September 1, 2021
I was fortunate to catch the Itō Jakuchū exhibit Colorful Realm of Living Beings at the National Gallery of Art the other day. The exhibition, which ends April 29, marks the first time all 30 paintings have been displayed together outside of Japan and are on loan from the Imperial Household. The 30 paintings, shown along with his Sakyamuni Triptych donated by Jakuchu to Shokokuji Temple nearly 250 years ago, are all displayed in one room much as they might have been seen in a temple.
What was really interesting about the paintings themselves is the numerous techniques he uses, many of which had never been seen before in his time. From mixing, matching, and shading to layering his pigments on the front and back to create detailed spatial depth, it was said that much of what made him unique was his meticulous attention to detail (he created many of the scenes from actual animals and gardens he kept for the purpose of observation) and his unique position as an outsider – he was the eldest son of a grocer.
Of course there was natural talent get in the door and he certainly learned by studying top masters, but it was his naïve curiosity that made him great. His ability to look at the back of a printing surface and see opportunity. So often we think that we don’t have enough knowledge or information to do the things we want, but often it’s a matter of not realizing how our own experiences might be the very thing that changes the rules of the game.
As organizations look to define what makes them unique, it might be good to stop and think not about how they could be more like what is expected, but more like who they really are. If the long tail teaches us anything, it's that being authentic to some is better than being dull to many.