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Analyzing, Interpreting, and Assessing Visual Art Essay

The Great Wave off Kanagawa is the most well-known Japanese woodblock art ever created in the history of Japan (Sayre, 2010). The masterpiece was created by Hokusai Katsushika, known to be the honorable Japanese printmakers of the 19th century. The Great Wave off Kanagawa set precedent for the first of 36 views of Mount Fuji, 1823-29 (Sayre, 2010). I will discuss the six elements of visual design, go in detail of the elements that was present in The Great Wave off Kanagawa, and evaluate the quality. The Great Wave off Kanagawa has several elements in this masterpiece. For example, how vessel ships lines up with the waves making the vessels appear to be flowing with the high tide waves. The painting “The Great Wave of Kanagawa” is a great example of line. This painting has very bold, emphasized lines that help to define the water from the sky. As well within the water, the line helps to determine the different part of the water, the foam, or the curves of the waves. Hokusai makes it very easy for one’s eyes to follow the moving of the water. Also, how Mt. Fuji in the distance looks like it could be part of the wave too.

This was very clever of the artist to give the impression that all the triangular shapes appear to be the waves themselves. In order for the artist to make this impression, he used light blues along with dark blues for the waves depicted in the drawing. The light blues represent a higher tide and the dark blue the sea. The artist simplified the waves to an array of flat patterns with a black outlining for more intensity. The drawing depicts vessels that are probably carrying food and supplies this was especially relevant back in the 1800s. It is hard to tell what time of day that the drawing possibly could have been created, but I am going to assume during the day giving the light blue hues and how one can see Mt. Fuji in the far distance. When analyzing the work in terms of five principles, the central theme here is not the wave but the Mount Fuji; however at first glance, it almost reads as another cap of foam. But precisely, it is its consistency with the lines and colors of the piece, as well as the construction of the picture around it which achieve the unity of the composition. Indeed, the Mount is placed in the right central part of the composition, which has to be read from the right to the left (instead of reading from the left to the right, as occidentals use to).

Furthermore, it is painted with the two main colors of the picture. The message uniting this piece is conveyed through the contrast between the distant, quiet, and unchanging mount in the background and the violent and ephemeral foreground scene. While evaluating the artwork of the artist, Hokusai, it appears all the attention wasn’t just about the waves. He was able to balance the drawing by adding the people in the cargo ships. A person can see as the wave intensifies the situation of the sailors. The great wave commands the picture plane, dramatically overshadowing the distant peak of Mount Fuji. Reconciling the essential contradictions between the movement of the water and the stillness of the mountain, this print captures and fixes the wave so that it paradoxically becomes a static, elegant, and poised structure rather than something fluid and ephemeral. While the wave’s sheer scale and claw like extensions are threatening, the potential for violence is undermined by the aesthetic artifice of making the small wave in front of it a visual double for Mount Fuji.

The viewer’s gaze is deflected; the subject is distanced and generalized, but here the curling wave in the foreground swallowing up the boats drawing any viewer into its orbit, creating an extraordinary immediacy of experience. The disturbingly low, water-level viewpoint gives the illusion that we are seeing the wave from within its vortex. After carefully reviewing the picture “The Great Wave off Kanagawa” I would say that this art holds cultural value to it. This painting is one of the most famous works of art in the world, but debatably the most iconic work of Japanese art. There have been thousands of copies of this painting produced and sold cheaply.

Despite the fact that it was created at a time when Japanese trade was heavily restricted, Hokusai’s print displays the influence of Dutch art, and proved to be inspirational for many artists working in Europe later in the nineteenth century. The flattening of space, an interest in atmospheric conditions, and the impermanence of life; all visible in Hokusai’s prints and both reaffirmed their own artistic interests and inspired many future works of art. It does not on the other hand hold historic value because it does not depict anything in history that has occurred.


Sayre, H. M. (2010). A World of Art Chapters 4-8 (6th ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education.

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