SGRA Kawaraban (Essay) in English

CHEN-Yijie “Meaning of the Original in Art Appreciation”

When I majored in art history, teachers repeated their words “In art appreciation, it is the most important to watch original works”. At first, I had a little doubt in such words. It may be necessary to check the original when you appraise authenticity together with paper, print and mounting. However, if you like to enjoy the art, is it important to discriminate original and copy?


Thanks to the progress of technology, it became possible to preserve high-precision print replica or graphics data. There is an anecdote. When a Chinese specialist for Chinese art history found a famous masterpiece of the Chinese Southern Song Dynasty in a hotel in Japan, he was much surprised. It was a copy made by Japanese publisher “NIGEN-sha”. A copy which can deceive professionals is said to be the one “which is almost the same with the original. But it is one rank lower than the original because it is copies”. However, high-precision graphics data can be enlarged easily and be confirmed in detail. On the other hand, when you see the original in museum, you cannot discriminate because it is too dark and too far. I think it better to use graphics data than the original when you analyze graphics.


I got an answer against such question about “the original” when I studied in Japan.

I would like to state my impression taking Japanese arts as an example.


First, there are differences in ‘size’. In Japanese paintings, ‘byoubu’ (folding screens) and portraits account for a large percentage. However, when we see byoubu and portraits in catalogues or graphic data on PC, those sizes become smaller than the original due to limit of size of catalogues. Impact on viewers depends on size. Impact which you look up on portrait in hall of ‘Nijo Castle’ in Kyoto is incomparable with sensitivity which you see illustrations in art books. Figure painting is the same. Life-sized graphics can shorten a distance between appreciators and figures in painting and leave an impression as real human beings. In case of gigantic buddha or God in religious mural paintings, it emphasizes its impersonality and awake sublime respect of viewers. If size would be changed by duplicates, it will become difficult to understand real intention of producers.   


Next, there is a unique appeal in material. In Japanese art, mineral paints or gold /silver leaf are used generally. Paints which are made by mineral reflect by change of beam. This glittering shimmer bring transparency and liveliness in scenes. Photo printer and graphic data cannot bring such charms of the material. Gold or silver color is one of the most difficult points to reproduce in photos and become worse when you print. The works by Higashiyama Kai (1908-1999) are good examples. I have tried many times to confirm his pictures in works of art or lectures by Power point. But I could not feel charisma.  It was the year 2018 that I found its beautifulness when I saw his original at “Higashiyama Kai Exhibition at his 110th birthday anniversary” at the Kyoto National Museum of Modern Art. When I stood in front of his paintings, I had a feeling which I wandered in the dark and chilly forest at night.  


Lastly, I think it is impossible to find intention of creators in their composition without special display methods. When we talk about painting on the ceiling of lecture hall in temples, “Happou Niramino no Ryuu” (Dragon which glares in all directions) is famous. When you look up at ceiling, you feel that you are stared by dragon wherever you are. You can see such dragon at Shokokuji-temple, Kenninnji-temple, Nanzennji-temple and Tenryuji-temple, all in Kyoto. Some Byobu (folding screen) create three-dimensionality using its ruggedness. Both “Unryu-zu byobu” (folding screen of cloud dragon) (The important cultural property of 1773) by Maruyama Oukyo (1733-1795) and “Kan-getu” (winter moon) by Konoshima Oukoku (1877-1938) (you can see at KYOCERA Museum of Art in Kyoto) are these kinds of pattern.


During these few years of my studying in Japan, I saw a lot of the original paintings which  broadened my horizons and recognized deeply the important meanings of “the original” in art appreciation.

I would like to share such knowledge with all of you.  



SGRA Kawaraban 713 in Japanese (Original)



CHEN-Yijie / 2021 Raccoon, Doctor of The Graduate University for Advanced Studies (International Research Center for Japanese Studies)



Translated by Kazuo Kawamura

English checked by Sabina Koirala