Posted on


As I have never made any academic study of children and never even read an article written about children, I cannot possibly consider myself as a specialist about children. My feeling is very confidenceless.

Anyhow, I begin. I was born and grew up in a southern village in Japan, and from the time I was a little boy I was very fond of  the children younger than myself.

Even in the period of my early youth when I was suspicious and nihilistic toward everything and everybody, with no faith in the world at all, I could not be negative in my feeling toward the children. In that one gift – to feel the unique beauty, the innocent and helpless beauty of children – I think I was a little unusual.

Years later I was asked to put all my knowledge and capability into teaching an art class of children in a mission school. I did not know how to begin.

My son had begun to use a pencil when he was about a year and a half old, and he became far more eloquent in his watercolors than his speaking when he was four years old. It seemed that other children must have the same talent for expression, and somehow we managed, as each day brought more experience.

One day a mother carne to the class with a little three-year-old boy. He carried a large shopping bag in which was a clean sheet of paper and a crayon. He came stepping inch-by-inch, very frightened, and it was obvious that he did not know what drawing is. He sat for a long time without doing anything at all, even after I had asked him, ” Can you make a triangle?” and he had answered, ” Yes.”

Finally he made a tiny tiny triangle way down in the corner of his paper. His classmates teased him saying, ” It looks like the head of an ant.”

” Yes, it is the head of an ant,” he said, and put body and legs to it. Then he made a house from a larger triangle and it grew into a trolley car, and then he made more ants – hundreds of ants and more houses and streets – until he had created a ” City scene of ants” such as no one could possibly have imagined.

In some such way as this the thirty children in my art class were able to do splendid drawings which even their parents could not believe.

This was the period of the Japanese invasion of China, and more and more men around us were being drafted and returned dead. I myself was thinking of death and also waiting for a draft-paper every day. I did not want to die and found out that it was because I was positively attached to the people.

At the same time I could not take up my paint brushes any more, as I was realizing that the meaning of all the canvases I had done was unbearably shallow.

One day I was on a trolley car. I saw a middle-aged man with his son, about the age of my five-year-old. I could be sure that the man also was expecting a draft-paper any day, and was trying not to waste a moment with his son. I could see it in the way he held the boy on his lap and he covered his son’s knees with both his hands. I never had felt the meaning of the human body so deeply and of course I never had made it reflect in my canvas. I thought that to present such meanings I would have to make a new study from the very beginning and I wanted to study the Western masters to see how they had painted what they understood.

Taro Article on Making a Book for a Child Image page-02

I am sure this decision in such a difficult period was also due largely to the inspiration that came from the fresh vision and imagination of the children in my art class.

And so we came to this country. Our life here was completely separated from children as we left our son on the other side. It was ten years later and two years after the end of World War II before our son, now fifteen, could join us. At about the same time our daughter was born.

And then for almost four years I was beaten flat by an ulcer. But, being flat, I had plenty of time to think and it was inevitable that I should check over my life’s experiences and re-form myself and my art from the very beginning

And, very fortunately and unexpectedly, this struggle was helped by the fact that I was able to live with our new-born daughter so intimately. I was able not only to observe every moment of our daughter’s growth but also to root out a certain prejudice toward women that had existed in me more or less as a result of my upbringing in Japan. Our daughter, who was two years old or so, used to put her cheek on mine whenever I had an ulcer pain. If it were not for my illness I never would have known that such a gentle human being could exist in such a little helpless baby.

I wanted to thank this little life and tell some nice stories to make this little girl happy.

Although I had stories which were told by my grandmother and father and read by myself, somehow they all seemed lifeless to express my feeling. So then I thought that perhaps if I could recall the joyful experiences of my childhood and tell them to her just as they happened they might recreate the same joy in her.

The Village Tree was a tree which stood deep in my memory as a symbol of my childhood. I had no idea of publishing that Village Tree. I just asked myself – why that tree stands so patiently in my memory; why that tree could be a symbol of my childhood. Why so?

Starting from such questions, I got closer to that tree and looked up from this side and that side. I climbed up on every branch and swam around under the tree to find out the reasons which made the joy in the memories. As I stated before, I did it for our daughter.

Taro Article on Making a Book for a Child Image page-03

Plenty to Watch was done in the same way. It takes a long time to make a book for a child.

Often before I had wanted to publish picture books for children. The reason I was not able to realize my wish is that I went about it the wrong way. Finding the right way has taken half a lifetime. But still I have found it and I know that the impressions we have been getting from the outside world are astonishingly richer in us than we realize until we recall them for a child who is dear to us.

Well, as I mentioned in the beginning, I am not a specialist about children. But, as a human being, I cannot help imagining that children will grow and face many sorts of struggle that may even bring them to despair at times. I cannot help hoping that children will live through all their difficulties and I cannot help having the desire to give them something to help them through – these children who are innocent, helpless and beautiful and ready to grow with such splendid possibilities.

The world is wide. Everything in it can be used to make books for children. But I think the theme of these should be, “This earth is beautiful! Living is wonderful! Believe in humankind! ”

Published in “The Horn Book Magazine” in February, 1955

Posted on

Taro Yashima & Janet Church

Taro Yashima at Book Signing

Taro Yashima & Janet Church

Taro Yashima told us (his students) how his brother had committed suicide. This may have been during the 30s in Japan; Taro had been imprisoned for being a resister and activist against the military take over of Japan. After his release he came to New York to study art.Then Pearl Harbor. Taro worked for the U.S. Army and designed fliers, leaflets that would dropped from planes over the jungles in the Pacific. Taro didn’t go back to Japan for about 20 years. They considered him to a traitor.

After his brother killed himself Taro was close to doing the same thing. He was listening to a recording of Beethoven’s 9th Symphony and had some profound, mystical experience that saved his life.

So lucky to have studied with him. Yep… time has come to paint again.

Pics: Taro after his stroke (1983 or 84) with Janet Overin Church, my ‘second mother’ and mentor. Some of Taro’s childrens books (the popularity of “Crow Boy” in Japan saved him from some dire poverty; he said something like that to us at one time; book signing)

by John O’Brien

Posted on

Jaunty – a Taro demonstration for you by John O’Brien

Let me tell you a little about Taro.

Taro Yashima was my art teacher from 1968 to August 1970 when I left Los Angeles and moved to Berkeley. I have led a parochial kind of life for almost all of my life, living mostly in smaller towns like Chico, so to study with a real genius was a great gift. Taro’s son, Mako, was an actor. Taro’s daughter, Momo, is still involved in theater.

We took art lessons either at the studio in Japan town or at his home, outdoors, in East Los Angeles, where his backyard had great views of the hills in that area.

He had a great sense of humor, loved children, which is why he wrote and illustrated picture books for children. He was in the line of painters from Cezanne.

Taro understood form and meaning. He told us a story of going into a museum, probably in 1940 when he and his wife lived in New York (they left Japan for the States shortly after they were released from prison; they had both become anti-war activists after the government of Japan had been taken over by the military; Japan began her wars of aggression soon after).

Taro told us about seeing a Rembrandt painting. Telling us this, Taro began crooking his index finger, saying, “The painting was telling me, ‘Come here, Japanese boy.’” Rembrandt calling.

We students often got stuck. Either in the studio facing our still life or outside face to face with those golden hills and their houses, trees and shrubs. Our painting would fall apart. Lose form. The houses might lie flat on  the hill as if hit by an earthquake and the hill itself and the shapes of the other hills around our main one would be as flat as the surface of the canvas (or Masonite board, painted white, which I used).

Taro never talked about using the flatness of the canvas, with paint, to create a flat work of art, taking off, as did an entire school of art, from what looked like Cezanne purposely turning everything flat in his paintings, as if discovering the picture plane, and ending the tyranny of representational art.

Taro owned a Cupid, a plaster statue a couple of feet tall, a cherub like figure (no wings) caught in a jaunty pose. Cezanne owned this same figure and included it in some of his paintings. Taro drew the figure 100 times. He couldn’t get that jaunty pose the first time. Taro called this “what smiles.”

When we see something that gives us delight. When we see something that gives us a sense of deeper meaning, something connected more deeply than normal to one’s heart or soul; the difference between walking into a room and seeing a stranger or a lover.

And it could be that our job, as writers, is to turn the stranger into a lover. I don’t know if an act of will ever made anyone love me and it seems that the best approach is to ask, “Who are you?”

So we’d get stuck. We’d have worked so hard on the oranges in the yellow ceramic bowl that sat on the wooden chair, then we’d see that the legs of the chair were splayed, the oranges were trying to roll off the painting because the bowl wasn’t a bowl it was cut out of paper and pasted down flatter than a pancake.

Taro could see the collapsed state of the painting in our faces. He’d summon the other students for a demonstration; we’d put down our brushes and gather about the afflicted painting. Taro would pick up a sable brush (a ‘redraw’ brush), load it with cobalt blue oil paint and he’d stand there, looking at the still life set up or the landscape. Sometimes he’d explain what he was seeing, but he’d see and then use the brush here, a blue line, blue there, maybe pick up another brush, a narrow bright, pick up some white and use that to pull something forward.

It never looked simple to me, though it was always not-complex, just right, just enough of light or dark, pulling contrast, picking color for the canvas that gave the painting a unity, a harmony and it always amazed to see how Taro would pull out of our mess the jaunty that had smiled at us in the first.

What a wonderful man he was. So this, in a sense, is my Taro demonstration for you. I hope this helps you to get square with what is jaunty about your story.

…a portion of a letter by John O’brien

Posted on

Taro Yashima: an unsung beacon for all against ‘Evil on this Earth’

Taro Yashima: an unsung beacon for all against ‘Evil on this Earth’

By ROGER PULVERS Special to The Japan Times

A little boy cannot be found at his village school. He is hiding under its floorboards. His name is Chibi, which means “little tyke.” He cannot make friends. The other children will not play with him.

Chibi stares at the ceiling for hours. He loves all kinds of yucky insects. No one can read his handwriting. Everyone calls him “stupid” and “slowpoke.”

But when he is in the sixth grade, a new teacher, Mr. Isobe, recognizes his talents. Chibi is so intimately in touch with nature that he can commune with it. One day he performs for Mr. Isobe and all his classmates, revealing his hidden gift. Chibi can imitate the voices of crows, from the calls of hatchlings to those of the mother and father crow.

This is the story of “Crow Boy,” written and illustrated by Taro Yashima.

Yashima’s is not a name that many Japanese readers, even those of children’s books, are likely to be familiar with today. But his own story is remarkable and, in spirit, not unlike that of his creation, Chibi.

He was born Atsushi Iwamatsu on Sept. 21, 1908, in Nejime, a small village on the coast near Cape Sata, where Kagoshima Bay, in southern Kyushu, flows into the ocean. (Nejime has now merged into the larger entity of Minami Osumi-cho.) His father was the village doctor and an ardent collector of Asian art. Mr. Isobe in the story is modeled on two of the author’s teachers at Kamiyama Elementary School — Takeo Isonaga and Miyoshi Ueda.

The young Yashima exhibited significant talent as an artist. At age 13, his satirical manga were being published in the Kagoshima Shimbun daily newspaper, today’s Minami Nihon Shimbun. At 19, he gained entrance to Tokyo Fine Arts School in Ueno. (That school merged, in 1949, with Tokyo Music School, becoming today’s Tokyo Geijutsu Daigaku, or Tokyo University of the Arts.)

Yashima refused to participate in military exercises at the school and, in 1929, he was expelled for insubordination. He became an active participant in anti-fascist political causes and sketched the death mask of the proletarian writer Takiji Kobayashi when the latter’s corpse was released by his jailers with visible signs of torture on it.

Yashima himself was also repeatedly jailed and beaten in prison for his political activism, as was his wife, Tomoe, whom he had married in 1930.

Finally, in 1939, both managed to leave Japan for the United States, where they arrived in New York having left their 6-year-old son, Makoto, with his grandparents in Japan. Yashima wasn’t to see his son until after the war, when he returned, in 1945, as a member of a U.S. strategic bombing survey team.

In New York, both the Yashimas continued their art studies at the prestigious Art Students’ League on West 57th St. But when war broke out between the U.S. and Japan following the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec. 7, 1941, Yashima enlisted in the U.S. Army and was posted first to the Office of War Information and then to the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor of the CIA.

It was then that the Yashimas abandoned the birth-name Iwamatsu, for fear of repercussions against their son and parents in Japan. Being so fearful of retribution back home, Tomoe — whose prewar pen name was Mitsuko Arai — took on the name Mitsu.

Yashima spent some months of the war years in India on intelligence missions. Upon his return to the U.S. he wrote and illustrated handbills in Japanese that were dropped over battlefields bearing the phrases “Don’t Die!” and “Papa, Stay Alive.” To charges in Japan that he was a traitor, he later remarked that his sole aim was to save Japanese lives.

“At the time it was easy to say I was one who was against his own country,” he explained. “That’s the most terrible thing, because my feeling was, I’m doing it because I love my country.”

It is that genuine love of country, so powerful that it urges people to act against its evil excesses, that is rarely celebrated in Japan. It did exist, and the lives of Taro and Mitsu Yashima attest to it.

Yashima published two illustrated autobiographical books in the 1940s, “The New Sun” in 1943 and “Horizon is Calling” in 1947. In those he detailed his and his wife’s maltreatment by the Japanese secret police. Yet he also conveyed what he considered his message to Americans at the time: that all Japanese are not “wild monkeys.”

Several picture books followed in the succeeding decades, including “The Village Tree” in 1953, “Crow Boy” in 1955 and “Seashore Story” in 1967. The tree in “The Village Tree” is the home of “all sorts of bugs on the leaves, and places to play in the branches.” That book, and all the others by Yashima, hark back to a Japan in which nature was cherished and children felt it to be their constant friend.

In 1948, Makoto joined his parents in the U.S., and Mitsu gave birth to a daughter, Momo. As Momo grew up, her parents created exquisite picture books for her, such as “Momo’s Kitten” and “Umbrella.” I love “Umbrella.” It captures the simple thrill of a little girl who gets an umbrella for the first time. When she grabs hold of it, she lets go of her parent’s hand, the first sign of self-reliance.

By 1954, the Yashimas were living in Los Angeles, having settled in the poor Boyle Heights district of the city. They established the Yashima Art Institute, where they taught. But the couple separated and Mitsu moved to San Francisco, where she lectured at the University of California, Berkeley, on “People’s Art in Japan” and taught art, in the 1970s, at Kimochi, a community center in the city that continues to bring together younger and older Japanese-Americans.

At that time, too, Mitsu — having never forsaken her activism — took part in the Women Strike for Peace movement against nuclear weapons and the Vietnam War.

Taro Yashima suffered a stroke in 1977, eventually passing away in hospital in Los Angeles in 1994. His motto for his books should inspire young people around the world today: “Let children enjoy living on this Earth, let children be strong enough not to be beaten or twisted by evil on this Earth.”

In 1983, Mitsu returned to Los Angeles to live with Momo, who had become an actress. (Momo Yashima Brannen was in the 1979 movie “Star Trek: The Motion Picture,” and has had roles in television shows including “The Beverly Hillbillies,” “L.A. Law” and “ER.”) Mitsu’s death in 1988 preceded her husband’s by six years.

Yashima’s works are held in Japan primarily at the Iwasaki Chichiro Art Museum, which has two sites in Nerima Ward, Tokyo, and in Azumino, Nagano Prefecture; and at the Kagoshima City Museum of Art in Kyushu.

The artwork in the couple’s books is lovely. He worked primarily in watercolor and ink; she in charcoal, pencil and soft pastels. The stories themselves have qualities of natural wonder and self-discovery that children in today’s world of shock and dysfunctionality would surely benefit from encountering.

As for the Yashimas’ son, Makoto, he became the famous screen and stage actor Mako Iwamatsu. I knew and greatly admired Mako, and it is about him — one of America’s and Japan’s most underappreciated actors — that I will write in this column next week.


Posted on

Taro’s Mural at the Takikawa Museum of Art

Takikawa Museum of Art and Natural History
Takikawa, Hokkaido JAPAN
Highlights: Tyrannosaurus and Protoceratops casts are included in the prehistoric exhibit.

 Taro Yashima in front of Kagoshima Science Museum mural at Natural History Museum of Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, February 25, 1969]


Los Angeles, Calif., February 25, 1969

Photograph by Toyo Miyatake Studio, Gift of the Alan Miyatake Family

Published in Rafu Shimpo, February 26, 1969, Japanese section.

Artist Taro Yashima stands in front of his mural of the ancient dinosaur world for the Kagoshima Science Museum prior to sending it to Japan at the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles in California, February 25, 1969.
Yashima in suit and eyeglasses stands with arms crossed in front of a mural depicting an open landscape with a dirt path at left and a bird flying near two palm trees at right.
Yashima stands beside Yukichi Ogawa, an elderly man in suit and eyeglasses holding a cane, who donated dinosaur fossils to the Kagoshima Science Museum.

Posted on

FLEXIBLE TOOLS: for the growth of your artistic perception.

FLEXIBLE TOOLS: for the growth of your artistic perception.

FLEXIBLE TOOLS: that you can USE to develops your, skill in art.

Traditionally, art has been a SEARCH for form, a search for the truth of how the artist felt about form.

To learn to enjoy art from the ARTIST’S point of view, PAINT WHAT SMILES AT YOU!  Select the subject that you love, so that you will keep your energy to express how you feel about it through all the parts of art WORKING TOGETHER:

COMPOSITION: Beginning, receiving, high spot  and ending.

PLANES:        Planes analyzed into tonal relationships.

COLOR:         Color relationships analyzed into tonal relationships and warm and cool relationships.



TIMING AND MOVEMENT: Learning to move the eye in the timing of the compositions through planes, tone, color,, texture and line.

Art is the production of the WHOLE man. ART is a matter of feeling and thinking. You analyze your feelings into planes, tone, color, direction, proportion, timing so that you can express them on the paper. The person who looks at your art will feel what you felt. You are the artist, who had to learn the skills so that you learned HOW to express yourself. The observer simply feels what you felt–if your art is art: ‘”How red the apple is!”.

Art is a search for the truth of how you feel about the subject. You feel the subject, you express with the help of your knowledge of the tools, you step back to become the observer of your picture. Then you begin again if you are not satisfied: feeling your subject, analyzing in order to express your subject, stepping back as the observer to see if you came closer to the truth of how you feel about the subject. Then begin again if you are not satisfied. This process happens over and over again until the observer–critic in you–is content with your own expression of the truth…your truth. The subject is the teacher and you alone are the boss to tell you what to do. Your knowledge becomes the tools that you can use skillfully, if you practice by trying to express what smiles at you.


written by Janet Church

Posted on

Here’s a bit of Taro: notes at Tea Time by Janet Church

Do the best you can. That is your only flag. Hold your flag high. That is all you have.

Creation is not making up. Creation is your attempt to get at the essential meaning of existence that YOU can see, the truth that you see. This is why everyone makes a different painting.

Observe more to let new meaning that you never saw before come to you.

Observe how table is dark and warm, but somehow cool too. How dark the table is, how bright the background is….this makes the apple more red.

If the painting doesn’t work, go to drawing again. Drawing does not mean simply lines. Drawing means DEEP observation, Drawing is SEEING relationships, is your whole composition.

Make the beginning beckon. (Enter; receiving, high spot and departure are his words for a composition. All flow, all with meaning). The bright background can lead to the center or high spot.

If you ignore meaning of existence, you can’t make any creation. Cezanne had table “sooo solid”. All meaning should be organized as simple as you can organize it. A composition is like dancing, waltzing. Step, step, step, in order

Go to dancing. Think what is wrong to strengthen composition.

In charcoal drawing you study to find emotional attachment to the subject, not study for the sake of study. Draw in everything you feel. Make your relationships clear, even in charcoal. You have got to know how dark wall is, how light table is etc. Got to know.

Posted on

Notes from an art class with Taro Yashima

Jan. 26th, 1969

Taro Class

When you start a painting, you don’t know what is beginning, receiv­ing, high spot and ending. You don’t know how much goes to what, how to make the delicate connections between them, how much to give each one, how fast to go on the journey from beginning to ending. You can’t go on the journey without feeling the floor. You can’t go without feeling the wall. If you can’t feel the wall you can’t feel the floor; if you can’t feel the floor, you can’t feel the wall. When you are feeling the high spot, you have felt the squareness of the chair. If you haven’t presented the squareness of the chair, you feel funny and have to go back. If you have not properly presented the subject in its circumstances, people don’t feel right when they look at your painting. The suspicion comes in that it is not a good painting.

I have analyzed how the meaning of what you felt should be given with the circumstances. Without thinking the wall, we can’t feel the chair squareness. The meaning of the wall which is the ending is to take the attention further more. Without ending you can’t get to high spot, or feel the floor etc. At this stage of your picture you should have more developed ending. (He made my wall warmer) You can’t leave the wall alone like you have been doing. This shows you how much the wall is connected with the subject. Now you can feel the whole thing. Now

WE CAN FEEL WHERE WHAT IS HAPPENING. If you don’t think ending, you can’t think the squareness of the chair. Developing the ending, helps show you where to paint. It helps to give you the percentage of importance of the specific value of beginning, receiving, high spot and ending. The ending is different in each picture. You have to try to find out the specific value for each picture of each element of the journey. This is very difficult to think from the beginning, but you have to figure out the value of each. How much do we need floor? How much do we need the chair?

If we get too much interested in the caning of a chair, we can ruin our whole composition. We could make our ending so long we would not enjoy the picture. I am trying to teach you the meaning and the value of things connected to the subject. It is all there in what you feel. Expressed meaning is important to people and how to do it is important to us.

The redness of the beginning is different from the redness of the high spot. That is the way the composition moves. That is the way we can feel the main subject (with this difference). That is why we feel “MMMM……” That is a trick. That is the truth caught in art, the truth that is stronger than truth that is caught in reality. Other people don’t feel it, but we feel it. We feel the artistic truth that exists in the reality that we feel. That is the truth caught in the circumstances. That is the WHERE. WHERE should be organized into beginning, receiving, and ending. Very unconsciously your feeling gets organized into beginning, receiving, high spot and ending when you really care. When you try to present the WHOLE THING when you are talking, you can think ahead and present better than usual.

Your picture is basically growing when you think how ending is connected to beginning, how ending is connected to receiving, how ending is connected to high spot, how ending is connected to making the chair square, how ending is holding the subject, how ending is backing up the subject.



When you express yourself, you are the prettiest. When you learn as much as you can and express it, you are the prettiest and no one can beat the beauty of that moment.       If you know that this is beauty, you can carry on that beauty. There is life in the life at that moment.

Posted on

Tools for Drawing by Janet Church

1- Direction.

Hold your arm straight out. Keep the stick flat against your thumb and forefinger. In other words, don’t poke or point with the stick. Pretend you are a clock. When you find the direction, swing the arm back to your paper. When checking your direction, start with the line on your paper and see if is the same as the side of your table You can do perspective with this tool. There are 360 different directions at least when you are being a clock.

2- Proportion.

Hold your arm straight out. Measure from the top of your object with the tip of the stick and bite in with your thumb at the bottom of the object. Then see how many times the object goes into the closest side of the table. Never bring the size of your object direct to the paper. The only thing you can bring to your paper is the number of times the object goes into the table. Then divide your table into the same number, and that will be the size of the object. This means that Circumstances are part of your object, or connected to the object.

3- Negative space.

The shape of nothing. The shape inside your bowl where the apples are not.

4- Parallel lines.

Lines that never, never touch. There are no parallel lines on the card table. There are parallel line on the vase and the jewel box because they are small and turned toward you at an angle.

5- Ellipse concept.

Draw a hole in the tale to find the bottom ellipse.

Narrow table, narrow ellipse. Open table, open ellipse.

copy bottom ellipse for top ellipse.

Narrow ellipse has lots of side showing. Open ellipse has hardly any side showing.

Never bring the side connecting the top ellipse to the bottom ellipse past the diameter of the bottom ellipse.

You can make any shape of bowl or vase with this concept. Get the proportion of the diameters into the length of the vase.

6- Cube concept.

The legs of a table or chair end parallel to the top of the chair or table. You have to figure this out. You can never copy what you see, because the paper is flat and the subject is three dimensional. You can be tricked by the eye.

7- Tonal Relations. The only way to get thickness feeling on a flat piece of paper is with tonal relations, light, medium and dark. If you get the tonal relations, you can stick your hand into the vase and the jewel box will pop up from the table.

8- Composition. You have to really like what you want to draw or paint.

Then organize it so that you have an entering in, a climb to high

Spot (what you really liked) or you can go down to high spot, enjoy
high spot and ending. (leaving the paper). It is a journey on the paper.

It has four parts: Entering, receiving or climb (up of down), enjoy high spot and ending.

Things to remember:

Art is thinking AND Feeling.

Circumstances are part of high spot.

Don’t be tricked by the eye.

Paint what smiles at you.

We don’t copy, we create.

Posted on

Taro’s Speech on Art Today

I want to explain what I believe and what I do. I am not here to argue. You can talk about art in a simple way and you can talk about art in a complicated way.

Why do we paint? Food makes us live in a physical way. But food is not enough. Why don’t we want to die? Something makes us want to live. We love something so much that we don’t want to be disconnected with the meaning and excitement of it. We want to share it. It inspires us. It is a very deeply serious matter, yet it is very simple. Something outside of makes us so. Some meaning makes us so. This meaning we want to tell in the drawing and painting. The reality outside of us could be one apple, could be the whole world. We don’t know how much we can discover the meaning to tell others. We have to look for the truth in the truth which makes us love. We have to search with others for our own growth.

Art seems very complicated in our time. Some think it understandable. Some think it not understandable. Even the understandable art is not always inspiring.

We now live in a confused world. Up until the post-impressionists (World War I) we did not have this confusion. Some people don’t know what is art, but can’t resist painting because of human nature. The meaning of art is chopped into so many ways. The realistic art seems stuck in surface copying. The unrealistic or abstract art is not meaningful yet. It is very difficult to understand. It is very difficult to get the universal meaning altogether. It is like a son talking to his father, “I want to be free of you. I want to go my own way. Don’t try to tell me anything.”

The artist’s way of seeing the truth, the beauty which should mean something to the people is like the elephant story. One felt the tail and thought the elephant was like a rope. One felt the skin and thought the elephant was rough cloth, etc. These are all parts of the truth, but not a complete truth yet. In our seeking, in our independence, each school has some truth, but we don’t get universal excitement altogether, which great art had in past history.

After the First World War, many ways of thinking developed in small way in each country. We have to act in more genuine way to satisfy ourselves and each other.

In every life there is some meaningful thing. This is the purest motive. This is what we have to search into and develop. Reality has more meaning than copy. We feel more than copy. This is why we try to abstract, to get to the essence. Yet today’s art does not give us this yet.

When you are away from your mother, you think of her in a certain way. This is the essence of mother. This is what you miss so much. But in reality, when you are close to her, mother looks sad, or tired, or angry. This essence is what we want to reach. This is what we don’t see in art so much. It is difficult to reach there. This meaning, this value takes a long time to reach. In what way is she the most beautiful? In what pose? With what gesture? This essence which the genuine artist can reach can be shown to other people. Is your mother there? No, but her smile is.

Hokusai made 100 series of Fuji. He caught Fuji in different ways, in different seasons, skipping different things to get how he felt about Fuji. This was a tremendous effort for the abstract. Abstract means to draw from, to pull out from something.

He made 1000 drawings just to catch one gesture of Fuji. He was never contented. In the red Fuji, which is died in pink color early in the morning, his passion became very strong. Fuji is so steep, so exaggerated. This feeling, which everyone has, inspired others, developed their understanding. This picture became the most universal.

This is not easy. Truth crystallized in art is truer than truth in the reality. It is very expressive, very exaggerated. It is the artistic truth of reality. Modern people know this, but they are in such a great rush. Hokusai spent so much time seeking. “No, I feel much more than this.” He was so honest, he was seeking in an ordinary human way, which everyone can do.

The thing that gives us meaning could be simple. It could be big. So you start from a simple thing which we have in front of us. This we share with everyone. It is a bottomless deep thing. We have to be honest yet passionate. This is how we can live long.

You carry your own flag, so carry your own flag way high. Don’t drag it in the street.

There was the old realism which was not true. Real realism is much deeper than that. All the elements of old realism have been chopped off into separate ways. People think they can get to the truth in separate ways. Some people think you can tell the truth, reach the truth through color arrangement alone. Color arrangement is the most important thing. But life has more meaning than wife arranged in the flat colors.

Some schools think the texture and pigment is the way to tell the truth. Texture is important to life, no doubt about that. But there is something else to life.

Some think that movement is the life. They tried to express everything in movement. A cat crosses the street. They see the movement of the cat’s legs. That is all. But movement is not such a dizzy thing. This present is going somewhere. Legs moving is not the movement of life. You have to analyze to catch a better future. This is the real movement of life.

Some think they can reach the truth through composition alone. It is true that everything is constructed. Each one’s body is a building. But there is more to a body than construction.

So taking up each element from the reality, they are in much much rush to compete with each other. All these things should be organized into new realist way. If we take this way, art will be much more appreciated by others. It will be crystallized into more meaningful way. This is a little example of what I feel that I can tell you in a given time.