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Conversely, if you are a Japanese, can you tell haiga executed by non-Japanese which have artistic/literary merits from those which have no such merits or relevance whatsoever? In other words, is there not a danger that you would throw the baby (haiga of merit) out with the bathwater (bad haiga)?
As in haiku, and as in any other forms of art for that matter, there are bound to be numerous poor examples. This in itself is not the most serious problem. It is no more than a concern only in the sense that they are not avoidable and are therefore here to stay. This is so because it is inevitable for us to encounter them so long as there are creators of poor haiga, and/or those who cannot tell good haiga from bad. In this paper, we shall deal with only with good haiga. The most important thing is that we should be brutally discerning. If we do not have this awareness,, we simply need first and foremost, to learn a lot more about true haiga. Praising or even tolerating bad haiga, a common practice, is the quickest way to general lowering of the standards and quality of haiga.
Having said that, over-critical attitude on the other hand, might not be beneficial for the healthy development of haiga either. This is because such attitude may dampen the enthusiasm of many, needlessly intimidating people toward the development of negative inhibitions. As in the case of haiku, we should have an open and broad mind in haiga, encouraging innovations and new inspiration, while keeping an eye on the quality and merits, and having our reference point always in traditional haiga. Once this is established, we can enjoy haiga of different varieties accordingly.
We need to make some distinctions under the umbrella of haiga, as otherwise we may be talking cross-purposes. For our purposes we make two types of distinctions. Firstly, we distinguish between Japanese haiga and non-Japanese haiga. Secondly, we distinguish traditional-style haiga and modern-style haiga.
What does haiga mean?
|Let us sort out some semantics. Hai in haiga means comic or humorous as it does in haiku. Originally, hai was first used in haikai no renga (or comic renga), from which haiku emanated. Ga simply means a painting (coloured or black/white, including what in the West is called a drawing). The word haiga acquired common currency when the famous artist Watanabe Kazan (1793-1841) spread it in his Haiga Fu. Whether or not this was the first time the term haiga was used is not yet established. There were different ways for calling it, including haikai-ga, or Bhaikai-soga. Yosa Buson (1716-1783), 'father of haiga', called it Bhaikai-butsu no soga. Compared with all these names which are a mouthful, the term haiga is simple, memorable and to the point. Whatever it is called, the most important factor is the sense of humour or comic nature, which was derived from haikai in general, a point which must always be borne in mind whenever one is creating or appreciating a haiga.