Is art a process and not an end? Hokusai.

Hokusai 2. From a postcard. Photo by last.fm. Under a Creative Commons license.

I keep running across a testimonial from Japanese print maker Hokusai. Even if you’ve seen it before, it’s a marvel to read again. It says a lot about the way the artist keeps probing the world and looks forward to greater and greater understanding. It seems to me that even at 110 years old, Hokusai would not have reached the depths of his art, there would have been more to learn, something truer and more vital to create. Is art a process and not an end?

Hokusai print. From Oschene under a Creative Commons license.

From the age of six I had a penchant for copying the form of things, and from about fifty, my pictures were frequently published ; but until the age of seventy, nothing that I drew was worthy of notice. At seventy-three years, I was somewhat able to fathom the growth of plants and trees, and the structure of birds, insects and fish. Thus when I reached eighty-six years, I hope to have made increasing progress, and at ninety to see further into the underlying principles of things, so that at one hundred years I will have achieved a divine state in my art, and at one hundred and ten, every dot and stroke will be as though alive.

– Hokusai, from Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji. At the age of eighteen, Hokusai became apprentice to the leading master of ukiyo-e (“pictures of the floating world”). He became famous throughout the world for his illustrations and prints, among them “The Great Wave off Kanagawra.” He died at the age of eighty-nine in 1849.

In the Hollow of a Wave of the Coast at Kangawra (from a Series of Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji) by Katsushika Hokusai. Under a Creative Commons license.

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