Art of Edo Japan: The Artist and the City 1615-1868


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In-depth study of the art and culture of the Edo period in four distinct regions of Japan - Excellent resource!

Field of Interest/Specialty: Studio Art & Art History
Posted On: 09/23/2015

Art of Edo Japan
Reviewed by Kachina Martin, Studio Art & Art History instructor at Muhlenberg High School; grades 10-12
This text is lavishly illustrated with a variety of unique works of art that give the reader a beautiful glimpse into four distinct locations – Kyoto, Edo, Osaka, and Nagasaki – and examines how each region’s distinct identity shaped its culture and the art created there during the Edo period (1615-1868). Author Christine Guth writes in a clear and engaging manner that makes for an interesting read. That said, this text is best suited as an Instructor resource; it would be a dense text for students to read in its entirety, however, small sections of it would be very applicable, as they were for my some of my students when we addressed the art of Edo Japan.
While the text focuses on painters and printmakers of the Edo period, Guth does address other art forms as well, including ceramics, architecture, textiles and lacquer. The first chapter, The Artist and the City, was the chapter from which I asked students in my AP Art History class and my Global Studies class to read short, teacher-selected sections. It offered students a sense of life in Japan during this time for the upper classes, such as the samurai, merchants and artisans and the pursuits that occupied their leisure time. Students immediately made connections between the kinds of conspicuous consumption seen in these urban centers and the “rich and famous” of today. Against this backdrop, students were better able to appreciate the images that we then studied from this time period.
The classes with which I utilized these materials were Global Studies, an Honors level team-taught course addressing art, literature, history and music for 11th grade students and AP Art History. Both groups of students have an understanding of the basics of Shinto and Buddhist beliefs which are briefly mentioned in this opening chapter. Both groups are also very mature and we have had class discussions about issues such as gender, nudity, and sexuality as needed when these issues are addressed in art. However, I was selective with the parts of the text I asked students to read as well as the types of images we studied from the text, as I did not feel that all of it was appropriate for a high school audience.
I have shared this resource with the World Cultures teachers in my District; they too felt it was well-written, comprehensive text for teachers who are seeking a more thorough understanding of the art and culture of Japan’s Edo period.