By Aïda Rogers
Ten days was all it took for Honors senior Kelly Taylor to fall in love. Not with a person. A country. Surprising to her, it wasn’t one in Europe. It’s Japan.
“The architecture is amazing. The culture is fascinating. Everyone is so polite and everywhere we visited was very clean and orderly,” she says. “I really enjoyed how their history is so integrated in modern Japan as well.”
An international studies major who is minoring in art history and criminal justice, Taylor became captivated with the Land of the Rising Sun during a Global Classroom Program in May 2016. The results of her time and study there can be seen in an exhibit at the Honors Residence Hall through November. Impressions: Art and Culture of Japan shows off Taylor’s work and seven other students who participated in the program. Visitors can see their photographs of Japanese landmarks and landscapes, as well as their washi paper and woodblock prints, an art form they learned at a printmaking studio in Osaka.
The exhibit is Taylor’s senior thesis. As curator, she collected the art, framed and hung it (with some help), wrote the text for the exhibit, created labels for each piece of art, designed postcards and catalogs and staged the opening reception. There are 23 pieces of art and 20 photos in the collection, including woodblock prints students created of Todai-ji Temple, a mountain with a rising sun, and Taylor’s of a cat—inspired by the many cats found along the Philosopher’s Path in Kyoto.
Led by USC School of Visual Art and Design professors Amanda Wangwright (art history) and Mary Robinson (studio art), the students visited modern Osaka and historic Kyoto, Japan’s earlier capital city. The latter drew Taylor with its abundance of thousand-year-old Buddhist temples and Shinto shrines. She’d been expecting something more futuristic, like the Tokyo shown in movies and on TV. Studying how the Japanese built their houses of worship helped her understand their culture and beliefs, and admire them.
“The architecture of Shinto shrines is earthy and integrated into nature,” she says. “Shinto is one of the oldest religions in the world and teaches that everything and everyone has a spirit, so respecting the earth and each other is the foundation of their culture.”
A Columbia native, Taylor’s plans after graduation include earning a law degree concurrently with an International Masters of Business Administration. She envisions a career as an international lawyer. A background in art history is invaluable to her future profession, she believes.
“You can learn so much about different cultures and time periods from art, maybe more than reading a history textbook,” she says. “If you see what was popular with different motifs, you can learn about the culture at the time. The way certain painters portrayed Napoleon – as a huge hero or evil dictator – shows you two sides of a political conflict.”
But that’s France, and for another day. For now, Taylor is glad her thesis exhibit is up and drawing viewers. And she can’t wait for another trip to Kyoto. “I loved it,” she says. “It’s a gorgeous city.”