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.


You may also like:

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.


You may also like:

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.”

Read about Hokusai’s great wave: a lesson in persistence


You may also like:

‘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.


You may also like:

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


You may also like:

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.


You may also like:

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.


You may also like: