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Sōsaku-hanga Creative Prints

Sōsaku-hanga Creative Prints Collage

Started: 1904

Ended: 1960s

"The virtue of the print lies in the certainty that it comes from a creative process which permits no sham. Unlike brush painting, it permits no wavering of the hand. It is honest."

Kōshirō Onchi

Summary of Sōsaku-hanga Creative Prints

Prior to the 20th century, printmaking in Japan had been largely relegated to the commercial process of ukiyo-e woodblocks in which an artist would work with carvers, printers, and publishers to create highly reproducible works of art glamorizing traditional subjects. With the arrival of the Mejii Period in 1868, Japanese artists became exposed to Western influences, spurring the sōsaku-hanga, or "creative prints,' art movement. Prints were transformed from cheap products made for the masses into original works of high art created by an artist that emphasized his or her individual voice and perspective while incorporating modern techniques and styles. Sōsaku-hanga's emergence was concurrent with Yōga, a painting movement also influenced by Western art ideals. The emergence of both, with their impetus toward creative self-expression, was responsible for establishing the new avant-garde in Japan.

Key Ideas

In contrast to its sister movement shin-hanga, which was an evolved contemporary form of ukiyo-e, sōsaku-hanga artists were solely involved in the printmaking process from design to finished project. They advocated that art should be self-drawn, self-carved, and self-printed.
Although many sōsaku-hanga artists departed from historical Japanese art methods and materials through the introduction of perspective or by adopting from Western movements such as Folk Art, Naturalism, Expressionism, or Abstraction, they did so while still paying homage to decidedly Japanese subjects and traditions.
Sōsaku-hanga's principles contributed to a new intellectual discussion of the "self" that was taking place in the Japanese cultural arena. Its artwork sat side by side with this new discourse in magazines and societies that grew during this time.
With the rebirth of Japan after World War II, sōsaku-hanga became a strong part of the country's economic reconstruction as American patronage aimed to promote a more Democratic art. Much of the movement's prints at this time became more abstract and were viewed as an authentic blend of East and West.
Sōsaku-hanga helped elevate the print from a work seen prior as a cheap advertising tool, or lowly form of artistic output for the commoner, to a valid medium for fine art. This elevation made a major contribution to today's proliferation of artist prints as credible forms of high art.
Sōsaku-hanga Creative Prints Image


In 1868, the onset of the Mejii Period in Japan brought about new open trade borders with the West, causing a countrywide rush toward modernity that affected all areas of society. Many Western teachers were imported to impart education in science and art in order to elevate Japan as an equal peer with the rest of the world. Many Japanese artists began to shake up what they viewed as the country's staid art traditions by adopting fresh styles and techniques from Western art movements and marrying them with aesthetics that were still decidedly Japanese toward creating a contemporary lexicon.

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