Exercise 1, Black Ships

The Black Ships: Multiple Perspectives

The second section of the BSS Core Exhibit, Black Ships, opens with side-by-side depictions of a warship in Commodore Matthew Perry's fleet. The image on the left is an American oil painting, the image on the right, a Japanese wood block print impression.

Each piece of art tells a multi-layered "story" of the American mission to Japan. Presentation of multiple images in a particular way—"placement"—can tell yet another story.

Analyze the story in these two visual texts by answering the questions below.

  1. An introductory look at the artwork
    1. describe the "tone" or "feeling" of each artistic depiction of Perry's ship that open the Black Ships section of the Core Exhibit. Use at least 5 adjectives to describe each image and give evidence from the image to support the use of each adjective.
    2. Would you describe either image—the American painting on the left or the Japanese woodblock on the right as "friendly" or "positive"? Give evidence to support your answer.
  2. Perry's ships from an American artist's perception. Go to the enlargement of the American painting, "Perry Carrying the 'Gospel of God' to the Heathen." at: Visualizing Cultures
  3. evans_perry_carrying_the_gospel.jpg

    James G. Evans. U.S. Japan Fleet, Com. Perry Carrying the "Gospel of God" to the Heathen. Oil on canvas. 1853. (This image is public domain).

    1. What does this painting portray—that is, describe what is happening in the scene?
    2. Examine the objects and the composition (placement of objects) in this painting. From the image, what would you say is the visual subject of this painting?

      What is the connection between the visual subject and the title of the painting?

    3. List 5 adjectives you would use to describe the ships in this painting.
    4. List 5 adjectives you would use to describe the environmental setting of this painting—the ocean, sky, etc.

      Describe the relationship between the ship and its environment in this painting.

    5. Identify three ways that the artist uses lines and angles to convey movement or action in the painting
    6. Identify three ways that the artist conveys adversity and challenge in the painting.
    7. How does the artist convey power within this painting?
    8. This piece of artwork presents a picture of a challenge. Who or what is being challenged? Who or what is the challenge?
    9. The ship and the water are both sources of power or energy within this picture.
    10. How do you know that water has power? What techniques does the artist use to convey this?

      How do you know the ship has power? What techniques does the artist use to convey this?

      Do you see any other sources of power? If so, what are they?

    11. The title for this painting is "Perry Carrying the Gospel of God to the Heathen." Who is the heathen that the title refers to?
    12. In your own words, what is the mission of the Perry expedition according to the painter of this picture?
    13. Based on your reading of the title, what are the implied benefits of the Americans going to Japan? What is America going to offer the Japanese?
    14. From the image, what does the artist think is awaiting the United States in Japan?
    15. Refer back to your notes about the tone of the picture and the challenges conveyed in the painting. Does this painting give the viewer the impression that the Perry mission is an easy one? Provide evidence from the painting to support your answer.

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