Studying the Hood's Japanese Prints: A Student's Perspective

Posted on March 01, 2013 by Kristin Swan

Hood Quarterly, spring 2013
Eunice Lee '13

Prior to my experience in Professor Allen Hockley's spring 2012 art history course on Japanese woodblock prints, I had virtually no knowledge of their stature or origins. I soon learned that the culture from which these prints emerged was racy and scandalous, based as it was on the ukiyo-e ("floating world") pleasures of Yoshiwara brothels and kabuki theater. Thoroughly intrigued from the very first class meeting, I dove into the course contents and emerged with a completely transformed perspective upon this compelling and diverse Japanese art tradition. The course was organized in such a way that students were able to analyze the context and contents of these prints through the literature and lectures but also examine them firsthand in the Hood's Bernstein Study-Storage Center classroom. This twofold approach allowed students to engage with the material more directly.

In addition to our regular class meetings, during which Professor Hockley covered the sociological and historical analyses of various genres of prints, students met weekly in the Hood's classroom to view the actual prints and thereby apply what we had learned from readings and lectures. Upon such close inspection, I was able to notice artistic details in the prints that were not conveyed by digital photographs projected onto a wall, including their subtly embossed textures, varied pigment qualities and hues, and other visual nuances. Following these trips, we were asked to write short papers from a curatorial perspective, which sometimes demanded the comparative analysis of two or more prints. Practicing the voice of a curator, students became seasoned writers in anticipation of the final project at the end of the term.

Drawing upon the wide range of Hood prints (from Yoshiwara prints to warrior prints, and from single prints to triptychs), the final curatorial project asked each student to design their own individual exhibition layouts. As a final assignment to an academic yet practical course, this exercise fittingly tested students' knowledge and understanding of Japanese prints. We had to separate the prints into various groups using both logic and creativity, write exhibition labels, and place individual prints within a floorplan layout of the Hood's Cheatham Gallery. We were challenged not only to think critically and cumulatively about the written explanations for our decisions but also to envision some specific solutions for this given physical space.

The current installation of these prints from the Hood's collection—a small companion exhibition to The Women of Shin Hanga: The Joseph and Judith Barker Collection of Japanese Prints—in the Cheatham Gallery and the virtual models that I have made of alternative layouts for display on a monitor in the gallery represent the designs that students proposed for their final curatorial projects. Students had very different ways of thinking about, interpreting, and displaying these prints. The virtual models allow visitors to explore all of these remarkable installations alongside the final installation itself. Working on this virtual exhibition was the culminating experience of all that I had learned in Professor Hockley's Japanese prints course last winter, and I am eager to share it with viewers of this exhibition.

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Written March 01, 2013 by Kristin Swan