Art of Japan and Yanagisawa Kien: Spiritual Edo artist

Art of Japan and Yanagisawa Kien: Spiritual Edo artist

Lee Jay Walker

Modern Tokyo Times

Yanagisawa Kien (1703-1758) was born during the Edo Period. His artistic and cultural soul was blessed by his deep love of Confucius and Zen Buddhism (Ōbaku-shū).

The high cultural awareness of all bunjinga artists enabled them to see the world outside the more secular trappings of life. Hence, the Nanga School’s angle of art and its emphasis on high culture suited the artistic dimensions of Kien.

The MET Museum says (art piece above), “This simple composition of a stand of bamboo bending over an angular, faceted rock is the work of Yanagisawa Kien, who created numerous paintings of bamboo, flowers-and-birds, and other subjects popular among artists of the early Nanga school. The bamboo was a favored motif among painters as a symbol of scholarly virtue and fortitude.”

Kien was a notable teacher who influenced several aspiring artists. For example, he taught Ike no Taiga (1723–1776) and Kimura Kenkadō (1736–1802). Thus, his adoration of Buddhism, Confucianism, and the world of art enabled Kien to awaken the artistic souls of younger artists – who were inspired by his creativity, knowledge, and spirituality.

Zen Buddhism provided important spiritual awareness – while Kien also deeply admired the Confucianist wisdom of Ogyu Sorai.


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