Department of Lifelong Learning and Career Studies, Faculty of Lifelong Learning and Career Studies
Posted May.26, 2020
Professor Yuko Arakawa is an art historian whose research focuses on British art.
She is also involved in arts management that explores the connections between art and society from the angle of life career education.
I specialize in research on Western art history. Art historians are not so popular in Japan, but explaining works of art is an important job. Art historians discover, convey and disseminate the value and appeal of each work of art, taking into account things like the era in which the work was created and the characteristics of the region where the artist resided, and drawing out the ideas that the artist wished to express and the techniques they used.
Within the field of Western art, I specialize in British art, and especially the Romantic artist Joseph Mallord William Turner. Turner is a painter with a reputation and degree of popularity that demonstrates an exception to the common assumption that there are no great masters in British art. Even the Japanese novelist Natsume Soseki was deeply impressed when he encountered Turner’s work while studying in England. He used experimental styles that were ahead of his time, and are thought to have influenced the subsequent Impressionist movement.
In comparison with places like France and Italy that are considered the leading lights of Western art, British art has a short history and somewhat marginal status, but precisely because it was a late starter, it had unique qualities unconstrained by traditional artistic concepts. There is a spirit of innovation that seeks to make art accessible to all, including the working classes, for example by granting free admission to art galleries. I’m fascinated by this British tendency to normalize art rather than treating it as the exclusive domain of cultural elites, which is common elsewhere.
In the Faculty of Lifelong Learning and Career Studies, we approach people’s career development from the three standpoints of educational career, business career, and life career. I’m in charge of art and culture as a whole, as part of the life career area that explores the way people lead their lives.
In Japan, cultural forms that are commonly called “art” tend to have a rather formal image as highbrow pursuits for highly cultured people. Moreover, when the economy is in recession, people sometimes assume that life can go on as usual without art.
However, I fear that if at some point in the future art really did disappear, people would no longer be able to live as humans. This is because art is what is created when each individual person gives full expression to their distinctive sensibility. What can we do to protect and nurture this “sensibility,” which may be the last bastion of human endeavor in a future dominated by artificial intelligence (AI) and robots? I often ask myself this question in the course of my work as an educator.
In the life career area we look at how people lead their lives, and the universal theme is how people connect with one another and with society. Encounters made through culture and art transcend national and linguistic boundaries, and can be an extremely effective means to reduce the distance between people. I hope that students will take up this perspective and pursue in-depth, multi-layered learning that draws on the distinctive strengths of the Faculty of Lifelong Learning and Career Studies, which allows students to pursue studies across a wide range of areas from education to business.
If you look at the increase in the number of international tourists attracted to Japan by various aspects of Japanese culture, it’s clear that culture has the capacity to generate value in economic and social terms. The theme of my classes is “arts management”: not only adding intrinsic aesthetic value to works of art created with free ideas and expression but also strategically imbuing them with economic and social value. Arts management is the blanket term for practical methodologies that bring people together and connect people with society through art.
For example, one of the projects we’ve done in my seminar class is a second-hand exchange fashion show. This is an initiative in intergenerational exchange whereby senior citizens swap second-hand clothes that they wore themselves with clothes worn by students, and both sides dress in each other’s clothes for the show. Students took the lead in planning and implementation, from negotiating the support of integrated community support centers that gather information on senior citizens, to arranging a venue and preparing the show.
Culture can only be nurtured if it is passed down from person to person. The presence of people who use the techniques of arts management to connect those who create art with those who enjoy it helps to invigorate and enrich cultural activity.
Arts management has only recently been introduced to Japan. There is still a shortage of reference texts and precedents, and we have to build up practical experience through trial and error. Nonetheless, a growing number of students are interested in going on to graduate school to pursue further studies.
Recently students from provincial areas often tell me about their dreams of applying what they’ve learned at university in order to revitalize their communities through culture and art. This is becoming a reality: for example, one student started a business after graduating and returning to her hometown in Shikoku, and is now working as a consultant on strategies to raise the cultural profile of the town in collaboration with local government authorities.
The sight of students growing gives me the motivation to continue sowing seeds through education in novel fields. I believe that in the not-too-distant future “practical wisdom” connecting art to society will flourish all across Japan – and I’m looking forward to that day.
In comparison with countries that have walked the high roads of art such as Italy – the home of Renaissance culture – and France – which nurtured the Impressionists, as an island nation separated from the continent, Britain fostered a distinctive artistic outlook. Japan resembles Britain somewhat in this sense.
In Britain, the success of the industrial revolution led to an emphasis on the advancement of economic activity, one consequence of which was a devaluing of activities to nurture culture and art in the country. For example, it was thought that if you wanted to own a work of art, you could always use your economic power to purchase it from overseas. As a result, an awareness of the need to foster art in Britain only arose several centuries later than countries such as France and Italy. Because this awareness was forged anew with no prior grounding it was not bound by preconceptions about what art should be, and took on a distinctive character: a love of beauty in its natural form, and a desire to incorporate beautiful things into everyday life.
Up to that point, works of Western art such as painting and sculpture had been admired as decorative additions to special spaces such as palaces and cathedrals. The British approach of treating art as something familiar and accessible to ordinary citizens, rather than as something exclusive, was therefore quite original. This is thought to be related to British thinking on economics. If everyday life can be imbued with beauty through well-designed furniture and everyday goods, workers will gain a well-developed aesthetic sense. In turn, the products that those workers create will become more beautiful and attractive, and gain an advantage on the world market, making the country even richer. This kind of thinking connected art directly with industry.
This kind of British outlook is thought to have exerted a great influence on folk art movements in Japan called ‘Mingei’. The concept of art did not exist in Japan originally: people who created pictures were not called painters but picture-makers (eshi); those who created Buddhist sculptures were not sculptors but statue-makers (busshi). They were treated more as specialized artisans than as artists. When Western culture flowed into Japan as part of the Meiji civilization and enlightenment policies of the late 1800s, the concept of art was introduced to Japan and the Japanese term geijutsu was created as a translation of the word “art.” While a variety of institutions were created for the promotion of art, including art museums and art schools, rather than the famous works of great artists, the British sense of enjoying art in everyday forms such as tableware and interior design blended more easily with Japanese culture, in which artisans had traditionally crafted beautiful items with care and attention.
Nonetheless, the idea of promoting art and culture beyond the individual level, as a matter for society at large, is not yet sufficiently developed in Japan. It is only now that moves are starting to be made toward recognizing that unique forms of artistic culture can nourish our lives spiritually, as well as having value that impacts positively on the economy and society. I sincerely hope to play a role in these developments through my research and education.
Yuko Arakawa, Professor
Department of Lifelong Learning and Career Studies, Faculty of Lifelong Learning and Career Studies
Born in Kanagawa prefecture.
Graduated from the Department of Aesthetics and Art History, Faculty of Fine Arts, Tokyo University of the Arts. Completed the master’s program in western art history in the Graduate School of Humanities, the University of Tokyo. Worked as a lecturer in places including the Meiji Gakuin University Faculty of Letters and associate professor at the Faculty of Cultural Policy and Management, Shizuoka University of Art and Culture before being appointed associate professor in Hosei’s Faculty of Lifelong Learning and Career Studies in 2005. Appointed professor in 2008, and continues to hold that position today. Was a visiting researcher in 2014 at The Paul Mellon Centre for Studies in British Art attached to Yale University. Has been the head of the Ichigaya Student Counseling Office since 2019.