This pathway outlines major steps of artistic professionalization in the Japanese empire. Its findings are based on research on career guidebooks, artists' writings, art publicity, and careers of individual artists. A comparison of guidebooks and actual careers—what aspiring artists were encouraged to do and how they individually proceeded—gives us much insight into a typical path to a successful career, a range of possible other ways to succeed, and the norms of the art establishment at the time. We can also find some artists who succeeded despite rather unlikely circumstances.
The presence of Japanese painters in Taiwan and of Taiwanese painters in Japan, and the circulation of artistic knowledge through magazines, books, and exhibitions reflected and shaped the emergence of shared assumptions about artistic training in the empire (Compare: Shellen X. Wu's module "Xing An: A Contested Borderland" and its path "The Science of Empire" on the globally mobile discourse of colonial social science). Moreover, as daily newspapers celebrated acclaimed artists and reported on young emerging artists competing in art exhibitions, the painterly profession became appealing to the younger generation.
This popularity of painting as a modern profession brought about the expansion of opportunities for studying art, adjusted to the needs of amateurs and aspiring professionals. These included: studying art from books and reproductions, attending night classes, correspondence course, becoming a student in a private atelier, and attending a specialized art school. Exhibitions became the testing ground for emerging artists and a further mechanism producing the hierarchies of the art establishment.
However, these professional opportunities were not distributed evenly throughout the empire. In her discussion of the Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition, art historian Yen Chuanying has argued that the Taiwan salon functioned as a popular event and cultural propaganda, providing only limited benefits for participating artists because the colonial government did not establish an art school or an art museum on the island (Yen Chuanying, "The Art Movement in the 1930s in Taiwan," in Modernity in Asian Art, ed. John Clark (Broadway, NSW, Australia: Wild Peony, 1993), 52. Yen Chuanying, "Nankoku bijutsu no dendō kenzō," in ‘Teikoku’ to Bijutsu: 1930nendai Nihon no taigai bijutsu senryaku, ed. Omuka Toshiharu (Tokyo: Kokusho Kankōkai, 2010), 367-368.). In other words, aspiring artists in Taiwan had to rely on self-studies (hence the importance of the library) and instruction at private ateliers. With a plethora of exhibitions and art schools, Tokyo became an attractive destination, available mostly to well-off students.
Questions for the classroom:
- In what ways did the artistic profession become diverse in prewar Japan?
- What distinguished an amateur from a professional painter?
- What does the use of Japanese contemporary paintings as model works at the Taiwan Fine Arts Exhibition tell us about the relationship between the Taiwanese and metropolitan art world?
- What are the possible interpretations of Guo Xuehu's essay? What are the omissions and silences in this essay?