For my research paper I am focusing on light as a material. For some of my background research and inspiration I am reading Junichiro Tanizaki’s, In Praise of Shadows. A lot of the book is about Japanese culture. One of the most interesting thoughts I pulled from the reading was his idea comparing Eastern culture and Western culture. He was making the statement of how different the world could have been if the Orient were first to develop technology and physics. The example he gave was about the invention of the phonograph and the radio. “Japanese music is above all a music of reticence, of atmosphere. When recorded, or amplified by a loudspeaker, the greater part of its charm is lost. In conversation, too, we prefer the soft voice, the understatement,”. Thus, it would have been much gentler sound and would have been much more sensitive to pick up the wide range of sounds. When discussing light, he also brings up an interesting reason as to why the subtle light is much more poetic and important in Japanese housing. Tanizaki was writing about the use of lacquerware in comparison to ceramics. He spoke about the artisans who crafted these fine pieces, and how they must have been mindful about the dark rooms these pieces ultimately will be placed in, and how this determined how they painted them. “Their extravagant use of gold, too, I should imagine, came of understanding how it gleams forth from out of the darkness and reflects the lamplight,”. If this same piece was to be used in say a Western styled room, the bright incandescent light would not give the same depth and richness provided by softer diffused lights found in the Eastern world.
This was an idea I’ve never though about before. Being from America, our cultural ideas are second nature for me. In High School, I was a server at a chinese restaurant right near my home. I became very close to the family that owned it and knew a lot about their personal life. To me, they lived just like American’s do, they just eat differently. So I did not really notice a difference in cultural lifestyle. After reading this excerpt in In Praise of Shadows, I realized how powerful the western influence is on the rest of the world. This also made me critically think about how cultures develop. Imagine if the Orient lifestyle was the one all others were influenced by. I picture soft diffused light everywhere, with soft paper walls it bounces from. Our urban cities I would imagine as something Shanghai with lots of commotion, and lots of light neon lights everywhere-like a Times Square in New York. This difference of lighting between the soft rural traditional style versus the loud urban contemporary metropolis is something to note also.
This is as far as I have gotten thus far, but I am starting to become very interested in the differences in the way the Eastern Orient and the Western use light. This also raises many questions. Is it a cultural thing? By this I mean since the Orient is known as a much softer, quieter, contemplative culture, have they designed their use of light to suit this? Or is it because of environmental factors such as weather and landscape that decide their use of soft light and thus the culture reacts to that? The same goes for the designs and use of light in the Western world. I am very interested and excited to continue exploring ideas and methods of using light as a material, and the way it affects its inhabitants.