Right or Wrong

There are 100 ways to see Mount Fuji and,
as Hokusai showed us,
all of them are right.
– Jen Wolling’s reflection; from “Earth,” by David Brin

This sentence caught my attention on my recent rereading of this sci-fi novel. Maybe there are 100 ways to read Earth, as well.

I was vaguely familiar with Hokusai — emphasis on the vague — although I did recognize his most famous print: the variously translated The Great Wave off Kanagawa. But even a quick review taught me things about this iconic Japanese artist, and not just when he lived (1760 – 1849).

The first was the meaning of his work on Mt. Fuji.

Thus from an early time, Mt. Fuji was seen as the source of the secret of immortality, a tradition that was at the heart of Hokusai’s own obsession with the mountain. – Henry Smith

The second was the variety of this work. His prints show Fuji in all weather conditions and at all times of day. They show Fuji from all possible standing places and maybe from some standing places that are possible only in the artist’s imagination. In some prints, Mt. Fuji is almost all you see; in others, it almost disappears in the distance. In one, at least, it doesn’t seem to appear at all: This is the view of the mountain when climbing the mountain.

I don’t think I have an obsession in my life equivalent to Hokusai’s obsession with Mt. Fuji and with immortality. I do know that after reading about his work, I feel better about taking so many pictures of so many bridges, birds, reflections, and yes, sometimes more than one picture of the same mountain, as in these of Uluru, posted earlier.

View of Uluru (Ayer's Rock) in the distance.

View of one end of Uluru (Ayer's Rock) with desert in foreground.

When 100 views of one mountain are all “right,” it’s not about right and wrong any more. Maybe it never was. It is, however, about seeing, and in as many ways as possible.


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11 Responses to Right or Wrong

  1. Judith Umbach says:

    There are never too many pictures. Essentially they are all for the artist (of any caliber). We are privileged to share them sometimes.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Judith – The Big Guy learned to pilot a small plane at least partly on the grounds (ha) that millenia of people had wanted to fly and couldn’t. Now that we could, how could he not? It’s a bit the same for me with blogging, when I think of all those people who had a creative impulse of whatever sort, and not much way to express or indulge it. I am lucky indeed.

  2. Tom Watson says:

    Interesting analogy to “seeing” in other areas of life, Isabel.

  3. Alison says:

    I agree Tom, we need to be more open to the “views” of others being “right” in many areas of our lives.

  4. barbara carlson says:

    But, what particularly appeals to the viewer often becomes “the right one” in his/her eyes.

    Or, the first time I hear a great piece of music (esp. concertos for violin, cello) played wonderfully, THAT “rendition” almost invariably remains the right one, the right tempo, etc. All others are compared to that one, even after 50 years. “Don’t rush,” I will call out to cellists…on CDs of course. After Barbra Streisand sang certain songs, I wondered why anybody else even tried to do them again.

    In the same sense of “right way to see”, TV’s Survivor… I know, I know…but it’s a fascinating study in group behavior — and it never varies that the tribe each contestant is with first (by pure chance) becomes “the right one”, their loyalty remains with them in almost every case for weeks. The winners, however, often are the ones that make decisions beyond those artificial bindings.

    Same with your family — “Don’t YOU criticize my mother!” etc., etc. Accident of birth. Sometimes one is lucky, often one is not. That’s what good friends are for: your chosen family.

    • Isabel Gibson says:

      Barbara – Yes, I’ve had that experience with music even when it’s the same artist doing their own song in a slightly different tempo, or with slightly different phrasing, from the version first released. As you note, our impulse to glom onto some one thing as “right” runs deep and intersects with our impulse to tribalism.

  5. Barry says:

    ” it’s not about right and wrong any more. . . It is . . . about seeing, and in as many ways as possible.”

    For a period of time Petula Clark and Frank Sinatra alternated issuing albums. On each album there would be at least one song that the other artist had also issued. Generally the tempo was the opposite of the first issue. If the first was fast the second rendition was slow.

    It seemed as if the first issue was always perfect – – – until the second rendition was heard and appreciated, and then it was a toss up as to the “correct” version.

    Perhaps I was the one flipping from day-to-day

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