Page:A history of Japanese colour-prints by Woldemar von Seidlitz.djvu/33

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GENERAL CONSIDERATIONS

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furnishes forth the material from which the artist draws whatever he may require for the embodiment of his personal ideals and individual tastes. On these elements he works quite arbitrarily and with absolute freedom; for painting, after the Chinese precedent, is not regarded as a technical accomplishment or a craft, but ranks on precisely the same level as calligraphy, which is a liberal art and a pastime for people of rank and culture, far more dependent upon purity of feeling, sublimity of conception, exquisiteness of taste, in short, on individual creative power, than on any mere technical dexterity or skill. This estimate of painting as the peer of calligraphy explains not only the decorative character of Japanese art, the strict formalism of its style, the great importance which it attaches to the balance of light and dark masses, the subordination of colour to purely decorative ends, but also the wonderful freedom which Japanese art has always managed to retain in spite of its tendency to formalism. For the essence of calligraphy consists, according to Chinese ideas, by no means in mere neatness and regularity of execution, which might easily lead to stiffness and frigidity, but primarily in the most perfect solution of the artistic problem consistent with the greatest economy of means. The fundamental idea, in fact, here as in all the rhythmic arts, poetry, music, architecture, is that of play. The Japanese deliberately refrains from saying all that he has to say, from giving full plasticity to his figures or depth and breadth to his spaces, from breaking up and balancing his masses by symmetrical division or repetition; all this would merely draw him away from his goal and fetter the free activity of his imagination. All his efforts are directed towards restricting himself to what is essential to his purpose, employing natural forms in the full freedom and variety of their organic growth, making his contour lines as simple and expressive as possible (Madsen thinks he recognises the Japanese norm of beauty in the S-line) and