The view from here


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.

10 comments to The view from here

  • Did you really name it That Damn France Book?
    Do you have a backup title?

  • If Hokusai was right, I still have another 20 years to go for writing crap . . . I too am awaiting to hear from agent. The cats are plucking my last “nerb,” as my great-niece says, and I have nearly eaten a dozen pink-sprinkled sugar cookies and an entire pan of pecan brownies . . . since yesterday afternoon.

  • Rachel

    Vivian dear, holding my breath until you hear the GOOD news. Meanwhile, I see that you are doing some prep work for the following book…60 views of a cat’s butt. :-) And such willing models everywhere.

  • I’ve got two more years to finally apprehended something of the true quality of birds, animals, insects, fish and of the vital nature of grasses and trees. And I haven’t even started.
    Congratulations on sending off the book proposal. We’re in the same kind of holding pattern here at Banar Designs. However we didn’t work so long on ours so we don’t care quite so much. In fact we’re so into our enforced retirement that if we didn’t need the money we’d be happy to not get the job.
    The first view of Mt. Fuji, above, has always been my very favorite design in the world.

  • Summer. Local College. Hmm. I’m local. You’re north shore, I’m middle.

    I have no doubt that they will love the damn book. We’re all prepared to.

  • Nicole

    Put me down as someone excited about the France book! I heard Nancy Pearl talk about the other book on NPR several months ago, and I finally remembered to look for it. I love it! The combo of travel and memoir is great, and makes me wish I’d kept more stuff from my time in the Peace Corps (Paraguay 73-76). In the last few years, I’ve dabbled in watercolor, and may actually keep trying to create pictures. You are an inspiration, Vivian. Thank you!

  • Barbara Lemme

    Tell Nancy Pearl that she must press on with the
    Damned France Book. Without the blog we are left dangling and I just hate that! And, hey, I’m 73 and working on my birds. That Hokusai is on to something! Lots to do in the few decades!

  • Jan

    Love the variations on the desk and the cats. Here’s hoping you hear good news on the DFB! I sure wish I was closer as I’d love to take some of your classes! sigh..Guess I’ll have to just observe from Texas.

  • Marina

    Hope the Damn France Book will be in print before too long. I loved your first book and it would be great to have another.

  • Marina

    woops…forgot to say.

    I love your drawing of the two cats having a scrap. The way their heads are pulled back into their shoulders and their ears are back and paws up…and the expressions on their faces…really capture the essence of the cat when playing rough!

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