Camera Work: A Photographic Quarterly — 1903 (Heft 1)

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REPETITION, WITH SLIGHT VARIATION.

THE QUESTION," What is the leading characteristic
of Japanese painting? "has often been put to me,
and I have invariably answered, " Repetition, with
slight variation.
THE first form introduces us to the subject, its appearance and action; the
second accentuates the same impression and heightens the feeling of reality
by the slight variation in the appearance and action, and every following form
resembling, at the first glance, a silhouette is simply a commentary upon the
preceding one; and all together represent, so to say, a multiplication of the
original idea.
picture to a rare degree. But more important than any of these peculiarities
of composition seems to me to be their laws of repetition with slight varia-
tion, because a composition of that order possesses the two principal elements
of pictorial art. It is decorative and yet true to life. Its object is not to
execute a perfect imitation of reality (only bad works of art do that) or a
poetic resemblance of life (as our best painters produce), but merely a com-
mentary on some pictorial vision, which sets the mind to think and dream.
IF the Japanese artist wants to depict a flight of cranes, he draws half a
dozen or more, which at the first glance look alike, but which on closer
scrutiny are each endowed with an individuality of their own. He foregoes
perspective and all other expedients; he simply represents them in clear
outlines in a diagonal line or sweeping curve on an empty background, and
relies for his effect upon the repetition of forms. A Western artist would
have expanded this at least into a picture with a landscape or cloud eflfect as
background ; to the Japanese artist, working in the narrow bounds prescribed
by custom and taste, any such attempt would appear futile; he knows that
such an event can not be expressed more forcibly than by simply depicting
the objects with only a slight variation in their representation.
AND in the same manner as they respect lines and masses, they vary color-
schemes, which often resemble each other, but are nevertheless endlessly
varied in shade and line. The French illustrators and the German designers
of the " Secessionist ” School have adopted this method with considerable
success. The painters, however, have been rather reluctant about following
their example. They probably realize that their plastic style of painting
I KNOW of only two men who have successfully adapted this law in their
composition and created something like a new style. They are Puvis de
varied in shade and line. The French illustrators and the German designers
of the cc Secessionist ” School have adopted this method with considerable
success. The painters, however, have been rather reluctant about following
their example. They probably realize that their plastic style of painting
would not harmonize with the idea of repetition, which is strictly decorative
and specially adapted to flat-surface work.
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composition and created something like a new style. They are Puvis de



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