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lordameth
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PostPosted: Tue May 11, 2010 1:11 am    Post subject: Unkei Reply with quote
How convenient that Art and Religion are in the same forum.

I've just completed a SA Wiki article for Kamakura period sculptor Unkei.

Certainly, it's not the greatest article ever, but as it's longer, more detailed, and based on more sources than most of the articles that I tend to write in brief breaks between official schoolwork, I thought I would share, try to draw a little attention to it.

I am wondering if anyone has:

a) Suggestions for improving the article.

I considered organizing it into categories, such as Biography, Style, and Famous Works, but of course those elements overlap so much I thought it might be better this way. Suggestions welcome, though I will say I am unlikely to be going out of my way to seek out more sources.. my main interest right now would be in cleaning up, tightening up, and/or reorganizing this article, *if* people think it necessary.

b) Photos people would be willing to share for use on the Wiki, depicting some of Unkei's work, particularly the Niô (Kongô Rikishi) statues at Tôdaiji. I plan to go there this summer and take my own photos, but if anyone is interested in feeling like they're contributing to the Wiki, I'd be happy to put up your photos.

c) Any questions inspired by the article, or otherwise questions about Unkei that might spur discussion?

I'm always trying to start discussions on these here Forums, and I'm never quite sure how to do it successfully...
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heron
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PostPosted: Tue May 11, 2010 3:36 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
I found this very interesting - it definitely needs illustration so I look forward to any photos you might add after your trip. And maybe some more explanation as to why Unkei was so innovative, his use of increased realism, and why these sculptures still speak to us today (and command such astonishing prices on the art market).

I appreciate that you are pretty busy with all your commitments, and maybe I'm looking for something that doesn't belong in a wiki article, but I would have liked this piece to have been more illuminated by your personal response.

Quote:
I'm always trying to start discussions on these here Forums, and I'm never quite sure how to do it successfully...


Maybe because you know far more about Japanese Art than most of us Very Happy I also enjoy discussing this sort of subject (though my knowledge is extremely limited), but I'll be away for a couple of months so I'm not going to be much use.
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lordameth
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PostPosted: Tue May 11, 2010 6:18 pm    Post subject: Reply with quote
Thanks for replying, Heron!

I definitely am looking forward to going to Nara for these 1300 Year Anniversary celebrations, and for getting photos of all the things I failed to get photos of on my first Nara trip, including shots of the famous Nandaimon Niô by Unkei & Kaikei.

I think you're absolutely right that the article needs more discussion of Unkei's style, of how it differed from earlier styles - increased realism, as you say, among other things I suppose.

Maybe it's because of my background as a historian (not as an art historian), but I've always had a lot of trouble with accounts that focus on stylistic elements and especially on response or impact. Sure, there are ways that innovation, realism, and other aspects can be discussed in a relatively objective manner, but so much of what scholars, art critics, other writers have to say about any artist's work(s) is terribly subjective. I find it very difficult to talk about the emotional impact or how these sculptures speak to us without either quoting it as from a specific scholar (e.g. Morse claims that... but that's just his opinion) or injecting my own subjectivity.

I read art history articles about, for example, Hiroshige, and scholars sometimes make extremely convincing arguments, pointing to very specific elements of the composition as evidence for why the image has such-and-such an impact, or such-and-such a meaning, but ultimately, I still cannot help but think that there is simply no way to know if it's true - that it's all subjective interpretation, and not objective deduction or analysis.

...

As for why that Dainichi should command such an amazing price on the art market, I'm sure plenty of people have written plenty on different ideas of answers to that, but my own answer is simply this: Unkei is extremely famous, and works by him are quite rare.

Even if he wasn't so great, even if the sculpture itself wasn't so impressive - and whether he's great or whether the work is impressive is entirely subjective - the fact that he's been canonized, cited time and again in Japanese art textbooks, exhibitions, etc throughout the world as one of the top Japanese sculptors ever makes his stuff worth more.

Take a look at Wikipedia's List of most expensive paintings sold at auction. Are Pollock, de Kooning, and Klimt really such artistic geniuses that their artworks are really worthy of being worth that much? Or to put it another way, is Pollock's work really all that much better in any objective way? If the same work were produced by a no-name artist, would it be worth anywhere near as much?

Canonization and the power of the name is an artificial and self-reinforcing construct. Sure this Dainichi is really old, and in good condition, and rare and special and beautiful in whatever other ways. But very few people could definitively identify it as being by Unkei, which is to say, there's actually nothing sooo special about his style or his skill that the artwork by itself speaks for its own amazing worth. It's the name. That's my two cents on that issue...
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