Dialogue between Toko Shinoda and Taichi Okamoto

(Taichi Okamoto is former director of the Gifu Collection of Modern Arts Foundation and chairman of Nabeya Bi-Tech Kaisha.)

Held on December 16, 2007 (Sun.) in Tokyo
Moderator and recorder: Kaori Miyazaki (curator, Gifu Collection of Modern Arts)
Photographer: Shigemi Kondo

Abstract art makes your imagination run free

Kaori Miyazaki: Chairman Okamoto says he has been attracted not so much by calligraphy itself as by the works of calligraphy that were in the process of the transition to abstract painting. Could you tell us about your abstract painting?

Toko Shinoda: This is basic, but abstract painting is such that you mustn’t explain your work. You just show your works, pretending you know nothing about them. That’s what painting should be about, I think. You shouldn’t add anything in words. A painting is complete by itself. An abstract painting will be understood in various ways. If it is viewed by a thousand people it will be understood in a thousand different ways. Abstract painting has the broadest range of understanding. Anybody will perceive something—feel something upon seeing it. How a viewer sees an abstract painting depends on how much free rein the person gives his or her imagination.

Kaori Miyazaki: Abstract painting is about the possibilities of the imagination, right?

Toko Shinoda: Yes. Abstract art doesn’t force anything, any word, on the viewer.

Kaori Miyazaki: Abstract art doesn’t force anything; it harbors possibilities for imagination. Is that what lies behind your unwillingness to give a title to your work?

Toko Shinoda: That’s right, really. Giving a title to a work will limit the understanding of that work. Even those who say they view a work as freely as they like will be hindered by the title attached to it. That will limit the viewer’s scope of imagination by that much. Abstract painting should really be left up to the viewer’s imagination. I for one don’t like to explain my own works. It is okay to leave the viewer wondering: “What is that?” You may see a given work of art in any way you like. After all, each person’s imagination is defined by his or her own experience, and a work of at stimulates that imagination. You won’t be able to go beyond the scope of your experience and imagination, but that work plays a part in drawing out what is within the scope of imagination into a new dimension. No matter how good or bad a painting is, it is up to whoever views it. Giving a title would be tantamount to insulting the viewer.

Taichi Okamoto: I’ve heard artist Lee Ufan saying relatively the same thing. “This is what I’ve been thinking, but if a work has a title, you’ll be influenced by that title. If so, giving no title would be better, allowing you to see the work in a broader, more meaningful way,” he says.

Toko Shinoda: [In the United States,] when I published a work with a title, John Canaday, a leading art critic for the New York Times, wrote that the title was not necessary, that he wished to have viewed that work with his imagination. I still have that article. John Canaday is indeed great, I thought at that time. After that, I thought it better not to give titles. Betty Parsons, owner of the Betty Parsons Gallery in New York, also was also saying we’d better not use titles. And yet some have complained that they came to see my works but could not understand them at all without titles. So we ended up giving titles. I give titles in a totally practical sense, however, like giving numbers. Instead of placing a title showily under the work, I put a title on the back of the work or on the side of the picture frame.

Taichi Okamoto: I see.

(Excerpt from the Shunsho no iro, Momo no fu [The Color of Spring Evening: An Album of Peach], Gifu Collection of Modern Arts, 2008. Available at the museum store)