The Japan Shodo Show


The other day I went to the Japan Shodo Show at Kyoto Wang Inter-Art Museum /  JARFO Art Gallery in Kyoto. 

The exhibition organisers pose the question: ‘What is ‘Shodo as Contemporary Art?’ 

It’s a question encompassing significant artistic and philosophical issues. 

In response the show presented a myriad of stimulating visual explorations. While some artists used the traditional media of shodo – sumi ink and washi, many used other materials such as acrylics and other media. Some work was clearly based on language, both Japanese (all script forms) and English, it was often semi or completely illegible. Other work was purely abstract and in a few cases it was gestural, which reminded me of the shodo heritage. The works were for the most part in traditional shodo colours-monotone black and greys and some red. Notably, quite a few were mounted on simple scrolls, very chic and very effective.

Visually the exhibition was exciting, but as an exhibition exploring shodo as contemporary art I was surprised there was no display panel outlining the issues involved. In addition, none of the artists were identified and the works had no captions.  I assumed this anonymity was deliberate.  Stripping the viewer of any linguistic clues as to the meaning or concept of the artwork, we had to confront it directly and to interpret it for ourselves. 

This is a challenging demand for any contemporary art.  We rarely pick up everything the artist is trying to express. In this case I felt it was a great pity. I would have gained much if there had been explanatory captions to the individual pieces.  Indeed, talking with one of the artists about his digital piece I was able to appreciate it fully – visually, intellectually and emotionally. I would never have been able to respond so completely without his commentary. 

先日、京都の王京都美術館/ JARFOアートギャラリーで開催された日本書道ショーに行きました。

展覧会の主催者は、現代美術としての書道とは何かという問いを投げかけます。 ’



(Google 翻訳

2 thoughts on “The Japan Shodo Show

  1. ronaconti

    An unusual exhibition and an excellent review. For me, in my non-calligraphy artwork, there is always the push and pull of telling too much even in the title of a painting. I want the viewer to bring him or herself to the work and interact with it with what they know and do not know. But when (calligraphy) “text” is illegible to me, I have to approach the work from the vision of division of space, formation of characters and the overall feeling I get from the work. This exhibition sounds very different. I agree with you that some explanations from the artists would add greatly to understanding.

  2. cflintsato Post author

    Thanks for your response Rona. I agree , we can appreciate illegible calligraphy visually – it’s design, quality of brush stroke, balance of line and space etc, in a similar way we would view an abstract piece of work. Our interpretations are an important part of the dialogue with the artwork. But knowing something about what the artist intended or was interested in when they made the work can contextualise the work for the viewer and help with an interpretation. Calligraphy is a text based art and artists consciously decide how they incorporate language (or language-like text) and meaning. Understanding the text (or realising you’re not meant to !) and having an idea about the concept behind the work can open it up for the viewer to fully appreciate.


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