ARTnWilliam Morrisnin Tokyonby Shebbaz H. SafianinMingei: Japanese Folk Art, an exhibitionnconsisting of 115 paintings, sculptures,nceramics, furniture, lacquers,ntoys, and other artifacts, opened at thenBrooklyn Museum on July 12 andnremained on display through Septembern30, 1985. Most’of the art of Japannis imbued with simplicity, directness,nand a tremendous sense of design.nJapanese work in the visual arts ofnJapan, sustained over many generations,nhas led many non-Orientals tonconsider them as highly decorativenpeople. In fact, the Japanese havenne’er recognized a basic distinctionnbetween art (painting, sculpture, andnarchitecture) and craft (ceramics, metalwork,nfurniture, and textiles).nIn the West, by comparison, thenguilds’ that began organizing underecclesiasticalnaegis in medieval timesncreated a distinct class of artisans.nWith the European Renaissance,nthere emerged the ideal of the artist asna unique individual divinely inspirednand talented, who was very differentnfrom ordinary craftsmen. Fortunately,nthis ideal still persists today. No sensiblenItalian, for example, considers thencelebrated designer Gucci, based innFlorence, an artist. On the othernhand, the eminent contemporary Italiannpainter, Pietro Annigoni, who alsonmakes Florence his home, is recognizednas an artist.nIt is surprising that a people asnclass-conscious as the Japanese did notndistinguish between craftsmen and artistsnuntil the distinction was introducednto Japan from the West in thenlate 19th century. Closed to foreignersnfrom 1639 until Commodore Perrynforced its reopening in 1853-54 andninitiated the Meiji Restoration (1855-n68), Japan had nothing like the Westernnconcept of art as something dis­n381 CHRONICLES OF CULTUREnVITAL SIGNSntinct from skilled craftsmanship. Tonaccommodate the Western view of thenarts, the Japanese coined two newwords—bijutsunfor “art” and geijutsunmeaning “the fine arts”—in the earlvn1870’s.nBut after Perry’s reopening Japan,nthe incredibly rapid industrializationnand Westernization of Japan nearlyndestroyed traditional Japanese crafts.nThey were saved from oblivion at thenlast moment largely through the effortsnof one man, Yanagi Soetsu (1889-n1961). Yanagi, a philosopher turnednliterary and art critic, founded thenCrafts Movement in Japan, inspired bynWilliam Morris’ Art and Crafts Movementnin England. Noting that therenwas no word in Japanese for folk art,nYanagi invented one in the earlyn1920’s: mingei, “the art of the commonnpeople.” In 1926, Yanagi and hisnfriends founded the Japan Folk ArtnAssociation (Nihon Mingei Kyokai),nwhich now has its own museums innTokyo, Kurashiki, Tottori, and Osaka.nThe gray eminence of the recentnshow at the Brooklyn Museum turnednout to be an astute American, StewartnCutlin (1858-1929). It was largely duento his farsightedness that the museumnacquired such an extensive collectionnof mingei. Designed by the famousnarchitectural firm of McKim, Mead &nWhite and constructed in 1897, thenBrooklyn Museum is unique amongnAmerican museums in being able tonassemble such a comprehensive exhibitionnof Japanese folk art from its ownnpermanent collection. The museum’snCurator of Asian Art, Robert Moes,nactive in promoting his department’snacquisitions, is gaining a wide reputationnon the strength of shows such asnMingei.nCutlin served as the museum’s indefatigablenCurator of Ethnology fromn1902 to 1928. He purchased Japanesenfolk art at the source during two collectingntrips to Japan in 1909 andn1913-14. At that time. Westernizationnhad not yet destroyed all the old ways,nespecially out in the countryside.nnn(Striking black and white photographsnof traditional agrarian scenes were intelligentlynintegrated into the recentnexhibition.) Since the early 1970’s, thenBrooklyn Museum has prudentlynsought to fill the gaps in the Japanesenfolk art collection originated by Cutiinnthrough systematic purchases andnthrough the donation of mingei piecesnfrom munificent collectors.nThe brilliance of the Mingei exhibitionnis representative of the change fornthe better that the Brooklyn Museumnhas taken under the stewardship ofnRobert T. Buck, its new director.nBuck’s work has earned him kudos andnmore kudos from leading art critics.nBefore Buck assumed the directorship,nthe Brooklyn Museum was filled withnthe “organized clutter” of a moribundnVictorianism. Today, the museum isnuncluttered, clean, and intelligentiynreorganized. Former labyrinths havenbeen removed and refurbished withntaste and acclaimed works of art betterndisplayed, yet the museum’s soul hasnbeen untouched. Nowhere is the quietndynamism of the Buck administrationnmore noticeable than in the rotatingngallery, used for traveling and temporarynshows such as the Mingei.nThe Brooklyn Museum presentednMingei as subtly as tea is in Japan. Butngiven its Brooklyn location, Mingeinturned out to be the best of two worlds.nIts success, unlike that of blockbusternart shows of late, was established onnindividual rapport rather than onnmedia blitz. In adopting such a dignifiednand restrained approach, RobertnBuck seems to be emulating the traditionnof Sherman Lee, the brilliant andndemanding retired director of thenCleveland Museum. In a long andneventful career, during which he advisednsuch eminent collectors as thenlate John D. Rockefeller III (foundernof New York’s Asia Society), Lee simplynshunned blockbuster art exhibitions.nVery few Americans have heardnabout or read The New Golden Land:nEuropean Images of America From thenDiscoveries to the Present Time, byn