The simplicity of Japanese art deflating the mock heroics of Western art…
In effect, Frank Lloyd Wright at the turn of the century was refusing to have any commerce with either the past or the present of Western art. It was a purely negative position, and one which he could not, either as designer or as ideologue , long preserve. Some alternative had to be found to the Frank Millet’s, the Karl Bitter’s and the Daniel Chester French’s that comprised the zenith of Chicago taste, banal, predictable and provincial as that was.
Some alternative had to be found, and found it was, in 1893, in the Japanese exhibits at the Columbian exposition. Whatever the details of his gravitation towards the Japanese print, the impact upon Wright was catalytic, electrifying. For an architect it opened up a whole new system of aesthetics which illumined not only the formal problems of painting but introduced an organically unified tradition of architecture, landscape, and furniture design.
Wright was attracted to the Japanese for much the same reasons as the American artists James McNeill Whistler and Lafcadio Hearn. And, considering that architecture is a much more obdurate medium than painting or poetry, his response is quite prompt. It may be a full decade before the lessons from the Japanese are fully digested, a fact announced for the stunning houses for the Willitses in 1902 or the Martins of 1904, but already in the same year as the Fair, the Winslow house shows us that the change in Wright has begun; and succeeding years show us how his whole artistic life is being irradiated by Hokusai and Hiroshige.
What dazzled Wright in Japanese art was its power of abstraction, its capacity for extracting from complex and turgid reality the artistic essence of each problem. This power enabled Wright to cut his last ties, both with eclectic architectural idioms and with art forms full of raw gesture and anecdote. It taught him both what had to be done and how to do it, and the fertilizing effect is both apparent in his work and generously admitted in his essays.
But he had meanwhile drawn another, more generalized and even more significant conclusion from his experience with Japanese art. It was completely foreign to our own artistic tradition. Precisely because of this “ethnic eccentricity” as he put it, “the artist is not paralyzed with forms he can use ready-made.” It reveals a very clear understanding on Wright’s part of the cultural dynamics of the period. The world of American art in 1900 was drowned in and saturated with forms from the Western past. They were umbilically tied, by history and literature, to set responses and attitudes. It was therefore impossible for the young American to study them, so to speak, clinically.
Wright does not claim for Oriental art any unique mastery of the simplified, the distilled essential, the truly abstracted. He is quite aware that these properties reside in all great art, of West and East alike. What he is arguing here i
at they can be studied by the young artist and designer with more clarity and detachment in Oriental than in Western examples. Just because it is so eccentric to the orbit of his own prejudices, he can study Oriental art without crippling entanglements, with an objectivity which he simply could not bring to bear on his own artistic tradition.
( see link at end) …”The reason why everyone says Wright was so influenced by Japan—and scholars have been arguing this for nearly a century—is because so many aspects of his philosophy of ‘organic architecture’ are also characteristics of Japanese traditional architecture,” says filmmaker and Wright scholar Karen Severns.
Wright favored natural, local materials, warm earth tones, human scale and integration of interior and exterior, all of which fit with Japanese tradition. He “borrowed landscape,” using windows or doorways like picture frames—a concept the Japanese call shakkei. Even his fascination with geometric shapes is in keeping with the rectangular straw tatami mat, the base of Japan’s traditional architecture.
But his open plans, where space flows from room to room, are completely outside Japanese tradition. “Wright fused East and West. And he loved the element of surprise,” says Ms. Severns. “You’d go down a corridor with a low ceiling and then come out into an open expanse and, ‘Oh, wow!’ you’d say. That’s something you don’t often get in a Japanese building. He had this mastery of space.”
Among Wright’s 14 designs for Japan, six were built. Of those, Jiyu Gakuen Myonichikan, a 1921 building in Tokyo, and the Tazaemon Yamamura House (1918-24) near Kobe remain standing.Read More:http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704026204575267433344670608.html