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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 great wave: a lesson in persistence

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

Hokusai's great wave: a lesson in persistence

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 a professional with pertinacity.

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

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Arts History

Van Gogh’s fascination with Japan

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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.

Vincent Van Gogh

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.

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Courtesan (after Eisen) by Vincent van Gogh (1887)

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

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Van Gogh: ‘These waves are claws, the boat is caught in them, you can feel it.’

Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai finished his most famous work, The Great Wave, at the age of 71. #ocean #art #waves #doorcurtain #interior #house #apartment
The Great Wave off Kanagawa Door Way Curtain (Amazon)

Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai finished his most famous work, The Great Wave, at the age of 71. Upon seeing the print, Van Gogh remarked: “These waves are claws, the boat is caught in them, you can feel it.”

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