THERE, I SAID IT.
Over the years I keep thinking about the designation of individuals as Living National Treasures in Japan. Living National Treasure (人間国宝 Ningen Kokuhō) is a Japanese popular term for those individuals certified as Preservers of Important Intangible Cultural Properties (重要無形文化財保持者 Jūyō Mukei Bunkazai Hojisha), that is people who are masters at their craft that have high historical or artistic value.
“Amid the clamor of technological and economic success, a reverence for age, custom, and tradition endures in Japanese culture. The honorable title, ‘Living National Treasure’, is the highest award that can be achieved in the Japanese arts. Some seventy master craftsmen and performers are bestowed with this title and are charged with passing on the country’s artistic heritage to future generations.
Ostensibly, it refers to the concept of protecting the traditional arts of a country through government support of the people who participate in those arts. But, in my mind, it not only keeps alive those traditions, but sets the foundation for up-and coming artists, designers, and craftsmen who have attained a mastery in their craft and have spent years passing it along to future generations. Those individuals who not only preserve a nation’s cultural legacy, but inspire those around them to become masters of their own craft.
So, in my mind, we have many Living National Treasures among us, here at home, and many who have passed away (just think about Miles Davis, Charles and Ray Eames, Alice Waters, Julia Childs and countless others, in many creative fields—you get the picture).
This is the first in a series of many individuals that I’ll acknowledge for their significant achievements in their chosen field.
Maira Kalman has worked as a designer, author, illustrator and artist for more than thirty-five years. She has produced a vast body of work that is basically a visual record of her life — what she sees, what she experiences, what she finds absurd or interesting. Her use of color, her incorporating hand-drawn words into her illustrations, her use of personal photos in her work, her uncanny eye for finding a quirky, but compelling way into a person’s life and a situation are unparalleled.
Watch the wonderful video above of her giving a talk at Creative Mornings in New York City’s Museum of Modern Art. A true gem of a person, artist and inspiring and humorous talk.
And check out her many books at your local bookstore. They are full of wit, wisdom and humor, not to mention a wonderful painting style that is completely captivating. An American Living National treasure in my book, and hopefully yours. Dive deep and enjoy.
More American Living National Treasures to come in future posts.