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Yōga

Yōga Collage

Started: 1876

Ended: 1955

"There is nothing wrong with the international standard of aesthetics. It is actually necessary and should be promoted for the sake of the future of Japanese art."

Kuroda Seiki

Summary of Yōga

Following hundreds of years of self-imposed isolation during the Edo Period, Japan opened its ports to the outside world, causing a major influx of Western influences to infuse its national consciousness. This caused a race toward modernity as Japan strived to establish itself as a viable peer in the global arena. This push toward a fresh identity spurred one of the most important movements in Japanese art as some of its artists sought to detach themselves from the traditional realms of indigenous historical painting in order to create a new voice that better reflected integration into, and equality with, a contemporary world. Yōga art, or Western-style painting, became the key response to this impetus, made in accordance with European conventions, techniques, and materials, borrowing from important art movements of the time.

Key Ideas

The rise of Yōga marked a historical rift in the psyche of Japan; a mirror of the process of change that posits the old versus the new. Its artists were seen as a new avant-garde, pushing toward modernity, while its opposition, specifically artists of the Nihonga genre who strove to retain Japanese styles while evolving its art, fought to preserve the country's distinctive aesthetics.
The Western techniques utilized by Yōga artists were significantly different from Japanese art's prior aesthetics which largely included woodblock prints noted for flat color, bold outlines, singular planes, and aerial viewpoints, and Nanga works which drew inspiration from Chinese subjects, among others. These new techniques introduced the employment of perspective, a push toward oil painting, lithography, pastels, watercolors, sketching, and the practice of plein air painting, and the incorporation of decidedly Western motifs and subjects.
Although Yōga adopted characteristics of popular movements of the time including Fauvism, Cubism, Impressionism, and Naturalism, its artists distinctively created works that not merely copied these other conventions but helped evolve the Japanese artistic oeuvre into a modern idiom.
Yōga artists made a bold departure from Japan's traditional creative subject matter of the past, which had been primarily steeped in portrayals of everyday Japanese life, literature, and cultural mythologies, by introducing the concept of the artist as an individual with an independent voice and opinion amid the country's changing social and political climates.
The cycle of Yōga's rise and fall remains an important indicator of art's role in documenting periods of noted transformation within a country. It remains an inspiration to Japanese artists today who continue to work in the spirit of balancing a respect for the past with the innovations of progression.
Yōga Image

Beginnings:

The earliest introduction of foreign religious paintings and imagery to Japan came via Christian missionaries with the arrival of the Portugese in 1543. At the time Japanese artists copied and imitated the works, though that interest declined in the following Edo period when Japan cut off all contact with the outside world. Only one port remained open, allowing for limited trade with China and the Netherlands. It was through this channel that Japanese artists discovered perspective by studying Dutch anatomical and scientific textbooks. As a result, some of them incorporated the technique into their own work, like Utagawa Toyoharu in his Perspective Pictures of Places in Japan (c. 1772-1781). Elements of this new perspective began influencing the dominant art style of the time, Japanese Ukiyo-e prints, particularly as seen in the work of Katsushika Hokusai.

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