Grimpses os of Unfamiliar Japan
Now there comes to my mind something I once heard said by a practical American on hearing of a great fire in Japan:'Oh! those people can afford fires; their houses are so cheaply built.' It is true that the frail wooden houses of the common people can be cheaply and quickly replaced; but that which was within them to make them beautiful cannot-and every fire is an art tragedy.
For this is the land of infinite hand-made variety; machinery has not yet been able to introduce sameness and utilitarian ugliness in cheap production(except in response to foreign demand for bad taste to suit vulgar markets), and each object made by the artist or artisan differs still from all others, even of his own making.
And each time something beautiful perishes by fire, it is a something representing an individual idea.
Happily the art impulse itself, in this country of conflagrations, has a vitality which survives each generation of artists, and defies the flame that changes their labour to ashes or melts it to shapelessness.
The idea whose symbol has perished will reappear again in other creations- perhaps after the passing of a century- modified, indeed, yet recognizably of kin to the thought of of the past.
And every artist is a ghostly worker.
Not by years of groping and sacrifice does he find his highest expression; the sacrificial past is within 'him; his art is an inheritance; his fingers are guided by the dead in the delineation of a flying bird, of the vapours of mountains, of the colors of the morning and evening, of the shape of branches and the spring burst of flowers; generations of skilled workmen have given him their cunning, and revive in the wonder of his drawing.
What was conscious effort in the beginning became unconscious in later centuries- becomes almost automatic in the living man,- becomes the art instinctive.
Wherefore, one colored print by a Hokusai or Hiroshige, originally sold for less than a cent, may have more real art in it than many a Western painting valued at more than the worth of a whole Japanese street.