What Do You Think Art Is?


A Dog of Flanders is too early for kids

Have you ever read “A Dog of Flanders?” I don’t know why that is, but the story is very popular in Japan. It was even made into an animated TV show. Probably, more than 90% of Japanese kids knew the story at least in my childhood. Is the situation the same in your country? Is it popular in the UK (the writer’s country) and Belgium (the place of the story), too?

I know the book is regarded as a masterpiece of children’s literature, but I don’t think it’s suitable for children much, to be honest. I read it when I was a child, and the first lesson I learned from the book was “It’s impossibly hard to survive in this world.” I thought it might be too early for children to know how cruel the world is.

Rubens’ “The Elevation of the Cross” rather than food

As I was writing “the first lesson” in the above paragraph, there was another lesson that I think is also too cruel for children. That is, it made me face the harsh reality that I don’t have artistic talent. Let’s go back over the story together. The main character of the story, the poor Nello died together with his beloved dog Patrasche in front of Rubens’ “The Elevation of the Cross” that he sincerely desired to look at before he died. Can you believe it? When he was going to die with hunger and cold, what he desired was art. If I were him, I would wander about for food and a warm place like a zombie. The children literature made young me realize how vulgar I am.

Vermeer painting restoration revealing a hidden Cupid

I’ve lived with a traumatic injury inflicted by “A Dog of Flanders” as above. Now that I’m an adult, I’ve wandered from an art museum to another to find something to wake my artistic talent. The other day, I went to Hokkaido Museum of Modern Art in Sapporo because Vermeer exhibition took place there. It’s rare to have such a big name here in Hokkaido. It’s too good a chance to miss, though I didn’t know that “Girl with a Pearl Earring” was not included in the exhibition until taking the pamphlet at the entrance. Anyway, did I find something? No, not yet. I just walked through Vermeer’s works with a knowing nod as always, but there was one thing that inspired me a lot. That is a short movie to show how a painting was restored.

A living-roon chair made of walnut, designed by Masayuki Nagare, a Japanese carver. It looks like a sculpture rahter than a chair.

Precise human movement can be said as art

The featured work of the Vermeer exhibition this time is “Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window.” Last year, the painting was restored to reveal a hidden painting of a Cupid on the back wall. The restoration work shown in the short movie was so captivating. The master repairers scraped off varnish and paint little by little with a small knife. Their concentration and moves looked supernatural to me. If the purpose of art is to move people’s hearts, I think the restoration work or the precision moves of the master repairers can be said as art. In that sense, the master furniture craftspeople of our factory, too, can be said as artists. Please come and see the furniture artists in our factory!

Photo Credit: https://www.widewalls.ch/magazine/vermeer-girl-reading-letter-dresden


Shungo Ijima

He is travelling around the world. His passion is to explain Japan to the world, from the unique viewpoint accumulated through his career: overseas posting, MBA holder, former official of the Ministry of Finance.