Arts and Culture
This paper seeks to deconstruct the Eurocentric concept of originality, re-theorizing it within a global context through examination of the short-lived Japanese artistic collective known as the Société du fusain (Fyūzankai or Charcoal Sketch Society, 1912–1913). The Charcoal Sketch Society was established by a new generation of modern Japanese artists—many recently returned from study in Europe where they saw the latest exhibition and painting practices—who sought to promote a new direction in Japanese painting by engaging with modernist idioms of artistic individualism and self-expression. Working against the conservatism of the Meiji period and government establishments such as the Bunten, the Society sponsored two public art exhibitions in 1912 and 1913 to showcase the work of Japanese artists who had been rejected by the mainstream. Yet the Society’s endeavor to engage with their European counterparts in an effort to create alternative spaces in which to exhibit and promote painting styles free from academicism was plagued by the burden of originality, a complex concept often mistakenly assumed to have been borrowed directly from European artists. Rather than interpreting the Society’s use of foreign media and modes of representation as passive acceptance or slavish imitation arising from a unidirectional model of Western artistic “influence,” I argue that the stylistic development of the Society artists and exhibition practices comprised a more nuanced methodological framework to construct a new modernism that emphasized a simultaneous engagement with the processes of representation, adaptation, and preservation of European and Japanese artistic media and practices.