Visualizing Cultures

Black Ships & Samurai, Lesson 02

The American-Japanese Encounter:
Multiple Perspectives in Art

Black Ships & Samurai Handout 02-B | Printer-friendly PDF file

Student directions:
Black Ships & Samurai documents U.S. commodore Matthew Perry's encounters in Japan in 1853 and 1854, largely through images produced by Japanese and American artists. In this activity, you will analyze the art produced by artists during this historic encounter to see how different artists captured the same or parallel events.

The Black Ships & Samurai Essay is divided into short illustrated sections titled “Introduction,” “Perry,” “Black Ships,” “Encounters: Facing East,” “Encounters: Facing West,” “Portraits,” “Gifts,” and “Nature.” For this activity, you will be focusing on particular sections of the Essay—“Encounters: Facing East” and “Encounters: Facing West;” “Portraits;” or “Gifts” as your teacher assigns.

Read your section of the Essay. For your section, select one piece of artwork by an American and one by a Japanese artist that, when taken together, provide contrasting views of a similar scene, event, or person. Record your impressions of the art in the spaces below.

Encounters | Portraits | Nature  (circle the section your group is working on)

Title of American image:_____________________________________

Title of Japanese image:_____________________________________

Visualizing CulturesAmerican imageVisualizing CulturesJapanese image
What is the artistic medium (drawing, print, painting, photograph)?
Who created the image? (Hint: look for an artist's signature. If one is missing, what clues are in the image to help you identify a person or type of person — professional artist, amateur artist, newspaper artist, etc. — who produced the image?)    
Describe color in the image. For example, is the image multicolored, brightly colored, monotone? What does the use of color contribute to the impression made by the image?    
Who is the intended audience of the image (if known)?    
What aspects of the encounter seem to have been given most importance by each artist? List three specific examples from each image.    
List three specific ways that the two images present contrasting information about the same or a similar event.    
What do the two images portray similarly about the event? That is, what details or data show up in both depictions?    
Provide a reason why you think this may be so.    
What do your two images reveal about the historic encounter between Japan and the U.S. in 1853?    
What title would you give to these paired images that would capture the cross-cultural encounter taking place?    

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