Better Know the Great Wave | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios

episode is supported by Skillshare and our patrons,
especially Indianapolis Homes Realty. You’ve seen this image
before, a giant wave, its distinctive curly claws
arched and ready to pounce. It’s invoked when
natural disaster strikes, but also when it’s time to sell
beer, jeans, and sweatshirts. It inspired Claude Debussy’s
orchestral work “La Mer,” as well as a not insignificant
number of tattoos. It’s an omnipresent
image and one used towards a variety of ends. Good grief, it’s even an emoji. What is it about this image
that continues to enthrall us? Let’s better know
The Great Wave. First off, the title
is not The Great Wave. And its subject
isn’t really a wave. It’s one of a series of
woodblock prints called 36 Views of Mount Fuji, made
by the Japanese printmaker Katsushika Hokusai
between 1830 and 1833. Long considered
sacred by followers of Shintoism and
Buddhism, among others, Mount Fuji is depicted from
a variety of perspectives. And the artwork in question
is just one of them. Its actual title translates to
Under the Wave Off Kanawaga, because under is
where Mount Fuji is nestled far in the distance. Also under the wave are
fishermen, just trying to get home after
delivering fish to the city of Edo, rowing for
their lives to escape the wave. But the great wave, of course,
dominates the composition and has become an
accepted title. Born near modern
day Tokyo in 1760, Hokusai was a prominent
ukiyo-e artist, the name for the mass produced
woodblock prints of the Edo period, notable for their
distillation of forms, emphasis on line and pure
color, and depictions of hedonistic city life. “Ukiyo-e” means floating world,
referring to the ephemerality of the fads and
fashions of the time. This was not stuffy
high art, but images available to a growing middle
class for about the cost of a bowl of noodle soup. Hokusai was fascinated
by the movement of water, exploring the subjects
on many occasions throughout his career,
and not just rough seas, but a few calmer moments too. In the 1830s, when The
Great Wave was created, Japan was largely shut
off to the wider world, due to the isolationist policies
of the Tokugawa shogunate then in power. We can see Hokusai borrowing
from Japanese Rinpa School artists like Ogata
Korin, especially in the tentacle-like
projections from his waves. But Western realism was
creeping into Japanese art nevertheless, largely due to
European engravings smuggled in by Dutch traders. The Great Wave betrays a
clear Western influence– the use of linear perspective,
a low horizon line, and the appearance
of Prussian blue, a synthetic pigment
then very new to Japan, hailing from, that’s
right, Prussia. Thousands of copies of
the Mount Fuji prints were released within Japan,
mostly bought as souvenirs by an emerging market
of domestic tourists and those making
pilgrimages to the mountain. But in the 1850s,
after Hokusai’s death, trade began to open
up, and his work was shown at the
1867 International Exposition in Paris. Japanese culture quickly
became all the rage in Europe. And ukiyo-e prints were
admired and collected by many, including Claude Monet,
Edgar Degas, Mary Cassatt, and a number of artists
who were heavily influenced by their depictions
of city life, vivid colors, and what for
them was a flattening of space. In 1896, a tsunami
hit northern Japan, and news of its destruction
spread worldwide. It’s been hypothesized
that this event, coupled with the Japonisme craze,
helped propel The Great Wave to international renown. Although the print does
not depict a tsunami, in 2009, researchers
identified it as a 32 to 39 foot
tall rogue wave or what they call
a plunging breaker. It would certainly still
be deadly, however. And that’s where we get to
the real and obvious drama of the picture. Nature is large,
and we are small. This juxtaposition can be seen
in the art of many cultures at many different times. But we have perhaps never seen
it played out more clearly and more distinctly than here. Traditional Japanese
landscapes of the time put the viewer at a
remove from the action. But here, we are right up
against this pending disaster. Hokusai’s contrast of near and
far, and man made and natural, heighten the tension and
place us inside the narrative. When Debussy composed
“La Mer” in 1903, he drew on his own
childhood experience of surviving a terrifying
storm on a fishing boat, as well as paintings by JMW
Turner and Hokusai’s print, which he selected for
the score’s cover. The image later illustrated
a 1948 Pearl Buck novel that tells the
story of a young boy from a Japanese
fishing village who loses his family
to a tidal wave, a post-World War II story of
grief, but also resilience. It’s an image mobilized
when disaster strikes, as it was after the devastating
2011 earthquake and tsunami off the eastern coast of Japan. Scientists and
empirical evidence tell us that global average
temperatures are rising, with extreme weather
events becoming more frequent and more intense. While the sea has always
been a formidable opponent for human kind and The Great
Wave a useful illustration for that relationship,
its relevance is likely to become
even stronger. But, of course, the
image can be interpreted in many different and
less specific ways, symbolizing a great
many imbalance of power. We don’t know if our
fishermen are going to make it out of there alive. It’s a cliffhanger. Even if you don’t register
the boats or Mount Fuji and see the wave alone in
its detached, emoji state, it still holds us in and
tells us quite forcefully that big things are happening
or are about to happen. Unlike the GoPro views
of surfers tunneling through barrel waves,
The Great Wave’s story is not one of
mastery over nature. It’s notably called
The Great Wave and not the heroic fishermen
who survived the rogue wave. Other artists have capitalized
on the power and theatricality of waves as subject matter,
but rarely in such a way that we marvel at the
talents of the artist, instead of the spectacular
beauty of the wave itself. What’s more, this
image was meant to be reproduced, not
sequestered in one museum, where only a few have the
privilege of witnessing it. While there are
certainly numerous crimes against this image perpetrated
across the internet, the crisp, graphic quality
of the original woodblock prints make it friendlier
fodder for duplication and interpretation. When most of us
experience the ocean, this is thankfully not
how we usually see it. It’s an incredibly
improbable view. It’s a film still
or screen capture in the most dynamic,
unstable, and unpredictable of environments. But it has nevertheless
become our favorite stand-in for the ocean, a way to
isolate some fraction of the vastness that
covers 70% of planet Earth. It’s an icon. It’s the ultimate, most
wavelike of all waves. But it’s also an entire
story told simply and succinctly and masterfully. Whatever your great
wave is made of, you are undoubtedly under
it and always will be, until you’re not. I’d like to think Skillshare
for sponsoring this episode. Skillshare is an online
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from anywhere by downloading the iPhone or Android app. I’ve been really enjoying Ana
Victoria Calderon’s Modern Watercolor Techniques
for Beginners. She’s based in Mexico
City, is an amazing artist, and she shares her expertise
in an accessible way. Watercolor can be
super intimidating, but she makes it
very doable and fun. To get a two-month free trial
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it, would you like to better know our Patreon. The Art Assignment is funded
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100 thoughts on “Better Know the Great Wave | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios

  1. The fractal nature wave/splashes and also the fractal detail in the clouds is just insane.
    You can tell this man really fucking studied his shit bc u see this compared to his first drawings and it's a behemoth. Even the drops of water… it just comes to life better than most hiperrealist works of art.

  2. The assertion that the image demonstrates linear (one point) perspective is utterly incorrect. This image shows depth and space through overlapping and size differences. But those are not linear perspective; although they do coincide with its use.

    (One point) Linear perspective is a mathematical system wherein parallel orthogonal lines converge on a single (imaginary) point on the horizon line and not on a random spot like a mountain top. The reduction in the size of objects is mathematically determined, based on the distance from the picture plane. Although, honestly, most artists simply sight size the objects.

    I was enjoying the presentation up to that point.

  3. "Mather and child" print should be placed vertically (as it should be) instead of horizontally. I presume it is mistake picked up from MFA Boston website´s.

  4. Do you know HOKUSAI changed his name over 50 times?
    These girls put all the names together and made a song.
    It’s quite impressive!

  5. I love this channel. But I don’t think “the great wave” being re-appropriated as a meme would be considered a crime against the work. I believe it’s an evolution or perpetual repetition of the work like how the original artist Hokusai intended it to be. Though maybe not what he had envisioned.

  6. I was going to buy the Great Wave Concert Ukulele by Luna Guitars.
    and so, of course I had to seek for information about this stunning piece of art.
    That's why I clicked the video, and now I want this uke even more!❤🌊

  7. "The fisherman were not rowing away from the wave they were going into the wave. Westerners read paintings from left to right. Asia sees it from right to left."

  8. Great history lesson on the wave painters. I enjoy painting waves and surf real thanks for sharing the amazing time capsule 👍🏼🗝🔓🎨

  9. Any chance the fact that this painting is now public domain has played a role in how iconic it's become?

  10. Awesome video, but the audio editing needs work
    Sometimes there is too long of a gap or no gap at all

  11. Yes. YES. YEAAAAAAASSSSSSS I love this art. Even before I hadn't known who made it.

  12. Tenacious. More than that, unremitting. Like pounding waves powered by plain old….. something or other. Could it be….. pride? Or force of habit maybe. Skill share? Never thought of it that way before. so you learn something new every day. Thanks. Is pride a good student or is nature a better teacher? Floating world indeed, I suspect kept afloat by more than just sheer determination or straight up expertise even. Would like to see what the undertow of such a wave looks like. As ugly as over blown and out of place ambition? Nature always at the ready to give us some perspective. Of a big mouth permanently shut by an even bigger fist?

  13. Thank you to this channel for making art so accessible to noobs like me <3

  14. I will soon buy a ukulele that I found on amazon that has this design on it.

  15. I love how you discuss and share concepts, your voice just excites me in a special way. I'm glad to have come across your channel and I hope you continue making these valuable videos.

  16. Let's not forget it's uses of the golden mean. This makes it pleasing to the eye.

  17. One most know that Hokusai painted it when he was old and poor (who was very popular once but got broke) and those cycle-like things at the edge of the wave might represent the on-goingness of life.

  18. I really enjoy your videos. There's one thing that keeps getting on my nerves though, and that's the vocal fry in the voice-over. It's not sexy or attractive, it's hugely annoying. Please please please get rid of it. Any decent speech therapist will gladly help you. Many thanks.

  19. Oh..climate change…that is a scary agenda…we had better pay alot of taxes to global, unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats who can overrule our national sovereignty and right to self-determination.

    Otherwise, we are in big trouble.

  20. Another excellent and extremely informative video from The Art Assignment. I am new to this channel and I'm loving all of the superb high quality work! Thank you!

  21. I've always been afraid of that painting, but I've recently become more curious about it, I still have a lingering fear over it but to me that's what makes it beautiful, how it makes you feel.

  22. can you do a vid about Hokusai's daughter, Ōi? She's an artist like her dad too

  23. I like that you put the info of the pieces in the screen. I was going to suscribe, but damn, you didnt used metric to mention the probable size fo rthe wave. You might as well have used bananas.

  24. The 2011 tsunami which devastated Japan had nothing to do with climate change. It happened as the result of a suboceanic earthquake.

  25. 3:03 Am I the only person who wonders how someone gets into position to draw that?

  26. I used this image for a shot in this animated music video : , I hope it's not a crime against the original 😄

  27. imho this video seems well-made but it's moving way too fast to enjoy all the pictures and to process the information at the same time. Take a bit more time please 🙂

  28. Well, apparently Hokusai got it all wrong. You have obviously identified that he chose the wrong framing of the image, and that is presumably why, at no point, do you show us the entire image, as Hokusai intended. I guess the artists choice of where to put the boundary of his image is really unimportant, just an inconvenient fixed line, when what you really want to do is zoom your camera in and out – demonstrating how much more dynamic your idea is of the wave than boring old Hokusai's. Thank you for the art lesson, I rather admired him until you showed me what bad judgement he must have had.

  29. The painting is also an important mathematical study. Hokusai was drawing fractal forms long before Mandlebrodt.

  30. im so happy about this video I LOVEEE this painting more then any other art piece

  31. Art History prof here. I love to have my students pick apart this image as an example of "visual poetry," literally an image in which visual elements "rhyme" all throughout, from side to side, top to bottom, and front to back. Look closely and you will notice uncanny shape and pattern repetitions all throughout the piece that lead your eye around. My favorite is to rotate the image until it is upside-down. Do this, and you'll notice that the negative space of the sky is also wave shaped, creating a perfect yin-yang mirroring of positive and negative space in the composition. It is truly a masterwork of an image.

  32. Oh cool. I would love to learn about this work of art….. Oh. A lecture on climate change.

  33. Haha, I have a Noren of Under a wave off Kanagawa. (It's one of those doorway curtains)

  34. I can not believe that even in a piece about art and art history you drones have to pollute it with your inane drone of climate alarmism. So stupid.

  35. Would really like less upbeat music, and a bit calmer and intriguing music

  36. If any viewers are interested in having a copy of this print in their home or office, we have a gorgeous selection that can be found at

  37. This is one of the best vids I have come across as an Art educator about an artist and a specific work. I love how this covers so many important aspects of this piece. Probably the most informational AND relatable art history videos I have seen without it being made into a cartoon or over simplifying things. LOVE this.

  38. The right and prolly only way to deal with a too big wVe in a small boat ,turn your nose directly into it , the boats bow is made to slice into the wave front , that whole top 1/3 Rd is going to flop over, hopefully not on you , also boat hules can surf , dash across the face of the breaking wave , Goode deeds! Bravo!

  39. I saw this image used in many places but i never knew the name until now

  40. From this perspective it seems like the Kanagawa wave might crash over and wash away Mount. Fuji.

    But it is simply an illusion. To me it represents that no matter how insurmountable adversity may seem, that it, like all things, including life itself, shall come to pass.

  41. The funny thing is that this painter probably thought… “Damn that took me a whole 30 minutes, on to the next one.”

  42. 🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊🌊

  43. No mention of Quick Silver logo?

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