Art Philosophy - Hokusai's Great Wave

Hokusai’s great wave is not just a depiction of the raging sea with Mount Fuji in the background.



In fact, one of the main reasons why a picture like this becomes so iconic, is because it allows for a multitude of interpretations, if we know how to see.


For example, we could read this painting symbolically — with the towering great wave representing the awe inspiring force of Nature / Fate / God . . . and Mt. Fuji in the background being a symbol for how small and insignificant one individual life is by comparison.


Or, alternatively, we could read the painting psychologically — with the stormy sea representing the turbulence of the conscious mind . . . and the peaceful mountain representing the stillness of the unconscious.


Or . . . we could rethink our entire view of this narrative. And see these waves are not raging at all . . . but, actually, we are witnessing a kind of “calming of the storm”. In that case, the underlying message of the picture becomes a lesson in how life will always have it’s tempests . . . but, eventually, even the stormiest seas will return to a peaceful state again.

In short, the longer we look at this painting, the more layers of meaning we find.


But, the real beauty here, lies in the fact that these deeper layers are almost entirely our own creation. And, in essence, the painting itself is just the spark to ignite our inner flame.


It is perfectly possible that the artist Hokusai had none of these symbolic or psychological thoughts while painting the original picture. He may simply have been trying to portray a seascape — with no hidden meanings — in the style that was so unique to him.


And yet, when we as viewers go on to discover all manner of different meanings in a picture like this . . . it is not just about us getting too carried away in our own thoughts.

Rather, it is proof that a picture can tell us just as much about our self, as it can about a particular sight or scene.


In other words, everything we see in a work of art is a reflection of what is contained in our own psyche too.


We are looking at art — and discovering our soul.

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