Soboku-e “Innocent Paintings,” the Art of Artlessness, and Mindful Art Journaling
From Yihan Zhou
Are doodling and scribbling art? Does “artless art” exist? What does art do to our everyday life anyway? This three-letter word has sustained so many discussions, debates, and studies of the history of art and visual culture across regions and cultures, including topics such as soboku-e “Innocent Paintings” in Japanese art.
While traditional Japanese art seems defined by words like meticulousness and craftsmanship, soboku-e are works with simple, naïve, and idyllic qualities created by trained and untrained artists in premodern Japan. The seemingly artless soboku-e came from the practical aspect of visual narrative for the non-aristocrat viewers. However, soboku-e represent some of the purest forms of Japanese aesthetics rooted in Zen meditative practices that are still inspiring to us today: stay mindful, observe the present moment, and find peace with your honest thoughts.
Artist Mew Lingjun Jiang will tour you through the history of soboku-e, exhibiting the breadth of styles and materials from painted scrolls to woodblock-printed books. The “Innocent Paintings” all have a purpose of narrating a story, convey a message, and communicate with their viewers without sophisticated rhetoric, while leaving space for different interpretations.
No language prerequisite for Japanese or a background in Japanese history is required. After the talk, Mew will showcase their artworks of doodles, comic strips, and illustrations with a soboku-e playful spirit, inviting you to join their workshop to make soboku-e through mindful journaling that you can incorporate into everyday practices.
No art skill is required, either! All you need is a pen and some paper, as well as an open mind for art! With simple scribbles of strokes, wiggly shapes, and a mindset that art is a means of expression without “good or bad,” you can delight yourself with drawings that visualize your present moment.
“Mew” Lingjun Jiang is a Japanese art historian, currently interning at the University of Chicago and working as a freelance artist. Mew completed a BFA degree at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign in 2018. Mew then received an MA degree from the University of Chicago in 2020. Experienced with research and curation projects in China, Japan, and the U.S., Mew now studies Japanese playing card designs. Japanese visual culture has inspired Mew’s art practices that explore subjects of mental health, loneliness, and imaginary friends.