Hokusai (Japanese) – Rats And Capsicum Pods

To be good art, a picture does not have to be exalted in subject or complex in structure. One of the hardest tests of the painter’s art is to take an utterly trivial subject such as this, and in a few strokes produce a form that holds our interest. True, it lacks richness of color, intricate pattern, solidity, depth, and many other values that painting can possess. It is no greater than thousands of other sketches and prints that flowed from the quick, observant brush of Hokusai. But it is included here as an example of extreme economy and terseness: qualities of high value in such arts as drawing and etching, where the medium itself limits the form, and where brief suggestiveness rather than full elaboration is appropriate. Every stroke of the ink-brush in this sketch is effective in two ways. First, as representation, it conveys a vivid sense of the shape and light, agile posture that are characteristic of these little animals. As decoration, it presents with simple force an observed rhythm in nature, an essential resemblance between rats and seed-pods: both slender, irregularly bent, with long, thread-like whiskers, tails and stems. By deft gradations in the shade of gray, and by varied outlines—sometimes sharp, sometimes ragged —it aehieves a spontaneous, living quality as decoration that is lacking in the Utamaro print. At the same time it suggests the velvety, ragged fur and ears of the rats, and the wiriness of their claws and whiskers. The debt to Sung art is obvious, but it does not amount to imitation. The Japanese form is slighter, but livelier.