Contemporary Japanese Artists Influenced by the Traditional Art

East Asia is one of the parts of the world that is known for high respect for the traditions. That is why people who live there were able to combine the modernity with old customs. This may be seen in various aspects of cultures. A good example is visual art: Japan is known for its distinct visual style and a plethora of artists who create outstanding works of art. A careful examination will reveal that many of their works have been influenced by the traditional aspects of culture. This paper will explore to what extent the contemporary Japanese artists Takashi Murakami, Hisashi Tenmyouya, Makoto Aida were influenced by the traditional Japanese art.

Takashi Murakami

Takashi Murakami is one of the most famous contemporary artists of Japan. He has numerous distinct works. For the purposes of this paper, the one titled “Skulls” will be compared to the famous “The Great Wave off Kanagawa”.

To begin with, it is worth pointing out that the traditional work that has influenced the contemporary artist was created during Edo period. This is one of the most important periods because it is responsible for the emergence of what is generally seen as the fundamentals of the Japanese culture in the broadest sense (Addiss, Groemer, and Rimer 137). Thus, even the traditional work of art in question is a woodblock print which was a popular form of art at the time (Kleiner 528). When it was introduced to the Western audience, the latter was amazed by this technique. As a result, woodblock prints are generally seen as the characteristic form of art of Japan. The fact that a contemporary artist was influenced by this traditional form suggests that he may have wanted his works to be associated with the aesthetic legacy. In addition to that, by designing the works using the old principles, the artist made his paintings easily recognizable and those of high value since they subconsciously were associated with the old masterpieces. In addition to that, all this shows that the artistic tradition has been preserved over the centuries and inspired the contemporary artists as well.

There are some similarities and differences that can be identified in two works of art. Speaking of the former, one should note that the author heavily relied on the old principles of design, paying particular attention to the curves. In addition to that, the two works of art are quite similar in their color range: they feature a lot of blue that almost has the identical shade. Furthermore, it is also paired with white color which created the contrast that is easily recognized by those who are familiar with the traditional Japanese art.

Nevertheless, there are some differences as well. For example, the traditional Japanese art often put emphasis on the unity of the elements, trying not to highlight any particular element. As a result, the audience enjoyed the harmony without noticing individual objects. Contrary to that, Murakami creates the entire picture with the help of individual objects. It seems that each of them is able to tell its own story and due to their simultaneous exposure, they can be perceived as a unity.

Hisashi Tenmyouya

Hisashi Tenmyouya is famous for successfully blending the traditional motives in art with the contemporary reality. While there are many works that can be discussed with this regard, this paper will focus on the one called “Neo Thousand-Armed Kannon” and compare it to the traditional depictions of Guanyin Bodhisattva from the early periods of Japan.

One should keep in mind that Japan has been influenced by the Chinese culture a lot at the dawn of it. As a result, the first thousand years and a half were marked by the Buddhist motives in various areas of culture (Graham 9). So, when the artist in question referred to the depiction of Guanyin, he made an allusion to some of the earliest periods of history. Given the fact that Buddhism was introduced in 552, it is possible to assume that Tenmyouya was referring the Asuka period (Swanson 145). The significance of Buddhism for the development of the Japanese art can hardly be overestimated: it did not only bring the new forms and expressions, it also formed the guidelines that numerous artists of the future generations followed.

The work of Tenmyouya depicted the figure of Kannon or Guanyin who is a Buddhist deity of peace and compassion. One can easily see that there is a clear contradiction as the author refers to his deity as having “thousand arms”, obviously playing with the word “arm” as a limb and as a weapon. So, one might suggest that this work follows the canon by depicting the Bodhisattva in a traditional way, but it also shatters the image of the deity of peace by putting so many weapons in his arms.

One may identify the following similarities and differences between the two works of art. If once considers the similarities, one will be able to see that Tenmyouya followed all the guidelines of Buddhist art to depict a Bodhisattva. In other words, did not simply want his work to look like some traditional examples; he created an image that would fully adhere to the old rules. If it had not been for the weapons, the picture may have had religious significance.

Nevertheless, the involvement of weapons, even though they were depicted sketchy, points out that the author wanted the work to have a completely different goal. By putting weapons in the arms of the deity he turned the attention of the audience to the contrast between the divine nature of peace and compassion and the carnal nature of violence. So, while following the canon, Tenmyouya also deliberately breaks it in order to produce a new meaning.

Makoto Aida

The third contemporary artist that should be mentioned with this regard is Makoto Aida. He is known for his shocking works that explore the limits of acceptable in art. This paper will focus on the work that is titled “Japanese giant salamander” and compare it to several sumi-e paintings.

It is worth pointing out that the period of time when sumi-e paintings were popular is old quite early. They did not represent sacred art and were heavily influenced by the secular art of China (Sakai 578). One should keep in mind that the tradition of ink wash paintings is common for many countries of East Asia. When it comes to understanding the significant of sumi-e in the history of art of Japan, one should note that for a considerable period of time, it was one of the several forms of art that were widely used by the artists (Satō 10). In other words, the public was not exposed to anything by sumi-e. Though in the later periods they were considered to be outdated, these paintings are generally seen as extremely influential since they created a distinct style of the Japanese art.

The work by Aida does not follow the tradition precisely. Though he did borrow the color range and the techniques, it introduces the image that would not be acceptable in the old times: two naked females are touching the salamander. Some might suggest that by doing so, Aida tried to revive the tradition of sumi-e: he used the same technique, but added the erotic element to it, provoking the audience. In spite of the fact that there is no explicit sexual content, the painting implies heavily.

So, the major similarities of the work of art in question and the sumi-e paintings lie in the technique that was used: both use only black ink to depict the objects and nothing more. In addition to that, while painting was created on white paper, white is nowhere to be found: every color that is present in the picture is a shade of black. In addition to that, the author also focused on depicting the curves and the atmosphere of the older works of art.

However, one may also see that there are significant differences that should be identified. First of all, sumi-e paintings often depicted landscapes, paying little attention to the characters: they favored broad approach. Contrary to that, the painting by Aida features nothing by three characters and the rest can be imagined. Secondly, sumi-e rarely included any sensuality, appealing to the sense of the beauty of the audience. On the other hand, Aida tries to provoke the audience by depicting a scene that can be seen as erotic, though no making it too explicit.


Having examined all the points that were mentioned in the paragraphs above, one is able to come to the following conclusion: the contemporary culture of East Asia is heavily influenced by the long legacy of tradition. This has been showed on the example of three contemporary artists. Each of them was influenced by a different period of the Japanese history. This also shows that the interest in the past in Japan as quite high as the artists are willing to incorporate some elements of traditional aesthetics to make works accepted.

Works Cited

Addiss, Stephen, Gerald Groemer, and J. Thomas. Rimer. Traditional Japanese arts and culture: an illustrated sourcebook. Honolulu, HI: U of Hawai’i Press, 2006. Print.

Graham, Patricia Jane. Faith and power in Japanese Buddhist art, 1600-2005. Honolulu, HI: U of Hawai’i Press, 2007. Print.

Kleiner, Fred S. Gardner’s art through the ages. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning, 2012. Print.

Sakai, Stan. Usagi Yojimbo. Seattle, WA: Fantagraphics , 2007. Print.

Satō, Shōzō. Sumi-e: the art of Japanese ink painting. Tokyo: Tuttle Publishing, 2010. Print.

Swanson, Paul L. Nanzan guide to Japanese religions. Honolulu, HI: U of Hawai’i Press, 2007. Print.

Sharing is caring!

The terms offer and acceptance. (2016, May 17). Retrieved from

[Accessed: September 29, 2020]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016.

[Accessed: September 29, 2020] (2016) The terms offer and acceptance [Online].
Available at:

[Accessed: September 29, 2020]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

[Accessed: September 29, 2020]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

[Accessed: September 29, 2020]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

[Accessed: September 29, 2020]

"The terms offer and acceptance.", 17 May 2016

[Accessed: September 29, 2020]