Art Works: Their Meanings, Their Messages and Their Makeup, Essay Example

Initializing an Analysis on the Works of Edgar Degas and Hokusai


            Art is often defined as both the expression and the presentation of the artist’s interpretation of particular matters that are seemingly important to the society during the time when they first introduced their works into the world of appreciating audiences. The inspiration of artists usually comes from within and even from the elements that surround them. Relatively, it could be analyzed that through the years, several artists have already flourished through time. New genres and new aspects of expression and representation have been given worth through the change of time.

In this particular discussion, two particular artists and their specific works shall be given attention to. Edgar Degas’ work on The Bathtub and Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa shall be specifically analyzed for cultural direction as well as for aesthetic values in relation to how each specific condition of artistic representation used by each artist actually provide a distinctive representation of their process of interpretation and of their behavioral understanding of the society around them. It is expected that through this analysis, the value of the art works and the value of the creators as artists of their own time shall be given specific attention to.

Introducing the Art Works and the Artists

            Edgar Degas, a French artist known for his abstract representation of his subjects that are mostly related to women and dance, has created an artwork that has raised the eyebrows of most of his critics. The Tub, is an oil-painted artwork on canvas that features a woman while she is washing herself. The odd position that she is presented with is considered to be an animalistic representation of womanhood as per identified by the critics of the said artist. The art, being released in 1886 was a considered to be a vague and bold representation of womanhood that was not fully appreciated by the society back then. Almost considered as a pornographic representation of women, most of Degas’ work on nude women posted his interest on art as rather extrinsic and irrespective of the being of the feminine members of the society. Dancers as they are assumed [since he usually worked with ballerinas in their dance], these women were defined to be presented by Degas in their private conditions thus stripping them off from any particular dignity they may deserve. Due to such interpretation of the situation, the work of Degas was often apprehended as somewhat having no concern for the feelings nor the developing reputation and respect for women in the society.

On the other end, Hokusai’s The Great Wave off Kanagawa is considered to be more relatively connected to Japan’s attachment to nature rather than focusing on the social norms of his time. Being a wood-cut art, his particular work is a specific signature that notes Hokusai’s continuous utilization of the original Japanese tradition in representing art works and increasing art values as it is. This is the reason why this specific work of Hokusai is recognized in most parts of the world as a distinctive representation of original Japanese artistry.

What made it unique and likely a good and reputable and presentable instantiation of the Japanese art is not only that of the materials and the approach used to create it but also that of the elements used to represent the message of the artist in this specific creation. Three primary elements complete the overall picture. One is that of Mount Fuji, which is part of the back draft of the entire image. Another is the huge wave of the sea that almost seems to represent a tsunami. The third element that completes the picture are the three boats that were seemingly being tossed around by the waves surrounding them.

Japan’s geographical position is being represented in this artwork and how the Japanese society tends to deal with it. Tsunamis are expected to happen, and yet, with Mount Fuji continuously representing the Japanese society to the whole world, it is assumed that Japan and its people would remain strong and steady. Even amidst the many tests and challenges that it may face later on in especially in relation to its geographical position, which is expected to bring in several points of hardships to the said community. Relatively, this work of art for Hokusai intends to manifest his personal understanding of his people’s culture. Such interpretation motivated him to use some of the most common elements that represent the core of Japanese way of living. Mount Fuji was utilized to show the strong stand of the Japanese society against the challenges that they face which is a rooting element in their culture as a group of people believing in strong will and the idea of ‘moving on’. On the other end, the boats seem to show the same value of cultural representation in relation to the being and the behavior of the people as individuals and as a community. The waves of the sea intends to represent both the actual and the seemingly abstract challenges that the people have to face as the nation welcomes modernity and change as an aspect of their society’s advancement towards a more prosperous future.

Comparison of the Works and their Creators

Being that Hokusai’s work is based on the core traditions of Japanese living, it could be analyzed how safely it intended to show the Japanese culture as a whole. From the materials used by the creator in the establishment of the said art as a mark of Japanese artistry in relation to the artistic worth of other artists around the globe and the elements featured in the image presented, the work of Hokusai was most valued. In connection to the condition of representation in insists to the thinking of the society then and now, Hokusai was assumed a jewel crown of the Japanese artistry.

On the other end, the work of Degas was more focused on the thinking of the society and the current interpretation of the people in relation to morality, finesse and conservatism. Being bold in his representation of women, Degas’ critics judged him to be rather disrespectful of feminine value. Abusive or at some point derogatory, his works were more specified by experts as a restrictively defined to represent pornography at its earliest time of development.

Although both art forms represent the cultural condition of the people and the society that the artists were used to and were brought up into, it could be analyzed how critics received the said art works differently. This is because of the fact that the creators had different behaviors and topical features, which they concentrated on the works that have been discussed. For instance, Hokusai was more focused on the conservative aspect of his people’s culture while Degas was more bold and fearless in introducing a new option of art that he knows would not get the positive appeal from most of his audiences. Could Hokusai then be judged to be traditional while Degas as a contemporary artist who tries to venture on something newer and something fresh even though it might mean a negative reflection on his reputation as an artist? This particular assumption is specifically dependent on how the specific audience tends to appreciate the works mentioned and featured herein.


            An artwork’s value is often a reflection of its creator’s expertise, thinking and behavior as a whole. The intellectual being that is represented by each element featured in a specific art piece naturally creates a notion of interpretation on the part of the audience who are relatively the ones expected to comment on each artwork. While beauty is known to be based on the eyes of the beholder, the interpretation of an artwork’s message also depends on the one looking through the elements and materials used to create the said piece. Most often than not, there are instances when the appreciation of the public on such art pieces is based upon the norms and the cultures that they have been brought up into. In the case of Hokusai and Degas, such condition of interpretation depended on not only the kind of thinking that the people have during the time but also the kind of behavior that the artists represented as members of their own societies. At this point, it could then be accepted that the worth of an art depends on how the public interprets it and responds to the message that it provides to the society.


Armstrong, Carol (1991). Odd Man Out: Readings of the Work and Reputation of Edgar Degas. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press.

Nagata, Seiji; Bester, John (1999). Hokusai: Genius of the Japanese Ukiyo-e. Kodansha International.