The Art of War: Conflict and nationalism in the Japanese paintings of the Second World War
This thesis investigates the representations of Japan’s wartime ideology and expressions of Japanese nationalism during the Second World War (WWII). Specifically, this paper embarks on a comparative investigation of the visual strategies and aesthetics between two primary forms of Japanese painting during this period: yōga (Western-style) War Campaign Documentary Paintings and independent nihonga (Japanese-style) paintings.
Under the Japanese military’s commission, yōga war painters created dynamic oil paintings that documented scenes of war. Their works visually glorified the strength and successes of the Japanese military to raise morale among Japanese civilians and soldiers. Using the style of Western realism, these artists visually propagated the tenets of Japan’s wartime ideology through three main subject matter: (1) non-combat scenes of Japanese soldiers; (2) meetings of Japanese generals and the surrender of their enemies; and (3) aerial, naval, and ground battles.
While the yōga war painters chronicled the victories of the Japanese military, the independent nihonga artists similarly strove to support the war through their paintings. These artists were fervent nationalists who inconspicuously embedded the wartime ideology through traditional Japanese aesthetics. Unlike the yōga war painters, their works were devoid of direct references to the contemporary conflict of WWII. Instead, they embodied the state’s powerful ideological doctrines in their scenes of nature, historical warriors, and idealised women.
Despite their antithetical imagery and contrasting circumstances, the yōga war painters and independent nihonga artists shared a common goal. They dedicated their artistic careers to fighting the war on the 'cultural front' and strove to foster nationalism in the Japanese people.