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Japonisme And Cultural Appropriation

Powerful Essays
Perhaps the Japonisme phenomenon can be acknowledged as another instance of the artistic “appropriation and reuse of the pre-existing” that David Shields defines in “I Can’t Stop Thinking Through What Other People are Thinking”. In Shields’ eyes, art is “edited, quoted and quoted again and recontextualised, replaced, collaged, stitched together anew” (744). Shields believes that appropriation should not be vilified because art is dependent on the diffusion of ideas between artists and this diffusion suggests an appreciation or admiration between artists. Shields writes that an artist “has a right to use…material taken from all sources” because “what he had judged suitable for his purpose has become through this very use his mental property”…show more content…
The Oxford Living Dictionary defines cultural appropriation, a relatively modern term, as “the unacknowledged or inappropriate adoption of the customs, practices, ideas, etc. of one people or society by members of another and typically more dominant people or society” (Oxford Living Dictionary). Monet’s engagement with Japonisme in Bridge Over a Pond of Water Lilies does not check off all the boxes in the definition of cultural appropriation. To an extent, the history between Japan and Europe is one of power imbalance. However, the European artists’ adoption of Japanese ideas did not go unacknowledged by artists, scholars, and critics of the time, as it was not a historian who coined the term Japonisme, but the 19th century French art critic and collector, Philippe Burty (Chiba 2). Monet also displayed an immense amount of appreciation and knowledge of Japanese art. The only question left is whether or not Japonisme was “inappropriate”. This is a question that lends itself to different answers depending on the mindset and timeframe that Japonisme is being examined from, as well as which piece of Japonisme art is being…show more content…
In contrast to Chiba’s assessment of Japonisme, the protestors summarized it as “the 19th century Orientalist fascination with Japan” (decolonizeourmuseums.tumblr.com). Valk points out that to characterize Japonisme as a controlling, one-sided fascination is not entirely correct, writing that “an absolutist understanding of Japonisme as ‘inflicted’ upon Japan also robs Japan of its agency” (385). Japan was not the victim in Japonisme. Japonisme was not something that was inflicted on Japan. Instead, Japan “actively fueled this originally French fascination, but also exercised its own fascination with the West” (Valk 385). The relationship between the West and Japan is perhaps not as dominating or parasitic as protestors imagined, as “European nations were not colonial powers in Japan, and Japan was aware of its influence over the European nations, which lead to the widespread trade in Japanese art” (Valk 385). The protestors also failed to take into account that the kimono used in the event was “commissioned by the national Japanese broadcasting company NHK…and then given to the Boston museum” and “it was originally a Japanese idea to organize kimono try-on sessions” (Valk 386). It seems that the protestors
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