At risk of sounding like an ageing hippy, I think the best music ever was performed between 1965 and 1976. During that period musicians and their fans were compartmentalised. If you liked heavy rock music (I did), you couldn’t like Motown and heaven forbid you should be caught out listening to “top of the pops” and all that “commercial” rubbish. Strangely, as time moves on, the compartments and classifications become increasingly flimsy and ill defined and I start to find I enjoy all sorts of other work. Is Rock Music from the early 70s still the best there is? Absolutely. Is it all there is? Absolutely not.
As in Music, there is a danger of allowing oneself to become too focussed on a very limited period, school or style of Japanese antiques. I seem to have gained a reputation for only liking ultra conservative Yamashiro workmanship and believing the only colour for lacquer in koshirae is black. I admit there is some truth in this and I have for many years focussed on Yamashiro koto work and later work, such as Hizen, that has its origins in this style.
There really is nothing finer than a Yamashiro suguha hamon on a tight ko-itame hada covered in ji-nie and enclosed within a gentle and dignified sugata. Or a beautiful koshirae with black lacquered saya and Iron tsuba
Sorry, I am getting carried away!
In recent years, I have been able to visit different collectors and attend different society meetings. As well as enjoying meeting some very friendly and knowledgeable people, I have also taken the opportunity to look at some beautiful artwork. The more I looked, the more I questioned my single-minded approach. I was seeing stunningly beautiful work from the Bizen tradition, incredible Osaka Shinto blades and wonderful later work from Satsuma and then Shin-Shinto masters. In fact the more I looked, the more I realised how limiting my methodology was.
There have been beautiful swords and fittings made throughout all sword periods and masterpieces produced within many schools.
Now comes the challenge. When starting out you are confronted with a vast range of work from different periods, traditions and schools, which can be extremely daunting. It therefore makes perfect sense to focus on one area to start with and learn as much as you can about that. However, in adopting this method (I did) there is a danger of becoming too blinkered in your approach and missing beautiful work that is staring you in the face.
In the exhibition at Utrecht and on the commercial stands, there will be an incredible diversity of items. While it makes sense to go with a plan as to what you want to see or may be looking to purchase, be prepared to be diverted. Sometimes allowing emotion (i.e. “I just like it”) to govern your choices can be every bit as rewarding as following a set plan. Take this opportunity to look at pieces you might not normally consider and see what makes them special. If it isn’t immediately apparent to you, ask someone else for their opinion. By doing this, you are less likely to miss something really special and will learn a great deal more in the process. We will rarely have the opportunity to study of such quality and diversity so let’s make the most of it.
Just for the record, in my opinion:
Black Sabbath were undoubtedly the best band in the 1960s/70s
Yamashiro Awataguchi smiths were undoubtedly the best smiths ever
But I must admit that there were other exceptional works produced by other artists as well!!
By Paul Bowman