Naoya Inose: Tradition and Definition


One of philosophy’s biggest challenges is answering one question; what is ‘art’? Throughout history, many have attempted to respond to this question. Philosophers have looked mainly to Institutional and Historical explanations in defining art and marking clear delineations between what constitutes art and what does not constitute art.

This issue has been increasingly difficult post-Dada. Works that engage pop culture push the boundaries of what can be considered ‘art’, making the task of definition even more complex. Whilst contemporary theories attempting to define ‘art’ have either included these works within the realm of ‘art’, other have dismissed such works as not constituting ‘art’ altogether.

I chatted with Naoya Inose, a painter based in London and Tokyo about his own engagement with pop culture, fashion, tradition, and the boundaries of ‘art’.


I: The background of what I wanted to talk to you about is – actually there’s two things I wanted to talk to you about – but I’ll start with the first. So that is; I looked at your website and I think one of your works in particular is interesting for the issue of defining art. For background, an example of work that engages this question would be a ready-made like Duchamp’s ‘Prelude to a Broken Arm’ or Warhol’s Brillo Boxes. I’m sure you’re familiar with this theoretical dilemma.

N: Yes.

I: In this vein, what interests me is one of your paintings; the landscape is in a classical style, but there are Disney characters superimposed onto the landscape.

Naoya Inose

I guess the starting point of my question is; did you paint the Disney character on there?

N: Yes.

 I: I ask because some people would say that the Disney images themselves would not be art. Especially if you had just presented the images solitarily as a work. But if you’ve painted it, it’s similar to the Brillo Boxes, it’s then a replica of the original. Still, I think you’d be met with some contention in labeling the Disney image alone ‘art’.  On the flipside almost anyone would accept that the more classical element as ‘art’. What do you think makes one of those things art and the other not? And by putting them together do you think this demonstrates a further division between art and pop culture or do you think it conflates them?

N: So, I actually never thought about it like that. This is a really tough question. I’m working as an artist. My manager gives me suggestions and I think “Yeah, I can do that”. Basically, I want to make something that’s easy to understand for people, because sometimes people can’t really understand the art; why does it need to be mysterious landscape? Or an abstract painting? I want people to understand. That’s why I’m making something that engages pop art. It’s because Art is a business.

Naoya Inose

I: So do you think there’s a strong business element involved in engaging pop culture in ‘art’?

N: Yes.  Art shouldn’t be super selfish; you should at least put something key in the work so that people can understand it instantly. That’s why I put the Disney characters in my paintings.

I: What do you think the difference between a traditional image like a classically painted landscape and just a painting of a Disney character is? Why do you think these two works would cause a lot of people do distinguish them as art and not art?

N: Because of history. Because animation is animation, and this is not really ‘art’.  But classical landscapes/oil on canvas, you can see and understand easily “this is art” according to history.

Naoya Inose

I: So do you think that people are just stuck in tradition?

N: Yes.

I: On that note, you recently did a collaboration with Yohji Yamamoto. Whether fashion is art is controversial. There’s a lack of tradition in formally recognising fashion as art, particularly in philosophy. It’s almost never mentioned. In saying this, I think if you asked the majority of artists, they would concede that fashion is an art form, particular couturiers like Mugler in the 90’s or YSL in the 70’s. Why do you think this is? The most obvious element to look to is the fact that it’s functional; but architecture shares this and it is cited as art often.

N: Basically, I think this is a similar problem as before. It’s just that because of tradition. For me fashion is art. There is no difference between design and art. If you’re a designer, you’re an artist.

I: I agree with you. That’s it! Thank you so much for your time, I really appreciate it.

N: Always, always. You’re welcome.

Isabella Pocock

Isabella is studying for an MA in Philosophy and is a classically trained pianist, which she still practices on the side. She currently lives in London but is from Sydney, Australia.