04/05/2011 09:24 pm ET | Updated Jun 05, 2011

Short Takes: Hokusai's Great Wave; Yayoi Kusama's Dots; a Low-Tech iPad

In the aftermath of the recent disasters in Japan, I found this BBC video about Japanese artist Katsushika Hokusai's iconic print, The Great Wave off Kanagawa, particularly poignant. Hokusai, born in 1760 in Edo (now Tokyo), was a ukiyo-e painter and printmaker of the Edo period. Forced out of retirement after a long career by a grandson who gambled away all of his money, Hokusai went on to produce the work for which he is best known, his woodblock print series, Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. The series includes the iconic print, The Great Wave, which is the subject of this documentary.


Katsushika Hokusai, The Great Wave off Kanagawa, first publication: between 1826 and 1833, this edition: later, color woodblock print, Library of Congress, courtesy of Wikipedia.

It is said that on his deathbed, Hokusai exclaimed "If only Heaven will give me just another ten years . . . Just another five more years, then I could become a real painter." (note to artists: keep working!)

In another BBC production, contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama brings us from 19th century Japan to 21st. Often called the "Queen of Polka Dots" Kusama was born in Japan in 1929. At age 27 she left Japan for New York City and soon established herself as a leader in the avant-garde movement. Having suffered from mental health issues most of her life, she returned to Tokyo in 1973. Today, she lives, by choice, in a mental hospital, where she has continued to produce work since her return to Tokyo. In 2006, Kusama became the first Japanese woman to receive the prestigious Praemium Imperiale for internationally recognized artists.

Kusama is often quoted as saying: "If it were not for art, I would have killed myself a long time ago." (note to artists: keep working!)

A reader wrote in about Art Authority, the iPad app I reviewed last week, asking me what an iPad had to do with art. I think it was more of an awkward attempt to make a statement on technology than a question, so I thought he might prefer this low-tech version of the iPad.