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In Harmony
Scandinavian and Japanese Design Aesthetics

In Harmony
  • Old and new Japan (by )
  • Japonica (by )
  • Scandinavian Art; Illustrated (by )
  • Japanese Colour Prints (by )
  • The Principles of Design (by )
  • Design (by )
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Some cultures and art movements celebrate ornate design (think France and Rococo design), while others embrace a more minimalist aesthetic. The Japanese and Scandinavian cultures are both renowned for their minimalist approaches to design. Both embrace simplicity, clean lines, craftsmanship, and nature.

“The Danish Japonism covers more than 100 years and is still very much continuing,” says Dr. Phil Mirjam Gelfer-Jørgensen, curator of “Learning From Japan,” which is currently on exhibit at Design Museum Danmark. Gelfer-Jørgensen is also author of the book, Influences from Japan in Danish Art and Design 1870-2010.

The exhibit explores how Japan has long been an important source of inspiration for Danish crafts and design. The harmony between Denmark and Japan is based on both countries’ lack of their own minerals, metals, and fuel.

Gelfer-Jørgensen adds, “In the1880s, Denmark was one of the first countries in the West to adopt basic features from Japanese art and transform this inspiration into a new national idiom. The meeting with Japanese art gave Danish arts and crafts incentives that were quickly translated into new artistic effects in several fields of decorative art and design. Japonisme became a catalyst for Danish art that was to exert a long-lasting influence.”                                                                          
In Old & New Japan, Clive Holland writes:

But the Japanese house has several characteristics which greatly distinguish it from similar buildings of other nations. One in particular is the extraordinary economy with which the general and most artistic effect has been accomplished. Evolved during periods when the poverty of the people was great, when sumptuary laws of a severe character were in force, and when seismic disturbances were probably of even more frequent occurrence than at the present day, the economy was trebly enforced, and the observance of it was an aid to social and political success and advancement. The dwelling-house of Japan has thus come to stand out as a shining example of what can be done with limited means and simple materials when taste and ingenuity both play their part.” (p. 62)
In Japonica, Sir Edwin Arnold writes, “Well does Japan deserve these forest riches. She knows how to value the beautiful variety in the grain of her timbers, and to produce with them, in house-building, cabinet work and joinery, all manner of delightful effects” (p. 16).

In Scandinavian Art, Carl Laurin writes, “Denmark, also, has enjoyed a very sound architectural evolution, in which harmony and self-restraint—which spell good taste—have been more evident than in most other places” (p. 237). Furthermore, Laurin writes, “We may hope, too, that while due attention is paid to the practical and economic, the aesthetic viewpoint, which is so essential to our intellectual welfare, be further encouraged and promoted by energetic architects.”   

Scandinavian design embraces functionality, natural materials, and minimalist shapes. Spaces are light and airy to counter the long, dark winters.

“The minimalist style emerged during the 1930s during poor economic conditions. It promoted simplistic ways of living, and emphasized clean lines and simple designs that were inspired by nature and climate,” says Lella Erludóttir, General Manager of tour guide Funky Iceland.

The harmony between the two aesthetics is evident in Japandi, a contemporary design trend that represents a fusion of Japanese simplicity and Scandinavian style. In 2016, Japan’s Muji store launched Found Muji Sweden, a collection of Swedish-inspired goods.

By Regina Molaro

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