You might recognize these images. These are the famous Katsushika Hokusai woodblock prints made in 1823, part of a series he called 36 Views of Mount Fuji. These views were a huge hit in Japan…so huge that when Hokusai was 74 years old and broke, he printed another series of woodblock prints called 100 Views of Mount Fuji and he made another pile of money.
The interestng thing about these views — if you were keeping track, there’s 136 total views of Mount Fuji here — is how Hokusai managed to keep the subject fresh. Now, Mount Fuji is a sacred mountain. But still, you have to think that after the first 20 or 25 views — heck; after the first FIVE views — a person could get a little tired of looking at Mount Fuji.
It happens. For the same reason that there are go-cart tracks, a water park, and minature golf courses near the Beijing section of The Great Wall. You can look at an Important Thing for only so long before it gets old. And then you need to see if there’s a place to play skee ball.
But Hokusai’s genius is that he played with his point of view when he did his Views of Mount Fuji. In some of his pictures the mountain fulls up most of the picture space. In others, it’s a little distant blip on the horizon in a scene dominated by geisha girls strolling through a flowering garden, or it’s in the corner of a picture of farmers tending crops in a field, or it’s a faint foreign object in a picture of a man trying to get his balking horse over a bridge.
Hokusai is onto something here. You know… if I were to work in a series, chose a subject that I could observe over time, I would like to play with the various points of view I could imagine.
Four Views of My Desk.
Hokusai also moved house 93 times in his life and changed his name 20 times. Or 26 times; the guy was busy. In his preface to his 100 Views of Mount Fjui Hokusai wrote:
“From the age of five I have had a mania for sketching the forms of things. From about the age of fifty I produced a number of designs, yet of all I drew prior to the age of seventy there is truly nothing of great note. At the age of seventy-two I finally apprehended something of the true quality of birds, animals, insects, fish and of the vital nature of grasses and trees. Therefore, at eighty I shall have made some progress, at ninety I shall have penetrated even further the deeper meaning of things, at one hundred I shall have become truly marvelous, and at one hundred and ten, each dot, each line shall surely possess a life of its own. I only beg that others of sufficiently long life take care to note the truth of my words.”
Oh Lordy. I loves me that Hokusai.
I sent my Damn France Book proposal and sample chapters to my agent on Tuesday and heard from her that she got it the next day. This is the third iteration of the book that she’s seen — previously she’s offered wonderful advise about shaping up some of the weaker aspects of the book so far and I took half of it and re-vamped two of the three narrative lines that I am braiding into the text so I hope it stands (finally) as a good, readable, browsable, digressive travel journal.
And until she calls and says she loooooves it, though, everybody in my house is under strict orders to not get on my nerves.
Next week, though, I want to share some of my ideas for lessons plans for the art journaling course I am still thinking of teaching at a local college this Summer. I’ll be polling you all on your reactions to my Art of Observation syllabus.
Until then, Top Cat is keeping me sedated with grilled cheese sandwiches and VH1′s I Love the 80s on endless loop.