Art is a unique form of beauty creation with human hands rather than by nature. Thus, art mirrors the culture of the country and its people, because it is a representation of human knowledge, traditions, and customs. Japanese art has evolved throughout many centuries into the modern forms, shapes, and structures. Thereby, each period of the development of Japanese art has brought it to the new levels. At the beginning of the 20th century, when modernist painting techniques have began to develop, Japanese art has started to emerge on the international level. Contemporary art in Japan has been naturally impacted by the global art, especially the European one. Nevertheless, the strength of the Japanese customs and traditions, rapid urbanization of life, and different heartbreaking and painful experiences undergone by Japan in the last half of the century produced valuable and original output. Therefore, modern Japanese art is an expression of cultural changes and knowledge gained not only from the original Japanese traditions, but also under the European influence.
To start with, although many contemporary Japanese artists have continued to follow traditions of the Japanese art, they have renewed it by the addition new styles, motifs, and techniques. The art of present-day Japan reflects such classic traditions as calligraphy, engraving, and ikebana. Although, they also range from such unconventional ways of expression as anime, advertisements, to more traditional – architecture, painting, drawing, and sculpture. Similarly to the traditional manner, now Japanese artists continue to use black ink and color on silk in their paintings. There are also artists who have neglected knowledge of the Japanese ancestors and began to use European oil paints and other tools attributable to the Western tradition. For instance, in the contemporary Japanese sculpture, some artists stick to the traditions and customs of the ancient art, while others follow a Western way by intercepting new styles and models. Yo Akiyama from Kyoto can be presented as one of contemporary Japanese artists who create simple works from ceramics and clay pottery. According to Weisstuch, “With his signature style, Akiyama has established himself as a premier figure in contemporary Japanese ceramics” (n. p.). The objects created by Yo Akiyama are pretty primitive and straightforward. That clearly demonstrate the nature of modern Japanese sculpture. Specific sculptures of Yo Akiyama resemble the creativity of the earth itself. Interesting materials and ways of expression make artworks of Yo Akiyama outstanding and vibrant. In addition, despite traditions, contemporary Japanese sculpture is aimed at making art simpler.
Modern Japanese artist either try to simplify their works, or attribute giant sizes and extraordinary forms to them. Thus, the minimalist works of Japanese sculptor Kimio Tsuchiya have become a well-known and popular art throughout the world. Tsuchiya’s sculptures have big size usually performed in rough materials in the open air. Kimio Tsuchiya creates in Tokyo, but he also has been invited by the European and American galleries. In the book Locus, Tsuchiya’s artworks are represented in black-and-white photographs reinforced by interesting quotations and comments of the author. Viewing of modernist sculptures of Kimio Tsuchiya makes it obvious that they a have simple and at the same time massive appearance. For example, Tsuchiya’s artwork Monologue is a big ellipse-shaped sculpture built with willow vine. Ley is another artwork of Kimio Tsuchiya. It is made from driftwood and looks pretty sophisticated. The black-and-white photo of this sculpture is followed by Tsuchiya’s (1992) comments, “I want to once again realize the reality of truth our ancestors knew through instinct” (p. 21). Kimio Tsuchiya is inspired by the nature and he shows this connection in his artworks. Therefore, artworks of Kimio Tsuchiya link the experience and knowledge of ancestors, and modern trends and motifs.
Contemporary Japanese art is also innovative and thought-provoking. Takashi Murakami can be justly named as one of the most famous Japanese artists in the current Western world. Takashi Murakami from Tokyo has created not only numerous animated paintings, but also massive sculptures with extraordinary looks (Murakami, Schimmel, Hebdige, & Museum of Contemporary Art, 2007). Works of Takashi Murakami are inspired by anime that contains bright colors and simple details. Additionally, paintings of Takashi Murakami can be found on the factory-produced clothes and accessories with the signature of the artist. Moreover, artistic works of Takashi Murakami incorporate themes from the Japanese tradition, as well as cutting-edge styles and street culture. Most of the paintings created by Takashi Murakami have glossy surfaces and can be characterized as cute and psychedelic artistic works. Traditional characters, skulls, smiling flowers, elements of the Buddhist iconography, and some hints of sexuality are repeated among the topics of Murakami’s paintings. Therefore, Takashi Murakami is a contemporary Japanese artist of 21th century who mixes high and low displays of art in the new way.
Modern art in Japan is also represented with its unique tradition of papercutting. Nahoko Kojima is one of the most well-known papercutting artists among the Japanese experts. Kojima is an avid follower of modernist trends and styles. She finds her inspiration in the urbanized Tokyo. Nevertheless, Nahoko Kojima, as most contemporary Japanese artists, has been influenced by the knowledge and experience of the Western culture. Collections of flowers and magnificent birds are among the most notable artworks of Nahoko Kojima. Moreover, Kojima’s colorful Alice Collection connected with the Lewis Carroll’s book is a wonderful work of art (Kojima, n. d.). Kojima has been tightly collaborating with the galleries of London, and thus adopted some features of the European culture. For instance, in one of the galleries in London, Kojima performed her artwork Cloud Leopard. A sheet of black paper was hand-cut by the artist and had frozen in the air resembling a sculpture of animal. Furthermore, modernist papercutting artworks of Nahoko Kojima are pretty fragile, because paper demands great attention and precise movements. Kojima’s artworks contain hidden meanings and characters, and each of them has its own narrative. Therefore, Nahoko Kojima follows ancient traditions of the Japanese art, but she also undergoes the influence of the variety of fresh tendencies, styles, and themes.
In addition, now Japanese art is a combination of the knowledge of the original traditions and modernist styles, trends, and materials. Today Japanese artists use various extraordinary ways of expressions. Artworks of the Japanese artists differ from the classic tradition and understanding of the original Japanese art. However, their paintings and sculptures still contain some remnants of traditional Japan. Nowadays, in the times of technical progress and urbanization, Japanese artists such as Kimio Tsuchiya, more often refer to the Mother Nature with its endless sources of inspiration. Others artworks combine traditional Japanese calligraphy with modernist flows. For example, anime observed in the cartoon paintings of Takashi Murakami is aimed to make art simpler, as in the artworks of Yo Akiyama. Some of the Japanese artists, like Nahoko Kojima, implement the stories that contain hidden messages and symbols of ancient traditions of Japan. Most modern Japanese artists perform in the capital of the country, Tokyo. Although, as they are recognized worldwide, Western galleries usually invite them for cooperation. Therefore, contemporary Japanese artists create images of evident beauty inspired by nature and ancient traditions.