Warriors of Art

Title: Warriors of Art
Author: Yamaguchi Yumi (山口裕美)
Translator: Arthur Tanaka
Publication Year: 2007 (America)
Pages: 175

Warriors of Art is, simply put, a beautiful, interesting, and exceptionally well-edited introduction to contemporary Japanese artists. The forty artists presented by the book represent a wide range of styles, media, and themes. A large percentage of the artists are internationally renowned and probably somewhat familiar to many Americans, who should be able to identify their styles if not necessarily their names. The book is illustrated with works instantly accessible to the casual reader, and the image quality could not be better. Every image has been reproduced in full color (where applicable) against a white background. At $35 (and deeply discounted on Amazon), Warriors of Art is also available at an affordable price.

The five page general introduction to the collection is promptly followed by a parade of artists appearing in alphabetical order. Each artist has been allotted four pages, the first of which contains a half-page, two column introduction. I have to say that, even though I generally don’t find much use for the text in art books, I genuinely enjoyed reading each of the artist introductions. These introductions put the work of the artist into perspective with biographical details and offer a few extremely apt interpretive comments, referring only to the pieces reproduced within the book. An average of five works follow each artist’s textual introduction, although the number tends of vary from artist to artist.

As for the actual content of the book, I found it extremely disturbing. Sometimes I was mesmerized by a piece, my reaction being something like “!!!!!!!!!.” Sometimes I found myself quickly turning the page because I found myself deeply upset by a particular work. As Yamaguchi says in her introduction to the book, “A glance at the work of the forty artists introduced in the book reveals recurring images of the cute, the grotesque, the erotic, the violent.” I think her description of “recurring images of” might more accurately read “a constant and overwhelming deluge of” images of cuteness and terror, eroticism and subtle (and not so subtle) aggression. In fact, one of the first plates in the book, an anime-style picture by Aida Makoto called The Giant Member Fuji versus King Gidora, depicts a female character from the anime Ultraman crying as she is both disemboweled and sexually violated by a golden hydra of Godzilla fame. Things carry on in much the same vein from there.

Even though Warriors of Art is not for the squeamish or the faint of heart (or the underage), the images are colorful, eye-popping, and deeply engaging. Questions of national identity, sexual identity, and personal identity are tackled again and again by these artists, whose experiments with style, composition, and color yield shocking results. Even a brief look at the works in this book calls the duality of high art and popular culture into question. Certainly, even though the entirety of Warriors of Art can be read less than two hours, I found myself captivated with it for days, returning to it for fresh surprises and new insights.

2 thoughts on “Warriors of Art

  1. Every time I see it, I consider buying this book. But, I remember poring over the different art books in Kinokuniya, trying to find one that’d give me a really solid introduction to each artist and tell me all the relevant stuff, not leaving anything out, and if I remember correctly, “Warriors of Art” was one of the ones that disappointed on that count.

    Referring only to the pieces in the book, however, is good, because while it may seem tempting to say “I want to learn about the artist’s other works”, in fact I have seen too many books which reference the titles of works as if we’re supposed to already know (or simply not care) what the work looks like, what it’s made of, what aspect of the artist’s career it represents… So, to only talk about the works you have pictures for is probably a good thing.

    But again, I think too many of the art books I’ve looked at sadly include not full biographies, full descriptions of each artist and her work, but only partial glimpses, introductions, and so when it comes back to referencing that you’re familiar with the artist – either in a formal context like a paper, or just in conversation – your knowledge of the artist based on any one of these books, such as Warriors of Art, is painfully partial and incomplete.

    But if you’re primarily into it for the pictures, I’m sure it’s great! ^_^

  2. Indeed, if you are primarily into pictures, it is fantastic.

    I do have to agree with you that the explanations in Warriors of Art are way too short and leave you wanting more. Sometimes, though, the artist introduction is way too long (at the expense of the illustrations), says all the wrong things, and leaves you kind of bored and disillusioned. That was certainly my experience with the book Drop Dead Cute, which I read at the same time as Warriors of Art.

    If you’ve got any recommendations for good Japanese art books, though, I would more than happy to hear them. (^_^)/

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