Tuesday, 19 May 2009

Book Review: Japanese Art in detail

Title: Japanese Art in detail
Author: (Publisher): John Reeve / The British Museum Press. (American version/ Harvard Press)
Synopsis: A book about the art of a country, illustrated entirely by images of items in the British Museum collection. Includes outstanding examples of design and craft in prints, paintings and screens, metalwork, ceramics, wood, stone and lacquer and some examples of twentieth century art.
Suitable for: People wanting to learn about Japanese Art. No prior knowledge is assumed.
  • an overview with depth!
  • a good book for those new to Japanese art.
  • focuses on woodblock prints, ceramics and lacquer work, paintings and sculpture and the Japanese culture with making art
  • adopts a thematic approach
  • image of whole object shown alongside enlargements of details
  • excellent appendices providing a glossary and pointers for further research and reading
  • good design and production standards
  • neat square format - easy to read and not too heavy
Think Again?
  • content is not organised chronologically
  • no coverage of textile art or folk art
  • most of the images are also accessible via COMPASS (the British Museum online database website)
Summary: A good introduction to Japanese Art.

Last Thursday I was at the British Museum and took the opportunity to have a good look round the rooms housing the artwork and artifacts of Japan. It's the most comprehensive collection in Europe and it appears as if it gets very many visitors from Japan too!

Japanese Art in detail by John Reeve attempts to provide an overview of both Japanese Art and the scope of the collection of the British Museum. It performs that difficult trick of being both accessible to the general public while grounded in excellent knowledge of the art and period under review. It's probably a bit lightweight for the academically inclined although the reproductions of the items is very informative.

It's a jolly good place to start if you want to understand more about Japanese Art. No prior knowledge of Japanese Art is assumed. It includes work by more famous artists but also highlights less well known artists. Each item has a detailed explanation. Each chapter is prefaced by an explanation of why the theme is important to Japanese art. Most of the art is associated with the more popular periods - but it also included some examples of 20th century art - such as the wonderful Kamisuki colour woodblock print by Hashiguchi Goyo.

I can't recommend trying to buy this book from the British Museum Shop Online as the search facility is slow, rather feeble and doesn't seem to understand its own publications - and I tried three times before the 'search' facility finally coughed up! However do persevere if you want to! :)

The author was the Head of Education at the British Museum for many years. His specialist area was the Asian collections. The price you'll pay for this book varies between £11.50 and £15.00 ($15+ for the American version produced by the Haravard Press). I think it's reasonable value for money.

Making a Mark

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