of art before he passed away, and it was to his brother.

According to a recent study, success is “a combination of personality, persistence and pure luck, as well as intelligence.” Younger people are more productive, increasing the likeliness of obtaining success. They have the energy and the free time (no day job) to keep experimenting.

But experience puts in the bones in the goose. Work at something long enough you’re bound to have a breakthrough. A thousand drops make a bucket; little actions create waves.

“The bottom line is: Brother, never give up. When you give up, that’s when your creativity ends.” — Albert-Laszlo Barabasi, one of the data researchers leading the study into scientific careers

Stay the course.

‘It is a joy to be hidden, and a disaster not to be found.’

F5C45060-CCEA-46CA-9B73-A22A806F4C64.jpg
Photo by Wells Baum

Success bears responsibility. All of a sudden, your work and words mean something because the first time in your life people who you’ve never met are listening to you.

“It is a joy to be hidden, and a disaster not to be found.”– D.W. Winnicott

The alternative to fame is anonymity. Van Gogh gained recognition after he died. Before that, he had only sold one painting to his brother.

For some, success turns people into leaders. For others, it causes them to curl back into their shell and their echoes to faint. The spotlight curbs their creative freedom.

For the rare few, they keep on trucking and stick to the person they’ve always been. When it comes to any notoriety, self-expression should always trump impression. The latter is never the point of doing good work.

Support Wellsbaum.blog

Wells Baum is creating a daily blog that collects and remixes the most interesting pieces of art, beats, life, and technology from around the web. Your support goes a long way: for every contribution, I can keep the blog running and continue to provide you interesting links.

$1.00

Newsletter: The art of the wasted day

Jean-Michel Basquiat
Jean-Michel Basquiat

Hi Friends, below are some interesting links I discovered this week. 

Summary: Author Patricia Hampl wants to get rid of the to-do list. Mike Vardy ditches the computer for plain pen and paper to get stuff done. Van Gogh emulated Japanese prints. Video footage of New York City from 1911. Check out all these links and more after the jump. 

Interesting Digs

[easyazon_link identifier=”0525429646″ locale=”US” nw=”y” tag=”wells01-20″ cart=”n” popups=”n”]The Art of the Wasted Day[/easyazon_link]. Patricia Hampl’s [easyazon_link identifier=”0525429646″ locale=”US” tag=”wells01-20″]new book[/easyazon_link] wants us to reconsider time management by removing the burden of the to-do list and daydream instead. She encourages us, especially in our old age — what she calls the third stage after youth and middle age — to let go of the over-scheduled life.

Why Paper Works. A simple pen and paper ask for our attention. And we give it. Writes Mike Vardy in his piece: “Paper works because it is only limited by what you’re willing to put on (and into) it. Paper provides an escape from your devices and does so without compromising your ability to get things done.”

Van Gogh’s fascination with Japan. Japanese art flooded Western Europe when in 1854, America forced Japan to open its borders to trade. Some of the prints of Japanese woodcuts made it all the way to Vincent Van Gogh in Paris. He grew obsessed with ukyio-e, or “pictures of the world,” joyful elements he copied into his own art.

Thought of the week

“Another flaw in human character is that everybody wants to build and nobody wants to do maintenance.”

Kurt Vonnegut


Other Recommendations

Video I

A trip through New York City, 1911In 1911, Swedish film company Svenska Biografteatern recorded its trip to New York. Fortunately, the footage survived and most recently was speed-corrected and reproduced with added street sounds of car horns, horses, and police whistles to give us a sense of the environment back then.

WATCH: A trip through New York City, 1911

Video II

Animated GIF-downsized_large (2)

A monochromatic film by LA-based filmmaker Eliot Lee Hazel, who has also done visual work for Thom York and Beck.

WATCH: Where fashion and architecture meet

Photo

006_World-Press-Photo-of-the-Year-Nominee_Ronaldo-Schemidt-Agence-France-PresseVenezuelan photographer Ronaldo Schemidt won World Press Photo of the Year for his image of the “Burning Man.” The picture shows a fleeing José Víctor Salazar Balza engulfed in flames at an anti-government protest in Venezuela on May 3, 2017.

READ: “Burning Man” wins photo of the year

The only reassurance you need

We treat fame and social media status like currency. We presuppose that anonymity or a lack of engagement trivializes what we do.

Even worse, we let TV and Instagram determine our self-worth.

But what and who matters is rarely popular. No one wants to pull back the curtain and see the sweat and tears of a Van Gogh, who toiled in obscurity his entire living life. He never knew publicity.

Even if you’ve achieved some level of recognition, what you consider your best work will almost always contrast with the public perception.

At the end of the day, humans want to feel necessary. They want to commit themselves to a worthy discipline, whether’s it’s expressed through art or driving an Uber to support the art or vice versa.

It’s a canard to think that fame predetermines whether your matter or not. The most important things in your life are provided by the most anonymous people.

Fame is fake stimuli. If you feel like your work matters, that’s the only placebo you need.

Staying edgy…

The audience already exists. The hard part is getting them to pay attention to your story.

How do you gain a fan base in the era of distraction? You select a specific audience, even one person, and write for them.

Different is attractive. 

The first few years of anonymity are hardest but they are also the freest. You get to write what you want with zero expectations. It’s the recognition that threatens your edginess.

“Success blurs. It rounds off the rough edges.” — John Peel

The trick to longevity, therefore, seems to be in the durability of your original pursuit.

If you can maintain your uniqueness while sharpening the tools, why dumb down your art to maximize reach?

Yet, the harshest reality as an artist is that your work may never get noticed. Van Gogh only sold one print while he was alive, and it was to his brother!

Posthumous recognition or not, you can only try to do your best work, to stay dedicated and keep showing up even if no one cheers you on.

The fire within should create enough artistic rage to keep rejuvenating itself.

“We do with our life what we can and then we die. If someone is aware of that, perhaps it comes out in their work.” — Francis Bacon

Creativity is a form of prayer


We give anxiety power, and the right brain consciousness loves to conjure up imaginary bombs of self-destruction.

What if instead of keeping any worries in we could express them through outward movement, some form of art.

The art of fiction, the art of underwater basket weaving, the art of rolling dice — whatever you fancy as a release from the prison of unnecessary worry.

Keep in mind that anxiety is not a prerequisite for making stuff. All creativity is a form of prayer.

There are plenty of genuinely happy artists that express themselves through their work. I’d say Paul McCartney is one of them, for instance. But there’s plenty on the opposite side of the spectrum like Francis Bacon or Vincent Van Gogh, whose paintings allowed them to release inner demons.

Transmuting either happiness or anxiety into a blank canvass helps prevent any excess storage.

“The talent to make art accompanies the need for that art; they arrive together.” — John BergerHere is Where We Meet

How to unthink

via giphy

Knowledge can be a hindrance. The more we know, the more likely we’re to hesitate in times of execution.

So the overthinking basketball player misses a wide-open layup, the tennis player misses an easy return, or the painter or writer can’t seem to get their inspiration to convert on a blank canvas.

Stalling is a symptom of facing the resistance. When we try too hard to be perfect, we may do nothing at all.

So how can we stem the tide of excess contemplation?

One of the ways to think less author Flann O’Brien once said was to act “calculatedly stupid” and to enjoy what we’re doing. As Vincent Van Gogh put it: “Just slap anything on when you see a blank canvas staring you in the face like some imbecile.”

We are at our best when we’re relaxed and instinctive, free from the chaos of the monkey mind.

Unthinking is the ability to apply years of learning at the crucial moment by removing your thinking self from the equation. Its power is not confined to sport: actors and musicians know about it too, and are apt to say that their best work happens in a kind of trance.

So do the work and let go, let God. Let inspiration be free-floating perspiration.

Read Non cogito, ergo sum

Be Like Mike

 

giphy (35).gif
via giphy

 

Hemingway wrote in Moleskine notebooks. So did Van Gogh and Picasso.

What kid does not want to play basketball in a pair of Jordans?

We use other people’s tools believing that we can enjoy the same success. However, we often fall short of the dream.

“You don’t get what you hope for. You don’t get what you wish for. You get what you believe.” – Oprah

Perhaps we should emulate how successful people practice instead.

If you want to be like Mike, you have to do the work. There are no shortcuts.

Finding Vivian Maier

giphy (12)
gif via Fast Company

The 19th-century French novelist Gustave Flaubert once said to be “be regular and orderly in your life like a Bourgeois so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

Vivian Maier took this to heart. No one ever knew this nanny was an artist of her own.

She took over 100,000 photos, mostly street photographs of downtown Chicago, and kept them for her own viewing, including her selfies. Taking pictures was her happy place, a creative outlet, that allowed her to see the world with a third eye. She wrote with light.

Today, Maier would’ve been an Instagram and VSCO sensation. While she may have resisted social media given her inclination as a loner, she probably would’ve enjoyed connecting with others who shared the same passion. The internet unleashes the weirdness in all of us, motivating us to share our work.

Van Gogh only sold one piece of artwork in his life, to his brother. His posthumous reputation speaks for itself, as does Maier’s.

Kevin Kelly: ‘I define art as cool and useless’

KevinKelly2.jpg

Kevin Kelly was the former editor of the Whole Earth Catalog, the counterculture magazine Steve Jobs adored. He also founded Wired Magazine and continues to write books and give speeches worldwide about the future of technology.

Below are some of the most interesting highlights of a recent interview with an online publication The Caret.

Just as Brian Eno believes that “art is everything you don’t have to do,” so too does Kelly think art at its rudimentary level is useless.

I think there’s never been a better time to be a creator. It’s a wholly new era for the ease and power of creation. And I think of art as a subset of creation. I define art as cool and useless.

In the glut of today’s DIY artists with internet reach, it’s even harder to stand out. But there’s no reason to hide: some artists gain a posthumous reputation — Van Gogh for instance — and according to Kelly, all an artist needs is 1,000 true fans.

But this goes back to my true fans theory: you only need 1000 true fans to support your work. With the large market that we have, almost any weird thing that you do, if you really strive for excellence it’s entirely possible to find 1000 fans in the world of that. I see it again and again, where something is very esoteric and very niche — if you have a market of a couple billion people you’ll probably be able to find 1000 true fans.

While Kelly continues to predict the technology of tomorrow, he’s equally sanguine on today’s developments. He scoffs at the notion of a digital detox, as the internet is just too good.

Whether it’s work or a habit or technology, when you disengage, you recharge your batteries and come with renewed enthusiasm and new ideas. But I don’t like the term “detox” because I don’t think technology is toxic. I just think that you gain something when you don’t have it — a new perspective and new ways of looking at things and those are SO valuable. The challenge of the world today is that when everyone is connected 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, every day of the year, it becomes harder and harder to think differently. And thinking differently is the engine of creation, it’s the engine of wealth. So anything we can do to help us think differently is a huge advantage. And I think one of the most powerful things you can do is turn something off that’s usually on, no matter what it is.

Also be sure to check out Kelly’s interview with Tim Ferriss.

:)