The abstract expressionism art form sprung onto the scene in the 1940s and 1950s by some influential artists. Still, this genre can be traced back to having been popular for over a century.
The art form is denoted by its colourful spontaneity, gestural strokes and marks, and the ability to evoke emotion.
The types of abstract expressionism include action painting and colour field painting.
Spontaneous brush strokes and gestures characterize action painting, and colour field painting is characterized by artists working with a large area of a single colour.
Here are some of the best artists of the abstract expressionism art genre.
Jackson Pollock is the poster child for the Abstract expressionist movement in the 1940s and 1950s. He was well known for his drip paintings, and they were popular because of the unmatched creativity at the time.
His process coined the action painting title, and he achieved a level of fame that was comparable to what Andy Warhol would achieve decades later.
Pollock put his canvas on the floor, pouring paint, impulsively brushing and creating his masterpieces. Pollock was a leader in the genre, and he would go on to influence future artists in their work.
“The painting has a life of its own. I try to let it come through.”
Here is an interesting video documentary on Jackson Pollock.
Joan Mitchell was part of the new wave of abstract expressionists who took the genre and softened it, giving it a lyrical and emotional direction.
Another action painter, she used her gestures to become a massive part of the American movement, even though she mostly worked and lived in France.
She was inspired by Claude Monet, Vincent van Gogh and Paul Cézanne. She is one of the genre and eras few female creators, and she received massive critical acclaim and public recognition.
“My paintings are titled after they are finished. I paint from remembered landscapes that I carry with me – and remembered feelings of them, which, of course, become transformed. I could certainly never mirror nature. I would more like to paint what it leaves with me.”
Watch this documentary, “Lady Painter”, about Joan Mitchell.
Clyfford Still was lesser known than his New York School peers, but he was a pioneer in the genre, creating a style of work that had little to no clear concept or subject matter.
He worked in the colour field painting form, and the common theme in his work is the struggle between nature and the human spirit.
He was a bit controversial, being labelled as a complicated character to deal with in the art community, as he turned his back on the New York art scene.
“These are not paintings in the usual sense; they are life and death merging in fearful union. As for me, they kindle a fire; through them, I breathe again, hold a golden cord, find my own revelation.”
Jacques Rosas is a famous artist who works in many different genres, including abstract expressionism, pop art and street art.
He has become popular because of his work being placed in TV shows and films, so it reaches millions of viewers on a weekly basis.
He has been commissioned by many celebrities and continues to be a force in the genre.
Helen Frankenthaler was a leading contributor to postwar American art. Her work has spanned and been exhibited for over six decades, and she continued to grow and adapt to an ever-changing art form.
She worked with the colour fielding technique, and she was inspired by Hans Hofmann, Greenberg, and Jackson Pollock’s work.
Her work has been studied and has been part of many retrospective exhibitions, and it is critically acclaimed and award-winning.
“One really beautiful wrist motion that is synchronized with your head and heart, and you have it. It looks as if it were born in a minute.”
Here is a video documentary featuring Helen Frankenthaler from 1993 that you might like to watch.
Willem de Kooning
One of the most well known and esteemed abstract expressionists, Willem de Kooning adopted the abstract technique while never letting go of the human form in his work.
He admired Rembrandt, Rubens, and Ingres, but was also inspired by Picasso and Matisse.
He embodied the reputation of an alcoholic, troubled painter, which ended up costing him much of his personal life and health.
“Art should not have to be a certain way. It is no use worrying about being related to something it is impossible not to be related to.”
Watch this documentary called “Willem de Kooning: A Way of Living” to find out more about the artist.
Around the early 1910s, Vasily Kandinsky was one of the first abstract expressionists. Truly abstract artwork, he stated, should be “art independent of one’s observations of the external world.”
He believed and taught that colour could be separated from any external references for his artwork purposes.
“Colour is a means of exerting direct influence on the soul.”
Piet Mondrian’s name is closely connected to Modern Art. His geometric squares of bright, primary colours with thick, black borders are famously known and regarded in the community.
He started his art career heavily influenced by Seurat and Van Gogh. Still, he eventually settled into his unique style.
The goal of his work was to attain a spiritual connection with the divine, which forced it to become increasingly abstract.
“Abstract art is not the creation of another reality but the true vision of reality.”
Here is a cool video about Piet Mondrian called “A Life in 10 Snippets”. Worth a watch!
Along with Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko is one of the most famous abstract expressionists.
His style is much different than his peers, as he diffused paint over his canvas, versus the gestural brushstrokes that the genre mainly demonstrated.
His exemplary work consists of large blobs of paint stacked over each other and painted backdrops, with a bright contrast in colour. His goal was to evoke a range of emotions from his admirers.
“It is a widely accepted notion among painters that it does not matter what one paints as long as it is well painted. This is the essence of academic painting. However, there is no such thing as good painting about nothing.”
I recommend this documentary called “The Case For Mark Rothko” to learn more about the artist.
Agnes Martin was a Canadian-born artist who is considered an innovator of minimal art. However, she thought herself an abstract expressionist.
She was consistently seeking a level of perfection in her work, working with grids, bands and little colour to express her concepts.
“My paintings are not about what is seen. They are about what is known forever in the mind.”
Watch this great documentary about Agnes Martin called “Beauty is in Your Mind”.
Henri Matisse was a french painter, draughtsman, printmaker, and sculptor. He was also the co-founder of the Fauvism art style, and one of the most influential painters of the 20th century.
Fauvism is a way of painting which is very expressive, and uses non-realistic color schemes to depict natural scenes. This movement, although it didn’t last long, made a huge impact on future artists, like the German Expressionists.
Henri Matisse was born on 31 December 1869 in Le Cateau-Cambresis, Northern France, in a grain merchant‘s family.
His way to the art world wasn‘t straight considering a fact that he didn‘t paint as a child or as a teenager.
Moreover, Matisse studied Law in Paris and after that, he returned to his hometown to practice as a court administrator. During the work there, suddenly he got appendicitis.
The sickness led to that he needed to spend a lot of time at home in bed, so his mom brought him painting tools, to keep her son busy.
Probably nobody could have expected that this innocent hobby step by step will grow into a huge passion, that totally changes Henri’s life.
In later years, when he will be an experienced artist, he will describe the finding of art as “a kind of paradise”, even his decision to become a professional artist, will be a total shock to his parents.
Early years in art
In 1891 Matisse returned to Paris to study art at the Academie Julian. At the beginning of his professional career as an artist, he used to paint still lifes, landscapes or copy other painter works.
He was inspired by such painters as Jean Baptiste Simeon Chardin, Edouard Manet or Japanese art.
At the beginning of his career, he mostly used a darker earth-colored palette of colors, but it totally changed after he was introduced to Vincent Van Gogh‘s works.
It impacted to use way more vivid colors in his works and that led it to look them more alive and expressive. Henri learned a lot from Australian painter John Russel, who taught him the main color theory.
Between 1898 and 1901 he tried a Divisionist technique, which was popular among neo-Impressionists. After a couple of years, Matisse wanter to try something new in art, so he started to work with clay and create sculptures.
Henri Matisse‘s name was written in art history not only because of his works in general but because of his new ideas creating art.
Together with french painter Andre Derain he created a new art style of Modern art and called it Fauvism.
Even the movement lasted only a few years between 1904 and 1908 and attained critique‘s attention of its too much usage of colors, it helped for Matisse to develop his style and left paintings such as Woman with a Hat, 1905, which is one of the traits that described him as an artist.
Around 1906, Henri Matisse met Cubism pioneer Pablo Picasso. Both artists became close friends for many years and also shared their ideas and perspectives on art.
The main difference between these two painters was that Matisse enjoyed painting from nature and Picasso in his works reflected mostly his imagination.
Henri continued his work by creating various landscapes, portraits and still life, but now he used techniques that prevailed in Cubism. These would include more vivid lines, and things with distinctly clear edges.
According to Françoise Gilot, who was a partner of Picasso and a mother of his two children, Henri liked to see things from close and even touch it and feel their surfaces, while painting them, for example, alive doves, which he adore to paint.
It helped him to reflect shapes and forms way better in his paintings. Common topics in his works were music and dance – one of the most well-known paintings is Dance I created in 1909-1910.
In 1917, Matisse moved to Nice in France and after several years of painting, he achieved critical acclaim as a promoter of the classical tradition in French painting.
“Painting with scissors“
In the last years of his life, Henri Matisse was sitting in a wheelchair and he couldn‘t keep painting as he uses to.
Instead of that, he found a new way to express his creativity. He took huge scissors and started to cut various things from a paper by creating various compositions and called it “painting with scissors“.
By using this unique technique, he created an art book called “Jazz“, which combined color prints and Matisse‘s handwritten notes with his thoughts during the creating process.
This example shows, that his love for art was alive till the last days he lived and despite circumstances, an artistic person can find ways to express himself.
Doris Salcedo is from Bogotá, Colombia, and was born in 1958. Her life dramatically influences her work in Colombia, and the lives of victims of trauma in Colombia.
She utilizes commonplace items in her installation work, such as furniture, grass, concrete, clothing, and flowers.
Some themes she has aimed to express are memory loss, pain, trauma, loss, and emptiness. Being an artist has been her lifelong dream.
“I always wanted to be an artist. I cannot name a date when that came to me; it has always been there. Living in Colombia, in a country at war, means that war does not give you the possibility of distance. War engulfs reality completely. In some cases, people can be killed or wounded at war, but in most cases war just distorts your life. It throws a shadow over your entire life.”
This video should give you a closer look to get you familiarized with Doris and her beliefs.
She continues, “War creates a totality and you are embedded in it. It’s like being engulfed in a reality. Political events are part of everyday life here, so art and politics came to me as a natural thing, something that has been very much present in my life from the start.”
Doris Salcedo attended Bogotá University, where she received her Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1980. She majored in painting and theater.
In the early 1980s, Doris moved to New York and began sculpting, while earning her Master’s.
This is where she became influenced by other artists who were using political and challenging themes in their works.
This inspired her to draw from her home country and the heartache it had experienced with war.
She draws on her own experiences but also speaks for victims of senseless crimes and terrible issues that plague Colombia. She has interviewed victims to gain insight into their trauma to create many of her most famous pieces.
Some of her most notable installation pieces are the following:
A rough translation to ‘silent prayer,’ this piece is a series of sculptures that make up the shape of a coffin, from two handmade tables.
There is grass growing in between the tabletops. This piece symbolizes and pays tribute to the victims of gang violence, particularly the enormous gravesites where victims of gang violence are buried in Colombia.
Flor de Piel
Created in 2013 and acquired by the Harvard Art Museum in 2014, this piece was part of her solo exhibition Doris Salcedo: The Materiality of Mourning.
The tapestry measures 340 cm x 500 cm and is made up of thousands of hand-sewn rose petals. This piece was to pay homage to a nurse that was tortured to death during the Colombian war.
Located in Tate Modern in London, her installation here was a massive crack in the flooring. She is the first artist ever to change the physical building of Tate Modern.
This piece was to symbolize the wedge between victims and the social forces that divided and armed people against one another.
It also represents a significant divide between the rich and the poor. Particularly in Colombia, there is a clear divide and brokenness between cultures, and that was meant to be evoked by this piece.
Made from plywood, thread, sheepskin, animal fibers, and shoes. There are six different styles of this installation piece.
In the ‘shoes’ piece, the shoes were all worn previously by victims who had been declared missing.
Families of missing women donated the items. This piece represents being “permanently suspended between the present and the past” and bringing awareness to the memory of those who are missing, or their whereabouts are unknown.
Atrabiliarios is meant to be a portrait of disappearance and survivors mentally being distraught with no closure.
This installation piece is constructed from 1,550 wooden chairs piled between two buildings. The central theme behind this creation was a topography of war.
About Istanbul, she says, “Seeing these 1,550 wooden chairs piled high between two buildings in central Istanbul, I’m reminded of mass graves. Of anonymous victims. I think of both chaos and absence, two effects of wartime violence. What I’m trying to get out of these pieces is that element that is common in all of us. And in a situation of war, we all experience it in much the same way, either as victim or perpetrator. So I’m not narrating a particular story. I’m just addressing experiences.”
Created from 1995-1998, Unland is comprised of three sculptures. It’s meant to represent testimonies given by children who witnessed their parents murder in the Colombian Civil War.
Doris traveled across the country to collect statements from participants and how this shaped their lives. The three sculptures are called Unland: the orphan’s tunic, Unland: irreversible witness, and Unland: audible in the mouth.
Two wooden tables are fused into one, and combined by the legs being removed on each end. There are thousands of holes in the top of the table, which has human hair and silk threads sewn in. The wood has deep cuts across it, to signal the damage done in the war.
Accolades and Importance
Her list of accolades is impressive, to say the least. She’s been awarded the Guggenheim Fellowship, The Ordway Prize, from the Penny McCall Foundation, Velázquez Visual Arts Prize, Hiroshima Art Prize, Inaugural Nasher Prize for Sculpture, Nasher Sculpture Center, Rolf Schock Prizes in Visual Arts and The Nomura Art Award.
Doris Salcedo creates installation pieces that provoke thought and tackles tough, taboo subjects from objects with little significance.
She has played an important role in her Colombian culture, being a voice for victims of trauma and political injustices. Art has always been her passion for many reasons, and she has turned that into a lifelong career and been a guiding force in her niche.
“The way that an artwork brings materials together is incredibly powerful. Sculpture is its materiality. I work with materials that are already charged with significance, with meaning they have required in the practice of everyday life…then, I work to the point where it becomes something else, where metamorphosis is reached.”
An incredible career that spans five decades, Judy Chicago is an artist, author, feminist, educator, and intellectual.
The Dinner Party, International Honor Quilt, The Birth Project, Powerplay, and The Holocaust Project are her most notable projects, and her art has been exhibited in the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Europe, and Asia.
Equal parts sculptor, installation artist, feminist, and harnesser of the zeitgeist, she has known her calling since a young age
Judy Chicago was born in 1939 in Chicago, Illinois. Heavily influenced by her mother’s love of the arts, at the tender age of three, Judy started drawing and attended some classes at the Art Institute of Chicago.
By the age of five, she knew she “never wanted to do anything but make art” and began pursuing her passion further.
“Once I knew that I wanted to be an artist, I had made myself into one. I did not understand that wanting doesn’t always lead to action.
Many of the women had been raised without the sense that they could mold and shape their own lives, and so, wanting to be an artist (but without the ability to realize their wants) was, for some of them, only an idle fantasy, like wanting to go to the moon.”
She attended UCLA on a scholarship and graduated in 1964 with her Masters of Fine Arts. In 1965, Judy held her first solo show.
It was at the Rolf Nelson Gallery in Los Angeles, and she was one of four women who participated in that show.
Judy refuses to participate in any show that has a ‘women’ or ‘Jewish’ label attached to it, like the California Women in the Arts exhibition, as she feels that there should be no labels attached. During this time, Judy began sculpting.
As she began her experimental gallery of sculptures and drawings that were, in her words ‘minimalist,’ Judy’s work was at the forefront of the conceptual art movement in LA.
She began experimenting with lighting, pyrotechnics, and smoke to create an atmosphere for her exhibits.
She wanted to feminize and soften the playing field, and she began exploring sexuality in her work, and this became a turning point for her craft.
In 1970, Judy began to teach full-time, teaching women’s only art classes at Fresno State College.
It was the first of its kind in the United States, and Judy Chicago and Miriam Schapiro would go on to renew the Feminist Art Program at the California Institute of the Arts.
Judy is known as a leader and pioneer of feminist artists, and for a good reason.
Womanhouse was a collaborative project that used the artists’ problems as women as inspiration.
“The aim of the Feminist Art Program is to help women restructure their personalities to be more consistent with their desires to be artists and to help them build their art-making out of their experiences as women.”
This project displayed Judy’s own identity struggle as an artist.
The Dinner Party, possibly her most famous work, has a permanent exhibition at the Brooklyn Museum. Five years and $250,000 later, this work is Judy’s triumph.
Tables set up in a triangle formation with 39 place settings, each commemorating an important woman in history. This piece took over the work of over 400 people to come to fruition.
Each place setting is unique, with a china plate that is hand-painted and deliberately embroidered runner. The floor beneath the table has the names of 998 women and one man who has made a mark in our history.
Each piece of artwork has an abstractly painted vulva-styled form. There was some resistance from the people in the art world for this piece, but at the time that it came out, it toured to 16 venues in 6 countries and is now a permanent fixture in Brooklyn.
Here’s a look…
The Birth Project
The Birth Project took another five years to create, finishing up in 1985.
Judy realized that there were no representations of birth in western art or none that she could immediately think of.
The Birth Project uses the iconography of women giving birth to celebrate motherhood. While motherhood was not for Judy, she was inspired by women who choose motherhood.
After The Birth Project, she went back to independent studio work and created Powerplay, a series of drawings, paintings, weavings, bronze reliefs, and cast paper.
This piece explored the female gaze and how power has affected men.
The Holocaust Project
The Holocaust Project, a collaboration with her husband, Donald Woodman, touched on her interest in male power in regards to the holocaust.
During this time, Judy became more interested in exploring her Jewish heritage, and her work began another shift.
In the span of eight years, she and her husband finished the piece that documented the victims of the holocaust, during a time she was facing her own personal loss.
The passing of her brother and her mother aided her in creating the visual and written art components of this piece.
The Holocaust Project explores the themes of victimization, injustice, cruelty, and oppression. There are a variety of mediums used in this project, including stained glass and metalwork.
Judy has penned many books in her career, and she has been included in numerous publications. Her work has been published in a variety of languages, so she still reaches a global audience.
Her work has been the subject of articles, history texts, and her goal to create a piece of art history has been realized. Art curators and historians have studied her work, and the impact of her work will be reviewed for years to come.
At 81 years old, Judy is still holding exhibitions and talks scheduled into 2020. She even has an Instagram account that has over 31,000 followers.
She says “I love that so many young people follow my Instagram and come to my openings. It means that my work is still vital. When you’re old, that’s important.”
Judy Chicago has been a monumental contributor to feminist art, in a variety of mediums.
From her drawings and paintings to her incredible installation art of The Dinner Party, Judy has and will continue to inspire young artists for years to come.
‘I do not think art can change the world. I do think art can educate, inspire, empower people to act.’ – Judy Chicago
Recently, with the new technologies and materials, interesting art installations seem to be popping up in the contemporary art scene.
In a few words, an art installation is experiential art. Three-dimensional works that we can feel with our senses and they aim to offer an experience.
It’s art that we are able touch, or walk into, hear sounds from, and interact with; breaching that distance between viewer and object.
They could also be defined as a blend of art & architecture.
As we live in a time where we seem to be getting a little numb with technology, this trend seems to be appearing to reconnect us with our senses.
Art without borders
Japan, always experimenting with innovation, is holding nowadays the amazing “Borderless” exhibition by “teamLab” collective, in Tokyo.
They spread digital projections throughout the whole space allowing you to be inside the work of art.
Here’s a video guide to teamLab Borderless in Odaiba, Tokyo.
Not only the moving flower projections are mesmerizing, but the space itself; dark and filled with mirrors, paths, and sudden doors to other rooms make you wander around and get lost like in a forest, reconnecting you with the perception of your own body.
A little bit of context: Japanese appreciation for the 5 senses
The perception of the surroundings is very present in Japan in everyday life. To begin with, their Shinto religion worships all elements in nature as sacred.
Secondly, each season of the year has a strong presence, from the falling of cherry blossom petals in spring, or the red Momiji leaves that carpet the floors in autumn, the green moss that emerges from the concrete cracks in the moist summer, the heavy snow in winter, or even the natural disasters like earthquakes and typhoons give awareness of being under nature’ s world.
Also, body awareness has its roots in the synesthesia that you can experience while walking through Japanese gardens. They are made to be walked with full consciousness of the body.
Filled with slopes, hills, curved bridges, thin paths with branches of low trees to elude, ponds to cross through stepping stones. Body awareness must be involved to cross the garden.
Being in between worlds
Another incredible installation worth mentioning in the “Borderless” exhibition, is one named “Infinite transparency”.
A dark area with an “S” shaped longitudinal passageway is delimited by levitating transparent panels, which display animations of animal characters dancing to traditional music.
The figures are ghostly. Their contours are bright green and blue, and their movements are slow and enigmatic. Some of them are interactive. But the distinctive experience of this installation is that you feel lost in between worlds.
Both the digital characters and the visitors coexist visually in the same diffuse atmosphere as you can see the people walking ahead through the translucent panels, giving them a ghost-like aspect as well.
Both realities strangely coexisting give the whole space an otherworldly atmosphere. This idea of two worlds–the world of the living and the world of the dead- mixing is a recurrent topic in Japanese culture, often seen in their anime movies.
Meanwhile, in the Mori Art Museum, also in Tokyo, one of the most popular exhibitions held this year is “The Soul Trembles” by Shiota Chiharu.
The artist expresses a childhood memory in which she witnessed her neighbor’s house burn down in a fire.
Red or black thread take up entire spaces and engulf furniture to recreate that experience.
The day after the fire, she woke up to see a half-burnt piano standing on black ashes, and the beauty that she saw on that scene stayed with her. She utilizes thread to connect objects that crossed her memories in life.
In Japan and other Asian countries, the red thread is a symbol of connections and destiny. It comes from a legend that says that people that are meant to meet are joined by these threads.
Trip inside your body
One last interesting art installation in Japan is one called “Les Archives du Coeur” (or “The Archives of the Heart”) set in Teshima Island, one of the so-called “art & architecture islands” in the Seto Inland Sea of Japan.
This one was created by a french installation-artist, Christian Boltanski, so the cultural background might be different, but it is worth mentioning because of its surreal experience.
Placed in the border of the island by the shore of the sea, there is a small and discrete wooden building. Inside, a minimalistic, silent atmosphere, like a hospital, and a lonely receptionist welcomes you. You are invited to record your heartbeat with a digital stethoscope in a room with a computer.
Next, you enter a small waiting area with a screen that displays the hundreds of names of the people that have already left their heartbeat.
After that, you can enter the main room. It is a narrow and dark space, with a single light bulb hanging from the center, and mirrors scattered on the walls. You find yourself surrounded by the soft but powerful sound of your own heartbeat, that the light from the bulb follows rhythmically.
The surreal experience is the feeling you are inside your own body. The darkness of the space and the muffled sound of the heartbeat might be similar to being inside a womb. The recordings of other people play after yours, to realize that each heartbeat is, unexpectedly, different.
Unlike the other installations, which seem to connect the visitor outside, with surroundings, other worlds, memories…., this work transports you inside, allowing you to have a kind of organic experience.
Japan has and receives all kinds of artists with different sensitivities. Art installations seem to be a strong trend finding its nest in this country where traditional culture already hosted a mindset based on interaction, harmony, and senses.
Steve McCurry is an American photographer and photojournalist.
He was born on April 23, 1950 in Philadelphia. Steve studied Film at Pennsylvania State University. After graduation in 1974, he started to work for a local newspaper called The Daily Collegian and started his career as a photographer.
After a few years of working as a freelance photographer, McCurry made his first trip to India.
Back then, he didn‘t know that this country would be the start for his international career, filled with many trips to countries, which suffer from armed conflicts, war, and poverty, but also will give him huge resources to know different cultures and take fascinating pictures.
Everything started from a one-way ticket. India for the first trip was chosen not accidentally. Its rich culture promised many vivid and lively shots.
Through his career, McCurry had visited India many times and collected wide spectrum of pictures. From cities full of people like Mumbai or Kolkata till farmscapes in the Uttar Pradesh area.
While traveling through these places, he started to create spectacular portraits of locals, surrounded by cows and busy with their daily works. You can see deep looks, which catch your attention and give you the feeling, that behind every person, it doesn‘t matter if he or she is young or old, is an individual and unique story, which Steve was trying to bring to the world.
India is very generous of giving the photographer plenty of colors – red, orange, blue or green and that perfectly reflects at Steve’s photos. You can see different fabrics on people’s bodies or turbans on men’s heads.
By taking these pictures, the photographer shows, that huge part of India‘s culture can be disclosed exposing the vivid colors of locals, because it seems like every person he shoots is one of a kind and unique.
Steve said: “I think that joy of photographing in India is that you never quite know what is waiting for you around the next corner. There is always, what‘s delightful, horrified, something that you never saw before, something who always can strike you in the face”.
The artist emphasizes a picture he took in the Rajasthan region, saying that circumstances were favourable, when suddenly dust storm started and it created an exclusive atmosphere for the shot.
Group of women were hiding from the storm covered in the circle and started to sing.
What McCurry likes of this picture, is how fabric was blown during the dust storm and the fabrics itself symbolize the past, cause they aren’t produced anymore and also the trees are symbol too because there is a big desolation of trees in that part of the country.
Afghanistan and the big break
While being in India, Steve McCurry accidentally snuck into Afghanistan, just before it was invaded by Soviet troops.
He needed to be very careful: shave his beard, put the same clothes as locals wear and especially hide his cameras in a bag.
At that time, there was a military zone with the armed Pakistani soldiers and the whole region was unsafe but also very interesting for a photographer.
When he sent films with pictures back to his family, one of them were printed in Geo magazine and The New York Times, but the real break happened when the Soviet army invaded Afghanistan later the same year and then the appearance of these photos was vitally important for all printed media.
The famous Afghan girl
When photo of the Afghan girl was printed on the cover of National Geographic magazine in 1985, it became one of the most popular and iconic pictures in the whole photography history.
The picture was taken at the refugee camp during the Soviet invasion. McCurry remembered, that there was a full class of children, but one girl took his attention from the entering in the classroom, because of her incredible green eyes and mesmerized look.
At first, a girl was a bit shy, because probably it was the first time in her life when somebody was taking pictures of her, but her teacher told her, that it would be important to let the whole world see her.
To create this portrait the circumstances were perfect – right light, good background and an expression of the girl‘s face.
The authenticity of a girl brought success, because she didn‘t pose, just sat calmly and looked into the lens.
The picture of a girl symbolizes the fear and horror of war and perfectly illustrates how one image can describe individual experiences during a difficult situations of the country during the war.
About the inspiration: “I think what inspires me, is that incredible world we live in, all the ways people live their lives, come out of the mountains, wearing this jewelry, hats, and in the middle east women covered to the top – all of this area of culture is happening in the same little particular place of dust. I am amazed by how we all are the same, we do the same things, we all do them erratically in different ways. So I think the thing, which inspires me is the traveling, absorbing and wandering around this amazing planet”.
And where is that famous Afghan girl now? Here she is speaking with the BBC. Clearly the photo was a mixed blessing for her.
Steve McCurry is married and has a daughter, who was born in 2017. He loves to travel with his family to various countries, he hopes, that his daughter could know other cultures, meet different people and learn to speak several languages, because for him it is important, that she could feel comfortable in different parts of the world.
Published works and achievements
Steve McCurry has published books including: The Imperial Way (1985), Monsoon (1988), Portraits (1999), South Southeast (2000), Sanctuary (2002), The Path to Buddha: A Tibetan Pilgrimage (2003), Steve McCurry (2005), and Looking East: Portraits (2006), In the Shadow of Mountains (2007), The Unguarded Moment (2009), The Iconic Photographs (2012), Steve McCurry Untold: The Stories Behind the Photographs (2013), From These Hands: A Journey Along the Coffee Trail.
Through more than 40 years of his career, Steve received various awards, including Medal of Honor for coverage of the 1986 Phillippine Revolution given by White House News Photographers Association, Golden Doves for Peace journalistic prize issued by the Italian Research Institute Archivio Disarmo in 2018.
His works were exhibited in the exhibitions in New York, Hong Kong, Brussels, and other cities. The most important – his works inspired many photographers and creators around the world.
To see Steve McCurry‘s pictures you can visit on of the following sites:
Amrita Sher Gil is one of the most impressive and the most gifted Indian artists of the pre-colonial era.
India’s Revolutionary Artist
She is considered as a revolutionary woman artist and pioneer of modern art in India, and often referred to along with Frida Kahlo for aesthetically blending traditional and Western art forms.
She was born on January, 30, 1913 in Budapest, Hungary. Her mother Marie Antoniette Gottesmann was a Hungarian-Jewish opera singer, and her father Umrao Singh Sher-Gil Majithia was a Sikh aristocrat and a Persian and Sanskrit scholar.
She developed an interest towards painting at her early childhood, by the time she was five. In 1921, Amrita’s family shifted from Hungary to the beautiful hill station of Shimla, due to financial problems.
The young Amrita started to learn painting at the age of eight, trained under Major Whitmarsh and Beven Paterman.
A few years later, she joined a famous art school in Florence, Santa Annunziata, where she was exposed to the works of Italian artists, which furthered her interest in painting.
Months later, Amrita and her mother returned to India.
Realizing Potential in Paris
In 1926, Amrita’s nephew Ervin Baktay, an Indologist aware of her amazing potential, played a crucial role in pushing her to pursue an artistic career.
At the age of 16, she went to Paris with her mother and started training under Pierre Vaillend and Lucien Simon at Grande Chaumiere, and received a formal education at the École des Beaux-Arts.
She spent five years in Paris. It was a period of experimentation, and a period of exploring her own hybrid identity. Sher-Gil was fully aware of her exotic beauty, sometimes wearing western clothing, and sometimes wearing a sari.
During the initial stages of her career, her works were profoundly influenced by Western art, reflected academic style in which she was trained. It was the Western European idiom with its naturalism and textured application of paint.
In the early 1930s, many of her pieces included paintings of her Parisian life, still life studies, nude studies, portraits of her friends and fellow students, and the significant corpus of the self portraits, for which she is often considered as narcissistic by many.
The self portraits captured the artists in her many moods-pensive, joyous and obscure, while revealing a narcissistic line in her personality.
Pitiless Eye, Melancholic Soul
In 1932, she created The Young Girls: the two women- Amrita’s sister Indira sits on the left clothed in chic European style and a French friend Denise Proutaux partially undressed figure in the foreground.
The two women, one assured the other awkward with her face buried beneath streaming hair have been as personifying two different side of the artist herself.
Sher-Gil was the youngest and the only Asian artist to be elected as an Associate of the Grand Salon in Paris. The painting was gained wide recognition and was awarded a Gold Medal at the Parisian Grand Salon in 1933.
One of Sher-Gil’s professor predicted that her works would make more sense in the East, judging by the rich colors that she usually used in her painting.
Sher-Gil created self-portraits that represented her grappling with her own identity. These paintings often reflected troubled and introvert woman caught between her Indian and Hungarian existence.
She was profoundly influenced by the simplified and symbolically charged paintings of Paul Gauguin. It became explicit in Self Portrait as Tahitian (1934), where Sher-Gil appear in a three-quarter profile naked to the waist, and looking beyond the frame of the picture.
Her body is depicted in Gauguin’s technique of the female nude with a distant, obscure expression of her face. She self-consciously plays on her status as the exotic other in Paris.
In 1934, Sher-Gil returned to India in order to find a mode of delineation appropriate to her Indian subjects.
Decoding Indian Traditions
A few years later, 1937, in order to decode the traditions of Indian art she began her journey to the south India, a journey that shaped all her future work.
Sher-Gil was deeply moved by the plight of unprivileged people and common villagers; she explored the sadness felt by people, especially women, giving voice and validity to their experience.
It would reflect in her work South Indian Trilogy (Bride’s Toilet, Brahmacharis and South Indian Villagers Going to Market) are much different from the prevalent realist watercolor mode of Indian painting at that time.
Her artistic style and technique was indeed fairly unusual in India. Influenced by the wall painting of the Ajanta Caves, she attempted to fuse their aesthetics with the European oil painting techniques.
She had learnt to incorporate Indian traditions in her work and rediscovered her purpose in painting. Once she even wrote to a friend saying that Europe belongs to the artists such as Cézanne, Picasso and Matisse while India belongs to her.
Her artistic style was in marked contrast to that of her contemporaries in India – Nandalal Bose, Abdur Rahman Chughtai and Abanindranath Tagore, who belonged to the Bengal school, as the first modern movement of Indian art.
She considered the school retrograde and blamed it for the stagnation in Indian painting of that time.
In the following years, her work had a tremendous impact on Indian art. As an exceptional colorist, Sher-Gil was able to achieve special effects with colors that were bold and unbridled, in opposite to the pale hues in vogue among her contemporary colleagues.
Some of the best examples of her work such as Village Scene, Siesta or In the Ladies’ Enclosure represented the poor state of women and other unprivileged people.
The painting Three Girls, from 1935, shows melancholic women wearing passive expressions; their solemn brown faces a contrast to the vibrant reds, ambers and greens of their clothing.
The mood is dispirited – the women are waiting for something they doubt will ever come along. Sher-Gil lived between worlds, between West and East, in searching for a sense of belonging.
So, she understood the emptiness and loneliness of those women, since their moods were a certain reflection of her own.
In 1941, Sher Gil moved to Lahore, an undivided part of India, where the art was appreciated at that time. In this phase of her life, she produced some of her most known painting such as Tahitian, Bride, Hill Scene and The Red Brick House.
Living Free, Dying Young
Amrita Sher-Gil was a free spirit who led a somewhat careless life; she was bisexual and had numerous relationships.
Regarding her sexuality, her biographer Yashodhara Dalmia in Amrita-Sher-Gil: A Life (2006) wrote it was (partly) a result of her broad view of woman as a strong individual, liberated from the social conventions.
She formed an intimate friendship with the painter Marie Louise Chassany who was a fellow student at the Ecole des Beaux Arts in Paris. Some art critics believed her painting Two Women reflected their yearning for one another.
Sher-Gil saw marriage as a way to gain independence from her parents. In 1938, she married Dr. Victor Egan, her Hungarian first cousin, revealing afterward that she was pregnant; Dr Egan arranged for an abortion and performed it.
She was a close friend of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Prime Minister of India and central figure in Indian politics before and after independence. She never painted Nehru, as she stated he was ‘’too good looking to be painted’’.
In 1941, days before her first solo exhibition in Lahore, she became ill. A few months later, she died at the age of 28.
The real cause of her death was never ascertained. The cause was believed to be complications from a second abortion performed by her husband.Her mother accused Dr Victor Egan, for her demise.
Her unfinished works reveal a move toward abstraction and incorporate richer colors that the colors seen in her previous paintings.
The artwork of Amrita Sher-Gil has been declared as National Art Treasures by the Government of India.
In 1978, India Post released a stamp of her ‘Hill Women’’. The Indian cultural center in Budapest has been named after her. The 100th anniversary of Amrita Sher-Gil’s birth was declared as the international year of Sher-Gil by UNESCO, in 2013.
The complexities of her life made her both, an outsider and insider, as did her ambivalent sexuality and identity-pushed her to constantly reinvent her artistic style and visual language.
She sought to adjust and reconcile her enthusiastic response to traditional art-historical resources with her modern sensibility.
Today I speak with pro photographer Rob Skeoch, whom I met through a street art show we’re having together along with sculptor Barbara Di Renzo at the Homer-Watson House and Gallery in Doon, Ontario called Inside/Out (Street Art Bombing).
Here’s Rob swimming with a shark somewhere. Rob looks, oddly enough, quite at home, while the shark looks rather incredulous about things.
Here’s the show poster:
Street art is a term that may seem rather nebulous to some, even myself (who has been labelled a street artist and is involved in a show about street art), but I wanted to take this opportunity to explore it more, via this interview with Rob (who also fulfills the qualifications for being a street artist in one way or another). If anyone should know, it’s apparently us!
Here’s some of Rob’s photography hanging in the gallery, looking good and rather mysterious!
Sit back, relax, and enjoy my interview with Mr. Rob Skeoch!
How long have you been doing photography and what got you interested in photography to begin with?
Rob: I’ve been doing photography for most of my life. Starting in high school in the camera club that provided photos for the yearbook.
I always found it fascinating and there was nothing else I wanted to work at. It’s funny how something you first try in high school can still be interesting to you forty years later.
What was the first camera you owned?
Rob: My very first camera was the Kodak X15, a plastic point and shoot with a drop in film cartridge.
I used this type of camera in high school, until I bought a Pentax F camera in my final year of high school.
What passions do you have other than photography that might surprise people?
Rob: I’ve only been interested in two things for most of my life, photography and scuba diving.There’s nothing as exciting as diving with sharks or any of the big fish.
Last week I was diving in the Red Sea and later this spring I’m in the Philippines, mostly shooting underwater video.
What is a “photo essay”?
Rob: A photo essay is just a story that you tell through a series of photos. Maybe it’s two pictures or maybe it’s a collection of 20-30 shots. If presented properly, in a sequence that makes sense you can make a stronger point than you can with just one photo.
In a sense the photo essay is a connected group of photos that are telling a story through a similar point of view.
Street photography is usually just one photo so it tells a more limited story. A group of street shots don’t always form into a photo essay either sometimes they’re just a group of photos about a similar thing but each saying something unique.
What type of street photography do you feel that you do?Do you ever stop to define it as a particular genre or sub-genre?
Rob: Right now my street photography is more linked to portraits on the street. It’s an area I’m planning to explore this summer.
These portraits are different than straight Street Photography which tends to be more random and might be more sophisticated compositionally than portraits would be.
Do you have any primary influences that made you want to be a photographer? (these don’t have to be other photographers per se)
Rob: There’s so many great photographers who work in the genre but some work worth considering would be from Eugene Smith or Peter Turnley.
How important is presentation with your work and how do you go about it?
Rob: Part of communicating through photography, whether it’s fashion or something from the street is how the viewer experiences the artwork.
If you take great photos and hide them in a shoebox, you’re not really communicating. It’s only by having your artwork out there that the circle becomes complete.
I’ve tried shows using different gallery techniques to get people looking at the show to really see the photos.
Right now my work is printed small so people have to lean in to see it. The small print size forces them to do that. Is it the best way to go? I’m not sure. A small print will rarely have the impact of a larger one but it’s something I’m exploring.
Will I make 5×7 prints for my next show? Likely not as I want to try different ways to present the work. The great thing with small prints is they’re like jewels hanging on the wall, each one very intimate. Plus the smaller size makes them available to a greater range of collectors.
Photography has become a funny business for those trying to make money at it. The opportunities have never been greater for the real top level shooter while the middle of the road talent is likely making no money at it.
With so many photos being taken and so many genres of photography, it’s hard to find a thread that links everyone together.
Being curious is likely a good trait to have if you want to be an artist, but on the other hand limiting your interests might be needed if you want to rise above the level of hack and take things to a higher level.
You work with a large company currently.How do you approach work differently for them than you do for yourself?
Rob: For me, I work at Sony in a demanding job, so photography is an outlet from that work, and street photography is my genre because I can do it anywhere
I don’t have to have much time set aside for it, can find a subject anywhere, and don’t need much gear.
If I’m shooting digital I likely only have one camera and a small zoom with me, and if I’m shooting film I likely have one or two lenses and an old Leica film camera.
Although I work in the digital imaging department at Sony, shooting on film is often a nice break from digital and then having to edit on the computer. It’s great to be in the darkroom instead.
The other thing about shooting film is you get to use some of the all-time classic cameras now that they’re less costly because most people want digital cameras.
With the better cameras the “user experience” is so much at a higher level it just makes the entire process that much more enjoyable.
The history of modern art is also the history of the progressive loss of art’s audience. Art has increasingly become the concern of the artist and the bafflement of the public.
When Did Modern Art Begin?
The rise of modern art can be traced to the Industrial Revolution (1760-1860).It was the period of rapid changes in transportation, manufacturing, and technology began around the mid-18th century and lasted through the 19th century.
It was the one of the most crucial turning points in world history. It profoundly affected the economic, social and cultural conditions of life in North America, Western Europe and eventually the world.
Revolutionary forms of transportation, including the stream engine, the large machine-powered factory, the subway, and the railroad profoundly changed the way people lived, traveled and worked, expanding their worldview.
People migrated from the rural areas to the city centers to find work; the center of life from the family and village in the country shifted to the expanding urban metropolises.
In addition, other developments had also influence on arts in this period. In 1841, the American painter John Rand (1801-1873) invented the collapsible paint tube.
The Interpretation of Dreams (1889), a publication of psychologist Sigmund Freud and the idea of a subconscious had a great, epochal influence on arts, literature and philosophy at that time.
The artists began exploring dreams, personal iconography and symbolism as directions for the depiction of their subjective experiences.
The Invention of Photography
“Boulevard du Temple”, a daguerreotype made by Louis Daguerre in 1838, is generally accepted as the earliest photograph to include people.
The invention of photography offered new radical possibilities for interpretation and depiction of the world. Photographic technology advanced, and became increasingly accessible to the public.
Within a few decades, a photograph could reproduce almost any scene with perfect accuracy.
The photography became a serious threat to classical art conventions of representing a subject, as neither painting nor sculpture could capture the same degree of detail as photography.
In regards to photography’s technical precision, artists were obliged to discover new modes of expression, which led to new paradigms in the art world.
The development of photography and its allied photomechanical techniques of reproduction has had an obscure but important influence on the development of modern art, because these techniques deprived manually executed painting and drawing of their main roleso far, as the only means of depicting the visible world accurately.
In earlier periods before 1800, artists were often commissioned to make artworks by institutions or wealthy patrons. The most of the art of those times depicted mythological, religious or historical scenes that told stories intended to instruct the viewer.
From Patronage to Personal
But, during the 19th century, many artists started to create art based in their own personal experience and leaning.
Instead of following the Hierarchy of Genres and being content with academic subject matters, interspersed with ’meaningful’ landscapes and portraits, artists began to create art about everyday things; about the ordinary people,places and ideas.
As a creative response to the rationalist practices and perspectives of the new ideas provided by technological advances of the industrial age, modern art intent to portray a subject as it exists in the world, according to the artist’s unique perspective and is presented by a rejection of traditional values and styles.
In the early 19th century European artists simply began experimenting with the act of observation.
All across the Europe, the artists, such as Henri Fantin-Latour and Gustave Courbet, created works that aimed to depict situations and people objectively, with the all imperfections, rather than creating idealized exposition of the subject.
This new radical approach to art would become known as Realism, a broad school of art and movement.
At the same time, the Romantics started to present landscape as they saw and felt it.
The landscapes painted by J.M.W. Turner are dramatic representations that capture the feeling of the awe-inspiring that hit the artist upon viewing the particular scene in nature.
This representation of a place in conjunction with a particular feeling was a decisive step for creating the modern artist’s unique perspective.
The other artists shifted their focus to emphasize the visual sensation of the observed subject rather than a objective representation and naturalistic depiction.
The Beginning of Abstract Impressionism
It was the beginnings of abstraction in visual art. James McNeil Whistler’s Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket (1874) and Monet’s Boulevard desCapucines (1873) are the key examples.
In the former case, the artists coupled small flacks and large splatters of paint in order to create a depiction of a night sky illuminated by fireworks; it was more atmospheric than representational.
Monet created an aerial view of modern Parisian life. In this scene, he made the pedestrians and cityscape as an ‘impression’, a visual representation of subjective and slightly abstracted perspective.
Some artists connected their work to preceding ideas or movements, but the general goal of each artist in modernism was to advance their practice to a position of a true originality.
Some of them established themselves as independent thinkers risking beyond what constituted acceptable forms of art at the time which were endorsed by traditional academies and the upper-class patrons of the arts. These personas depicted subject matters that many considered controversial or even substantially ugly.
The Rise of the Commoner
In this regard, the first modern artist who stands on his own with his distinctive style was Gustave Courbet.
Courbet scandalized the French art world by his painting Burial at Ornans (1849-50), portraying the funeral of a common man from a peasant village (his father’s uncle).
The French Academy bristled at the depiction of dirty farm workers around open grave; Courbet was ostracized for his work, but he, eventually proved to be tremendously influential to the following generations of modern artists.
The paintings of Gustave Courbet, Edouard Manet and the Impressionists represent a profound rejection of the dominant academic tradition and a quest for a more objective representation of the visual world.
The most commonly cited date that marking the birth of modern art is 1863- the year that Edouard Manet exhibited his painting Le Dejeuner sur l’herbe in the Salon des Refuses/ Salon of the Rejected in Paris.
Despite the fact it was modelled on a Renaissance work by Raphael and Manet’s respect for the French Academy, it was considered to be one of the most scandalous paintings of the period.
Modernism embraces a variety of theories, movements and attitudes whose modernism resides especiallyin a tendencyto reject historical, traditional, or academic conventions and forms in an effort to create an art practice more in keeping with changed economic, social and intellectual conditions.
Art history tends to classify artists into units of historically connected and like-minded individuals. The approach of establishing categories is particularly suitable to well centralized movement with a single objective, such as Impressionism, Cubism, Futurism.
When Claude Monet exhibited his painting Impression, Sunrise at Parisian Salon in 1872, the painting was poorly received. Consequently, Monet and his fellow artists were motivated and united by the criticism; it was a precedent for future independent artists who sought to group together based on the same or similar aesthetic approach.
The practice of grouping artists into schools or movement in not always appropriate. For instance, Paul Gauguin, Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Cézanne are considered the major artists of Post-Impressionism movement.
The movement was named so because the chronological place in history as well as artists’ deviation from Impressionism. However, it did not represent a cohesive group of artists who united under a single ideological frame. In addition, some artists do not fit into any particular category, school or movement.
Despite the inconsistency, the designation of schools and movements allows the broad history of art to be broken down into segments separated by contextual factors.
The Arrival of the Avant-Garde
The progression of Modernism in art led to what is known as the Avant-Garde. The term Avant-Garde derives from the French ‘’vanguard’’, literally means advance guard- the lead division going into battle.
Most of the creative and principal artists were avant-gardes. Their objective was to improve practices and ideas of art and to challenge what constituted acceptable artistic form in order to accurately communicate the artists’ experience of modern era.
From about 1890s and on, a succession of a variety of schools, styles and movements emerged that represent the core of modern art and one of the high points of Western visual culture.
The modern movements includeRealism, Romanticism, Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Neo-Impressionism, Symbolism, Fauvism, Cubism, Futurism, Expressionism, Suprematism, Constructivism, Metaphysical painting, De Stijl, Dadaism, Surrealism, Social Realism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop art, Op art, Minimalism and Neo-Expressionism.
Despite the enormous variety, most of them are ‘modern’ in their investigation of the potential inherent within the various medium for expressing an inner, spiritual, response to the changed conditions of life in the 20th century.
These conditions include the expansion of scientific knowledge and understanding, accelerated technological change, irrelevance of traditional source of value and belief and an expanding awareness of non-Western cultures.
Anime and Manga are two different storytelling media. They both originate in Japan, and are closely related, but are ultimately two different things.
Definition of Anime, pronounced AH-knee may, and derived from the English word ‘animation’ is the term used for cartoons in Japan.
Although profoundly influenced by Western models, including the work of Walt Disney, Japanese animation has developed a distinctive visual style and a range- artistic, dramatic, and in subject matter-unparalleled globally.
The first Japanese cartoons were produced in the early twentieth century, but anime only took off as a creative form after World War II, and especially in the 1960s, when animation became a centerpiece in the young medium of television.
Today, anime is widely available in Japan on TV, as feature films, and through OVA (original video animation), productions released directly to DVD and on the Internet.
Although often stereotyped abroad as violent and sexually explicit, anime, like manga, is a diverse genre encompassing humorous children’s fare, sci-fi robot epics, and thoughtful imaginative creations like the Oscar-winning Spirited Away.
Japanese animation has long been exported, with generations of Americans growing up with various series such as Speed Racer, but only over the past twenty years has anime become an international pop culture phenomenon.
Our today’s post is all about Japanese manga and anime. Here is what we are going to cover today:
Plenty of interesting stuff, right!? Stay with us as we plunge into the mysterious world of manga and anime. Let’s start with learning a bit more about manga.
What is Manga?
Definition of Manga, pronounced MAHN-guh, is translated in English as ‘graphic novels’ or ‘comics’, though such words cannot fully capture the richness and diversity of the genre in Japan.
Manga have a long history and their origins stretch back at least to the Tokugawa period (1600-1868) when illustrated books and the sophisticated graphics of Japan’s woodblock prints attracted both elite and mass audiences.
In the twentieth century, mainly after World War II, manga flourished in Japan, drawing inspiration from American comics, like Superman and Blondie, and draining the creative talents of artists like Tezuka Osamu, the famous creator of Astro Boy.
Today, manga are popular among all age groups in Japan, from young schoolgirls to aging corporate executives, and span a remarkable range of subjects, including action, romance, science fiction, sports, erotica, food, and history.
According to some sources, comics make up over forty percent of the books published in Japan and constitute a $4 billion industry, with numerous weekly and monthly magazines catering to the nation’s manga-loving public.
Here is one of the largest manga collections to date…
Next, we discuss the difference between anime and manga in Japan.
What’s the difference between anime and manga?
Manga and anime are at the center of significant innovations and cultural debates in Japan.
Theyare not identical fields—manga can be defined as Japanese comic books, but anime encompasses the breadth of Japanese animation—they have become synonymouswith a distinct Japanese contemporary aesthetic and visual culture in the eyes of many media, culture scholars and commentators around the world.
Many consider manga to be the origin: the creative spirit and energy that spawned anime, and later video games and merchandising spin-offs.
In many cases manga defined the template for the key genres—shōjo, shōnen, gekiga and so on—which have come to dominate the wider popular culture of Japan today.
While manga established the roots of this style during the postwar period, it was through anime that a broader global audience became aware of complexity of Japanese visual culture.
Academics and critics have connected anime and manga to various aspects of Japan including motherhood, architecture, social life and customs, gender, homosexuality, popular culture, history and religion.
As Douglas McGray observed: “Japan is reinventing superpower-again. Instead of collapsing beneath its widely reported political and economic misfortunes, Japan’s global cultural influence has quietly grown. From pop music to consumer electronics, architecture to fashion, and animation to cuisine, Japan looks more like a cultural superpower today than it did back in the 1980s, when it was economic one’’.
Advocates for Japan’s recent cultural resurgence point to the concept of ‘soft power’ in relation to the popularity of Japan’s visual culture.
This refers to the possibility of a new cultural renaissance of increased artistic freedom for Japan, and a level of respect, interest and admiration in the culture and history of Japan’s visual art both domestically and internationally.
Joseph Nye Jr., who coined the term ‘soft power’, sees manga and anime as ideal soft power products, claiming they are immediately recognized and widely admired everywhere. He notes the global success of anime such as Pokemon or Hello Kitty, which projects a soft and friendly image that appeals to children all over the world.
Next, we discuss what makes anime and manga so popular among both kids and adults.
What makes anime and manga so popular?
Anime and manga have long been at the heart of Japanese culture and tradition, with a steady increase of popularity between the generations. Although anime and manga are most popular in Japan, over the last two decades, the popularity for anime and manga has also grown considerably in the USA and all across Europe.
One of the major reasons why anime and manga have stood the test of time and became so popular all over the world is because of their unique ability to grow with their followers.
One of the most famous anime experts, Takamasa Sakurai, claims that Japanese anime has become widely accepted due its unconventional nature. Sakurai claims that „Japanes anime broke the convention that anime is something that only kids would want to watch“.
International fans of anime claim that they love the intensity and complexity of the anime story-lines with the endings being incredibly difficult to predict. They also say that they enjoy the fact that anime is often targeted at adult audiences instead at kids.
In the UK and USA, many kids watched anime TV series as they were growing up, namely: Dragon Ball Z, Pokemon and Yu Gi Oh. These series have created a soft spot in their hearts for anime.
Nowadays, with the growth of the internet and online streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon, anime has become even more accessible and popular. Now, adults all over the world can relieve their childhoods through more age-appropriate anime series such as Spirited Away and A Place Further than the Universe.
Another reason why anime has become more popular overseas in the last two decades is Japanese shrinking population. Anime producers are now making content more suited to Western tastes, as well as producing anime outside Japan as it is much cheaper. Popular anime producers such as Teyuka now produce and push for their anime to be sold abroad.
Why are manga usually black and white?
Have you ever wondered why most of manga are printed in black and white? There can be several different reasons for that, so let’s try to mention some of them:
It costs less
This one is pretty much obvious! The black ink costs much less than the color. Just compare the prices for black ink cartridges and color cartridges for your printer too see the difference in price. The lower cost of production results in lower prices for the end product – meaning the readers will be more eager to buy manga.
The Japanese manga magazines are mostly phone book-sized weekly magazines. The producers do their best to keep production costs at a minimum so even elementary schoolkids can buy them without breaking their weekly allowances.
The producers use very cheap recycled paper and only one color of ink. This results in producing some 300-500 pages of manga in less than $5.
It is also important mentioning that manga are usually done by one person. That means for most manga, the artist has to draw and ink almost 50 pages of manga in a month all by himself.
Unlike comics in the USA, which generally come out on a monthly basis, a lot of manga comes out weekly. Coloring manga magazines would take a lot of tome and would make it almost impossible to release new chapters in time.
It’s a piece of art
Reading through a black and white manga is just as watching a really well done black and white move. It conveys a certain mood, especially in the use of shadows, much better than color could. Over the last few decades manga artists have developed plenty of excellent techniques of using black-and-white art to make their manga unique pieces of art.
Next, we talk about the origins and evolution of manga…
What are the origins of Manga?
The term ‘manga’ can be traced back as far as the 1770’s, and has been used to describe the woodblock prints of Katsushika Hokusai.
While the term ‘manga’ may have been coined in the past it did not gain widespread, favored usage until the 1930’s for two reasons.
First, the popularity and national circulation of newspaper modelled on Western layouts brought serialized yankoma manga into home and workplaces throughout Japan.
Second, the growing job market for manga-ka (manga authors) fostered a sustainable manga industry.
Much of the literature on manga is framed by the question of its origin—is it located within Japan’s past and therefore a distinctive Japanese aesthetic, or is it a contemporary phenomenon influenced by the West?
Those arguing for manga as a continuation of earlier forms of Japanese graphic and visual art point to stylistic similarities betweenpast and present graphic art, quoting the similar ‘dynamic effect’ that manga and anime share with narrative picture scrolls (emaki-mono) from the 9th century.
Critics of this continuity express two main concerns with this focus on the past.
Firstly, they claim that it sidelines or ignores the very contemporary nature of this form and the important influence of Western artistic style.
Secondly, they argue that it has less to do with art history and more to do with responding to current political and popular concerns of manga’s negative effects on youth and culture—that is, linking manga to the past is a self-justifying argument that hopes to show beyond doubt manga is part of traditional Japanese culture and thus circumvent attempts to censor or ban it as trash culture.
Paving the way for the widespread acceptance of manga in the 1930s was the establishment of two types of comic strips in the 1920s: comic strips for children published in newspapers and journals bought by parents, and short political cartoon strips for adult readers.
This division between mainstream children’s manga and political alternative adult manga would remain a lasting feature of the manga industry.
The industry experienced a downturn in the 1930’s partly triggered by the changing political environment as increased media regulation and censorship narrowed content to conform to national political objectives.
In the early postwar period, manga succeeded as a form of cheap entertainment for an impoverished, war-weary Japan.
During this time, the development of manga felt the impact of US comics, as Japanese translations of well-known titles such as Popeye, Blondie, Mickey Mouse, Superman, and Donald Duck appeared.
Along with Disney animations, these comics came to have a significant impact on the style of manga created for children.
An important reason for their success was that the Japanese people yearned for the rich American lifestyle that was blessed with various material goods and electronic appliances.
In the early postwar period, manga appeared in three main forms: kamishibai-picture card shows, kashihonya-rental manga and yokabon-manga booklets.
1946-48 saw a boom in storytelling and picture card shows performed in theatres and outdoors throughout Japan.
The picture card shows would use cheaply produce picture cards that the storyteller would speak to, performing a miniature theatre play.
Here is a video showing how a Japanese picture card show works.
Next, we talk about different styles of manga…
Another factor that supported the growth of the manga industry was the emergence of the book-rental shops. Artists would write manga for magazines or books that could be rented out.
This trend peaked during the mid-1950s as book-rental outlets appeared at train stations and street corners; there were around 30 000 outlets.
The gekiga (dramatic pictures) style was developed firstly in rental manga.
As opposed to the cuter, anthropomorphic characters that filled many children’s manga, the gekiga style contained more mature, serious drama, depicted in a more realistic and graphic style that portrays the tastes of its older readers during the 1950s.
Gekiga’s major impact lay not in its graphic style, but in its popularity amongst poorly educated young urban workers and, during the 1960s, university student activities, where it became part of the anti-establishment politics of the time.
In this regard, Sanpei Shirato’s Ninja Bugeichō (Secret Martial Arts of the Ninja 1959-1962) was influential.
For many critics this story of peasant uprisings is reflective of student and worker anger over current issues such as the Japan-America Security Treaty.
The third form of manga that flourished in postwar Japan was published in small books (yokabon) sold directly to the public.
They were sold in discount book shops and children’s toy shops with deluxe higher-quality manga albums.
In the Osaka market, small manga books known as akabon( red books), due to the red ink they were printed in, attained wide popularity through the much successful New Treasure Island/Shin Takarajima which sold 400 000 copies from its launch in 1947.
The author of the New Treasure Island, Tezuka Osamu, became one of the most significant figures in manga.
Through the enormous popularity of his work, serialized in children’s manga magazines such as Astro Boy and Kimba the White Lion, a dominant ‘cute’ manga style was established.
As opposed to the gritty realism and overt politics of gekiga, Tezuka’s manga founded an archetypical manga style featuring cute characters with large saucer eyes.
This style was influenced by Disney animations and comics from United States which had crowded Japan during the Allied Occupation between 1945 and 1951.
Tezuka also incorporated cinematic techniques inspired by German and French movies.
His manga became epic, often spanning thousands of pages, and popularized a longer, serialized form of manga known as ‘story manga’ which would become a standard format evident in today’s manga industry.
Here is a great documentary about Osamu Tezuka we recommend you watch.
Primarily read by children and regarded as cute, these story manga were an innovative break from the rigid layout and brevity ofthe ‘gag manga’ genre and four-panel (yonkoma) comics popular in weekly-magazines and newspapers of thattime.
The development of the manga industry from picture card shows to rental manga and to the manga magazine industry is reflected in the employment history of significant manga artists such as Shirato Sanpei and Mizuki Shigeru.
These artists both worked their way up through picture cards, rental manga and then the manga magazine industry during the 1950s and 1960s.
The 1950s established manga as a popular and lucrative element of Japanese entertainment through the successof children’s title as Tezuka’s Astro Boy and the first weekly comic magazine for boys Kodansha’s Shōnen Mangajin (1959).
Astro Boy became typical of the trend for original manga to lead to various spin-offs in other media, becoming one of the first children’s TV cartoons in 1963, with various remakes since.
At that time, one of the dominant divisions in the manga market is the split between male and female demographics. Critics have suggested that this division may have become entrenched through the segregated school system in Meiji Japan.
During the 1960s manga broadened its content to include popular genre such as sport. Two important early sports stories that helped establish genre is weekly comic magazines for boys and young adults were the boxing story Ashita no Joe (1968) andthe baseball story Kyojinno Hoshi (1966).
Also, the 1960s saw the steady maturing of the manga market and titles which reflected this expansion beyond the children’s audience.
Young adults who had read mangaas children began demanding more adult and sophisticated material; this included not only stories set in the adult workplace andthe world of leisure, but also avant-garde mangasuch as Garo, an alternative manga magazine (1964-2002).
This magazine serialized the popular peasant revolt story The Legend of Kamui and became an important platform for alternative art manga in Japan.
Moving onto Shojo manga style…
The 1970s were marked by a group of female manga artists who pioneered a new approach to shōjo manga.
Shōjo can be defined as manga aimed at girls less than 18 years of age, but is often more broadly applied to manga aimed at a female readership.
While shōjo includes a variety of genres such as horror, sport, science fiction and historical drama, it is commonly associated with slender elegant male characters and romantic, fantasy based plots.
Some scholars and commentators estimate that today more than half of all Japanese women under the age of 40 and more than three-quarters of teenage girls read manga with some regularity.
While initially dominated by male authors, by the 1970s a group of female artists known as Nijūyonen Gumi /Year Twenty-Four Group pioneered a new approach to shōjo manga introducing new themes and approaches such as homosexual love.
These artists depicted themes such as romantic love between beautiful young boys, for instance, Keiko Takemiya’s Kaze to Ki no Uta / The Sound of The Wind and Trees, 1976; while Yumiko Oshima’s short manga Tanjō/Birth, 1970, depicted teen pregnancy and abortion.
During the 1970s, development in manga’s layout and composition, graphic style, and gender- specific formats had become firmly established.
A further significant innovation was to occur in the 1970s with the popularization of the tankōbon (paperback) format for manga.
Popular manga previously serialized in weekly and monthly magazines were compiled in a higher-quality paperback more portable for commuters and more attractive for collectors.
The tankōbon soon replaced manga magazines as the main revenue stream for manga publishers.
Let’s go back to 1980’s and 90’s. This is the period when some of the most popular manga and anime had been produced…
1980’s and 90’s
By the 1980s and 90s manga had become mainstream and were read by nearly everyone of all ages Kyoyo manga (academic or educational manga) is an example of the mainstream appeal of new forms of manga as they were used to inform and educate readers on a range of topics from history and annual festivals to cooking and other DIY (Do It Yourself) areas.
Manga changed again in the 1990s as editors asserted a stronger role in the creative process of manga production.
Some scholars argue that because most editors were more wealthy and educated than artists, adult manga in particular was reformed around their more privileged tastes and interests.
This move away from the working class, artist-created, counter-culture stories of the 1960s and 1970s can be seen in the more factual and niche-interest manga such as the political and economic series Osaka Way of Finance /Niniwa Kin’yudō, and extensively researched nuclear-submarine story Silent Service/Chinmoku no Kantai.
This period also saw the expansion of the global market for manga; manga began to gain a stronger foothold in the United States, long a niche market for Japanese popular culture.
With the release of Akira (1988) and Ghost in the Shell (1995-world-wide release), both based on original manga, Japanese anime and manga began to attract greater international attention than ever before.
These headings were much more ‘mature’ that the standard animation of the time, and their cyberpunk, dystopian themes came at a time of great interest in the approaching millennium.
In 1988, Ghost in the Shell reached number one on Billboard’s video chart in the United States.
By the early 2000s, the manga industry had broadened beyond the familiar Japanese publisher—Kōdansha, Shūeisha, Shōgakukan to include a smaller number of transnational manga distributors and publishers and achieved a globally dispersed audience.
While there are current concerns that the Japanese manga market is becoming stagnant and its fortunesare declining, the circulation of weekly manga magazines have been in steady decline for the last decade-many of the most successfulanime, videogames and merchandising lines began as manga.
The enormously successful DragonBall franchise began as a manga series in 1984.
The 2000s have been dominated by the growth of globally effectual brands that exist across various media platforms.
Power Rangers adapted from the live-action Japanese TV show was broadcast in the United States in 1993, and by 2007 it had expanded to 15 television seasons, 14 series and two films.
Its success was overshadowed by the greater popularity of Pokemon, produced by the video game company Nintendo and created by Satoshi Tajiri, which became a successful anime, video game and character-related business franchise.
Shogakkan’s Pokemon, the animated version of Nintendo’s portable game software was the first huge success by a Japanese anime overseas; its global success has helped establish the abomination of Japan’s character-related industry, and has maintained Japan’s contribution to the children’s entertainment world-wide.
Manga Online and Games
Manga has also moved into online environments offering online manga content and various downloads that extend the audience’s access to manga in a more interactive online environment.
This move away from print media to digital formats is extended even further by hand-held video devices such as Nintendo DS and Sony’s Play Station Portable which offer a number of titles based upon popular manga or drawing upon the manga style.
Manga’s distribution over varied media platforms reveals shifting relationships between the audience and industry in Japan, but also worldwide.
Recently, manga’s development has been impacted by the rice of OEL (original English-language) manga, which straddles the Western/Japanese divide.
OEL manga involves taking the ‘design engine’ of Japanese manga and using it to tell stories created by non-Japanese artists for non-Japanese audiences.
A canonical ‘manga style’ of cute girls, big eyes, beautiful boys and dynamic action that was used as the engine to create the OEL manga stories and art represents a move to standardize the manga product.
Critics of manga include a range of groups such as parents, women’s associations and PTAs concerned over school children reading vulgar and sexually explicit manga and scholars concerned over the sexism and violence directed towards women in manga.
The most extreme critics of manga and anime claim that both mediums can have a negative effect on society, making people more violent and less informed.
There are three broad areas of concern identified. Firstly, too much information, from driving manuals to business information, is being conveyed through manga—a form of caricature that inevitably distorts, simplifies and exaggerates.
These critics note that the depth or complexity or of an issue cannot be conveyed through manga in the same way as prose, poetry or film documentary can facilitate.
Secondly, critics claim that the increasing popularity of manga as an information tool reflects a broader trend in politics, education and religion where the entertainment value of information is highlighted in order to create appeal.
Additionally, furtherexisting concernsthat information that is too complex to be compressed into manga will be ignored.
Finally, let us answer one commonly asked question about manga…
Can anime and manga cause violent behavior?
A final concern is that sexually explicit and violent manga may cause more violent behavior, especially among younger readers.
This pointcame to public attention after several sensational ‘moral panic’ controversial affairs from the late 1980s where manga readers were presented by the media as either threats to socialorder and stability, or at risk of becoming perverted through their manga consumption.
The case with the highest profile in this regard was the trial of Tsutomu Miazaki in 1989 for the murder of four young girls.
He became known as ‘The Otaku Killer’’ due to large collection of porn videos, including anime, which police found in his apartment.
While incidents of moral panic generated of concerns over manga’s effect on society have achieved great notoriety in Japan, it is usually simplistic and unrealistic to isolate one factor, such as manga, as the sole cause of behavioral problems in an individual.
Other factors may include mental illness, family dysfunction, and poverty or drug addiction while an increasing body of research attempts to broaden the debate beyond an exclusively media- effects framework.
Anime and manga should be understood as exemplar products within Japanese visual culture.
One thing that makes manga culture important in Japan is its penetration into nearly every facet of Japanese life and culture today.
Manga are read in many different private and public settings and consumed by a broad segment of the community. In addition, manga and anime have become increasingly popular around the world.
Networks of Japanese and overseas fans are translating and distributing manga, both commercial and original works.
The manga style provides an engine for various fans to depict their own stories and link to each other through this strange world.
That’s all folks! We hope you’ve enjoyed our post! At the end, we would like to recommend you watching some of the best anime videos we have prepared for you: