Ink Splashes on Camera: Calligraphy, Action Painting, and Mass Media in Postwar Japan

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This article studies the postwar modernization of Japanese calligraphy and the role that the mass media played in shaping the public perception of calligraphy as an avant-garde art form with affinities to action painting. In a rapidly globalizing postwar world, the new media of newspaper photography, television, and film made it easy to see analogies between artworks of different cultures. But while the affinities between Japanese calligraphy and action painting were noticed at the time, they have, with a few exceptions, been neglected in the scholarship. Calligraphy is mentioned as a source of inspiration for postwar abstract painters (Winther-Tamaki 2001 and 2009, Munroe 2009, Kachur 2007), but the tangled nexus between Japanese calligraphy and action painting, and the role that the media played in staging their encounter, has yet to be explored.
This paper builds on recent scholarly insights into the role of mass media in constructing the public image of the artist (e.g. studies of Hans Namuth’s photographs of Jackson Pollock), and extends this to a study of the media's role in staging transcultural encounters. Instead of focusing on the artworks, it brings new agents—photographers, art journalists, and filmmakers—into the picture to examine the role they played in shaping the calligraphers' performative practice and the public perception of their art. Examining the role that media professionals played in shaping the new public perception of calligraphy as an avant-garde practice and performative art, the paper shows how these developments advanced and dovetailed with the calligraphers' own modernizing agenda.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)299-321
Number of pages23
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2020

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