Paper Length: 8 pages, doubled-spaced, 12 point (Times New Roman font), 1” margins, pages numbered in lower right corner.

Bibliographic citations and style (use Chicago Manual of Style)


Please write a critical analysis paper on ONE object of your choosing from Neil MacGregor’s History of the World in 100 Objects, addressing TWO of the following points:

  • How do we, today, understand the meaning of your object? Do we need to understand its intended meaning to value it?
  • How does it measure our common humanity? Or how does it illustrate our differences?
  • What does this work tell us about the role of the artist or maker in society?
  • What is the significance of trade, travel and migration in the making of your object and in its reception? How do these factors affect its meaning and value?
  • How does your visual object advance ideas of power?
  • Discuss ideas of representation (abstraction, naturalism, realism) in the understanding of your object? How did these choices address or reflect larger cultural traditions?
  • What questions would an art historian ask about this object? What questions would an anthropologist or an archaeologist ask of it?
  • What are the politics surrounding the collection and display of your object?
  • Are we to consider this object an artwork or an artefact and why?

*****Your analysis must include*****

·         Find ONE or more new resources, identified through library research that will help you address your object and the questions above (these can be museum catalogue, scholarly books, a field report or a scholarly article—wikipedia sources are not considered serious research materials)

·         Include a SHORT summary of the author’s argument (the main points or arguments) in your own words

·         Consider the evidence or information given to support the author’s arguments (what sorts of evidence are used?)

·         Think about the author’s position vis a vis the subject: what does exclude? What does it show us?

  • Is the argument convincing (and why or why not)
  • Evaluate the applicability of the article to your work of art


Formatting checklist:


– double-spaced

– 12-point font (Times New Roman or Garamond)

– 1” (2.54 cm) margins

– pages numbered

-follow Chicago Manual of Style



In the first half of the 20th century, widespread industrialization evolved into international industrial capitalism, which led to many new discoveries. Modernity of art and the role of the artist have been achieved in numerous ways whereby artists merge different artistic works to meet the needs of a rapidly changing world and society. Social, intellectual, social, and technological developments in the past have made different artists respond diversely on the belief in the role that art can play in society[1]. Artists have worked to represent their experience of the novelty of modern life in appropriately inventive ways.

From an aesthetic point of view, artwork is characterized by the artist’s intention to depict a subject as it exists in the world, according to his or her distinctive perception, and is typified by a refusal of accepted or traditional values and styles. Many ideas of representation such as naturalism, abstraction, and realism are well expressed in addressing cultural traditions through the various artworks by various artists. Hence, much of the art history in the 20th century entails a radical rejection of traditional limitation and definitions of both the art and the universe.

Description ofHokusai’s the Great Wave”

Hokusai’s the Great Wave” better known as the Under the Wave off Kanagawa represents one among the most renowned artwork in the culture of the Japanese[2]. Hokusai, who was the artist of the artwork created it when he was about seventy using cheap different materials to create diverse impressions. The portrait forms part of the series “Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji”[3]. From a personal point of view, the painting portrays a horrible cloud wave on its verge of attacking the visible fishing boats thereby destroying them and killing the crew as well. On the far end of the drawing, Mount Fuji is clearly visible although the massiveness of the wave makes its size seem diminished. Since the creation of the artwork, it has gained a lot of popularity and consequently the modern society has changed its opinion about the art over time.

Mount Fuji is considered as a symbol of authenticity, beauty, and a sacred place of worship in the Japanese society[4]. In this painting, a dark color is used most likely to indicate that the image takes place early in the morning, with the sun lighting up the peak of the Mountain covered by snow. In addition, the dark clouds visualized in the art depict that a heavy downpour is expected although not shown in the picture. The anglers use the boats in this picture to transport live fish to the market around Japan and the surrounding cities. The boats are very big in size, with each boat having around thirty individuals. This adds emphasis to the size of the waves and therefore, how disastrous they can be. The waves climb high in the dominant sea and Mount Fuji forms in the background. Finally, at the left upper corner, Hokusai has indicated the both the title of the work and his signature.

Design of the Artwork

A close reference study of the painting shows that Hokusai drew it to express the turbulent times that he was facing. In his older age, he faced severe economic difficulties coupled with other problems, for instance, a serious health issue, which made his health status deteriorate greatly, attacked him. Not long after the stroke attack, the wife passed away further making his life unbearable[5]. As this was not enough, he used up all his wealth to rescue his grandson who had been bankrupt adding up to Hokusai’s woes. In the modern society, people are also forced to come up with drawings not necessarily to show how good they are in artwork but to show the situations they could be facing at a particular stage of life.

The Great Wave had two major precursors, namely Kanagawa-oki Honmoku no zu and Oshiokuri Hato Tsusen no Zu that were both similar in their making[6]. The few similarities and differences that they possessed demonstrated the technical and artistic advancement of the works done by Hokusai. In the earlier designs, the waves come out as thick and homogeneous almost forming a stack of a mineral. The later painting however, stands out to be more to be more vigorous, destructive, and vibrant making it more frightening. The earlier images are marked with a strong Japanese culture as shown by the materials used in coming up with the painting while the final Great Wave had more Westernization in its making therefore giving it a feel of modern artwork. In the previous two prints, the horizon is shown in the middle while in the latter Greta wave; the horizon is seen very low that the art viewer has to view it at an angle. In order to make the painting more dramatic, Hokusai had to remove the sailing boats art the crest of the wave thereby creating a better visual impression on the viewer.


Hokusai was one of the most well known artists of Abstract Expressionist and the key example is the Great Wave. His work ranges from specific scenes of primitive rites to the purely abstract “Great Wave” of his later career. Abstract Expressionism refers to a creative association in the middle 20th-century encompassing of different styles and methods and emphasizing particularly an artist’s freedom to express attitudes and emotions through non-traditional and generally nonfigurative way[7]. Abstract expressionism was the first American art form that gained worldwide acceptance. In this style of painting an easel was not used, instead he would put canvas on the floor and pour paint from a can. Hokusai used sticks, trowels, or knives to manipulate the painting instead of brushes.

The waves raise an emotional response in the viewer, where the viewer feels the instability of the movement in the painting. The relatively brilliant colors and the blurred edges of the waves and Mount Fuji can be interpreted as attempts to capture the feeling of moving around a continually changing urban earth. According to Gaiger[8] this illustrates how different artists yearn to express emotion through art.


Naturalism supposes that God control natural world. Many individuals across different cultures and belief systems have always held arguments about the existence of God. Different artists have also had diverse opinions regarding this issue with Hokusai standing with the fact that God controls everything. In addition, he argues that morality belongs to human beings and that it is not God’s duty to govern an individual’s morality. Events in nature occur at a random with the stronger events taking charge over the trivial events. Naturalists’ way of thinking is that the Universe was there, still exists, and will always be there. Therefore, this simply means that in the universe, the laws of nature govern all physical things and that those laws can explain everything in the universe, not by control of an all-powerful God.

In Hokusai’s the Great Wave”, nature surely takes its course. The wave occurs naturally although it has consequences in that it destroys the boats and most likely kills the individuals who are fishing. Naturalism however in relation to this painting does not fully reflect its reality because there is a bit of influence from human dignity and freedom. Hokusai faced many demoralizations including being sick, losing a wife, and running bankrupt after helping the grandson thereby showing the viewers of the artwork that naturalism does not dictate all that happens. In most cases, naturalism will be influenced by the happenings in the environment.


Realism is almost similar to naturalism but the only difference is that there is no God to controls nature and what happens. Realism became extensive in the nineteenth century before the paintings of Hokusai became prolific. As a result, it may refer to the realistic and natural representation of people, places, or things in artwork and a complete opposite of idealization. One of the major themes associated with realism is that the famous concept of unmediated staging is impossible. Realism therefore entails painting a scene as it exactly is without omissions. The great wave creates a lively impression to the viewer because the drawing represents what really happens in the sea.

What The Work Tells Us About The Role Of An Artist.

The different form in which artwork is presented has brought fundamental changes in its social function. Hokusai’s artwork is a kind of language and therefore important as a means of communication in the society. Another important role that this work of arts plays in the contemporary life and society is the representation of the different values of a culture. In addition, arts create feeling and emotion, which has made artists to be innovative and unique in how they present their artistic works. The Great Wave piece of art plays a very crucial role in the in contemporary life and society because it encompasses important aspects of humanity.

Kanagawa-oki Honmoku no zu and Oshiokuri Hato Tsusen no Zu designs of the great wave by Hokusai illustrates the idea that by using art as a form of communication, complex ideas may be spread to a general audience. Furthermore, great deals of musicians raise social issues and concerns in their music, which permits information of such topics to be communicated competently throughout the masses and hoists community consciousness of such issues. Even though a variety of persons may understand art in a different way, its role as a communication tool in society is irrefutable and is vital to unified worldwide communication and the extend of fresh thoughts.

In a given society, some issues may arise which may require people to communicate ideas to the targeted subject. For instance, in a given country citizens may encounter difficulties with their ruling parties, therefore, in order for their views on how they would wish to be governed, art can be generated in order to speak out their ideas. While expressing oneself, an artist with a certain art may be using his art to convey a message from his point of view or a large group of peoples view. In most cases, gratification role of arts falls within the field of politics because it involves mass action with intention of passing views that are political in nature. Artwork is vital to the earth as it permits limitless persons, despite of socio-economic or cultural setting, to communicate plainly. Even though two very diverse people may not own the capability to speak similar language, or comprehend each other orally, art aids this communication and individuals may connect with each other as human beings, due to art’s role as an essential part of our being.

Paintings are significant mediums that perpetuate and reinforce stereotypes in various and different ways. Paintings have aspects of performance and surveillance nature in them, therefore they are cable of removing any kind of stereotypes that are directed to certain people within certain society. Different cultural groups have diverse ways in which they perform their activities. Not all activities within societies are disclosed to people outside the society. However, at one particular time, people get to know more about a culture that exists within a given society and they may not appreciate the culture. Cultural groups can lead one society to have a different notion about the other group. In addition, aspects of one society for instance, the cultures, values, and lifestyles can be represented in the other society.

Art creates feeling and emotion to the spectators, which has made artists to be innovative and unique in how they present their artistic works. The waves raise an emotional response in the viewer, where the viewer feels the instability of the movement in the painting. The relatively brilliant colors and the blurred edges of the waves and Mount Fuji can be interpreted as attempts to capture the feeling of moving around a continually changing urban earth. According to Gaiger[9] this illustrates how different artists yearn to express emotion through art.

From a personal point of view, the arguments depicted in this painting are convincing. The art portrays fearful and unpleasant occurrences, which are the real happenings in Hokusai’s life. Therefore, artists use their artwork to display to the community particular natural happenings or personal experiences. Hokusai gives meaning to each detail in his painting leaving the viewer with little to wonder about. In addition, these works portray a society’s culture and inner feelings of different individuals. Hokusai’s the Great Wave” is applicable to the artwork being studied in the modern world because the original meaning remains. The published artwork is used as a symbol in clothing and other things.

In conclusion, Hokusai tries to share with the world the real meaning of art. The illustration of his artwork is dynamic and creates wit to the society. In addition, he has integrated social, intellectual, and technological developments in the past to match different happenings in the modern world. In general, artists respond diversely on the belief in the role that art can play in society. Artists have worked to represent their experience of the novelty of modern life in appropriately inventive ways. As a result, people should embrace the artwork because it adds value to social lives including creation of emotions, expressing different views in relation to an issue, and even normal communication.

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