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This Delicious Cocktail of Art, Poetry and Calligraphy
By Susumu Takiguchi Chairman, 'The World Haiku Club'
A composite art form of painting, poem (haiku) and calligraphy
Haiku is a painting in words. Nanga is a poem in paints. Haiga is a painting and poem in each other. One more essential element to be added to haiga is calligraphy. Hence, the cocktail of haiku, painting and calligraphy is, crudely put, what haiga is. (Note: Nanga, or Bunjin-ga, is Japanese adaptation of the southern school of Chinese painting, one of the two main schools, the other being the northern school).
This crude grasp of haiga is important to bear in mind before going to finer points (and after, for that matter), precisely because in a sense one should not seek any finer points in haiga for the sake of doing so. Any such finery is cut out, hidden or counter-pointed against. Its sophistication lies, instead, in its seemingly contradictory duality like two sides of a coin. One side of the coin, crudity, naivety, simplicity, rawness, roughness, incompleteness, sketchiness, arbitrariness, artlessness, naturalness, carefree feeling etc., is shown in haiga, and this is the only side you normally see, as the other side is not usually turned.
Now the other side of the coin, which has the opposite characteristics to those just mentioned, are seldom shown but exists nonetheless as an integral part of the whole. So, when you see something crude in haiga, you are in fact experiencing its sophistication however contradictory this may seem at first sight. This characteristic is at once the irony and delight of haiga, a unique form of art-literature amalgamation. Faced with this seeming contradiction, the uninitiated therefore are well advised that they are about to see something very different from what they are used to, lest they should miss the whole point, (and consequently the joy,) of haiga . . .
Of course, there are haiga examples which do not quite fit this description which will also be briefly examined. Nothing Japanese is as simple as it may seem.