Hokusai’s world-famous print The Great Wave is perhaps one of the most iconic images from Japan. The print features a wave that dominates the frame as it crashes onto people struggling to stay on their boat. An upcoming lecture will address the proliferation of this print and why The Great Wave has served as an inspiration to Western artists like Vincent van Gogh.

Hokusai’s Great Waves and the Maritime Turn in Japanese Visual Culture

Thursday at 12 p.m.
School of Social Work Building

The Great Wave is part of the series Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji by Hokusai. At the time of its first creation and subsequent publication in 1831, The Great Wave reflected the rise of print culture in Japan.

As part of the Noon Lecture Series through the Center for Japanese Studies, Christine Guth, director of the post-graduate Asia design history specialism at the Royal College of Art and Victoria and Albert Museum, will discuss this well known image in a broader historical and cultural context.

Commenting that the image has broken through the world of artistic fame and into the realm of commercial popularity — the print can be found on notebook covers, umbrellas and t-shirts — Guth mentions her interest in the “production and consumption” of the image.

Guth is also intrigued by the print’s contribution to the 19th-Century fascination with maritime culture.

“Rather than looking at it in relation to Mount Fuji and the series of which it is a part, I propose that it be seen as one of many great waves, products and symptoms of a new preoccupation with the sea,” she wrote in an e-mail interview with The Michigan Daily.

Guth will focus on the print’s enormous popularity and the evolution of its place in society since the time of its debut in 1831.

“I think its ongoing iteration in so many forms and places has to do with the dramatic way in which it gives expression to an ongoing, and ever more important, dialogue between the local and the global,” she wrote.

Since college, Guth has explored many aspects of Japanese culture, including Buddhism, tourism and, more recently, the globalization of The Great Wave.

“My interests have moved into many other areas — from the tea ceremony to tattoos,’ ” Guth wrote.

Maki Fukuoka, an assistant professor of Asian languages and cultures at the University, has attended several of Guth’s lectures in London and was so impressed with her analysis of The Great Wave that she invited Guth to the University to speak.

Also interested in the influence of this print, Fukuoka stressed the enthusiasm and inspiration The Great Wave motivated when it first appeared to European audiences.

“(The Great Wave) was received with such excitement by European audiences, including the artists who have never seen anything like this, both in terms of material — the paper and ink — but also in terms of technique with the woodblock print,” Fukuoka said.

Fukuoka also addressed the emphasis on the boundless adaptations and reproductions of this iconic Japanese print.

“The topic itself allows us to think about the image in so many different contexts in terms of its influence over artists in Europe and … its influence of the reception as Japanese art in America (and) Europe, also in terms of a commercialized art market,” she said.

Fukuoka attributes the vast popularity of the print to its visual accessibility.

“There’s this kind of immediate understanding of what the picture is about. And it’s simple enough, but it kind of stays with you,” she added.

Despite the specificity of the lecture, Fukuoka emphasized how The Great Wave can address geographical, historical, graphic and visual symbolic interests.

“Even if you had no interest in Hokusai, if you ever wondered about this image, Hokusai’s The Great Wave, and why is this such a global icon, then I think you would get so much out of this talk.”

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