Points of View

Though he was forced by The Authority to mix adults and teens, Alex’s first PIA: Philosophy In Art class had gone well. Everybody had contributed something to the session. He had chosen to focus on Japanese art; it was full of surprises but also somewhat familiar.

While the class settled down, Alex looked out of the window. He saw sunlight pouring onto Mt Alba. The mountain stood guard over Lucerne, glowing as white as he’d ever seen it. It seemed a pile of lost salt, ready to tumble or be blown away.

He decided to introduce Hokusai’s famous views of Mt Fuji. It was good to move students on to topics in an easy manner, as naturally as possible. How could he get them to Hokusai? Let’s start with what they knew already.

“Just the teens please. Who remembers any names from last week’s class?”

They began shouting out the names of popular characters, some previously mentioned and some new ones.

“Doraemon!”

“Pikachu!”

“Super Mario!”

“Hello Kitty!”

“Chimichanga!” said a boy with red hair and freckles. Even his classmates turned and frowned.

Alex said, “Come on class, you can do better than that!”

A boy called out, “Yoshitoshi!”

A girl replied with “Moshi moshi!”

There was a chorus of “Yoshitoshi!” followed by “Moshi moshi!”

“Yes, Yoshitoshi, but let’s not start all that again. Who knows another name? Adults can you please help me out? Yes, Hokusai! Thank you.”

“He was the son of a mirror-maker, which affected how he saw the world. Imagine seeing reflections, and reflections within reflections, all day long. How would that affect you? He became obsessed with a particular mountain. Who knows which one?”

“Mt Alba!” said a girl.

“Mt Negra!” said a boy.

“I’ll save some time. It was Mt Fuji. In a famous story called The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter, a goddess deposits the Elixir of Life at its peak. Mt Fuji was then seen as a source of immortality. Amaterasu, the sun goddess, is also said to live there. There is a story about her and mirrors too, but I’ll tell you that another time.

“Hokusai revealed Mt Fuji in many ways – in different seasons and in changing weathers, with diverse people and animals, and from many places and varying distances. He did a series of a hundred views, but his most famous series has thirty-six views. Let’s take a look at that.”

They saw the Great Wave off Kanagawa causing fishermen to cling to their boats, and a little Mt Fuji far away calling them back to safety; the south wind and clear sky around a slim red Fuji, lashing rainstorms upon Fuji, viewing it beneath bridges, beyond pine forests, from mountain passes, fields, shops, temples and tea houses, from watermills, in boats, near bays, from lakes, its reflections, its cone smoking, rising beside rivers, above beaches, and alongside islands.

“How did he make them?” asked a girl.

“He drew the image on paper and used it to guide the cutting of the wood block beneath. He made different woodblocks for each colour.”

“That seems like a lot of work,” said the girl. “Did he make lots of money?”

“Not really. Mainly he just wanted to know Mt Fuji. To really know something we must look at it in many ways.”

He had an idea for a class exercise. “Next week, we will pick a topic and look at it in one hundred ways.” The class protested strongly. Most people were only used to one view – their view. Anything more was a challenge.

“Okay, we’ll just do thirty-six views.” There was still strong opposition.

Alex recalled that due to popular demand, Hokusai had added ten additional views to the thirty-six. “Okay, we’ll just do ten views.”

There were still protests, but not so many that they could not be overcome.

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