Artists’ Ideas, Materials, & Process: Under the Great Wave

Writing/Making/Doing: Under the Great Wave, off Kanagawa

Under the Great Wave, off Kanagawa

Activity 1 Writing

Hokusai’s series depicts Mount Fuji from different perspectives and in different weather conditions.

Ask students to compare this print with other prints in the series—either Rainstorm Beneath the Summit (1830–1832) or Kajikazawa in Kai Province (1830–1832). Ask them to write about the composition, color, mood, and view of the mountain in one of these other works. What impression of the mountain is conveyed in the print they chose?

Katsushika Hokusai, Rainstorm Beneath the Summit, 1830-31
Katsushika Hokusai, Kajikazawa in Kai Province, 1830-32

Activity 2 Making

Although this print by Hokusai was conceived as part of a series, it is also a powerful singular work that can be appreciated on its own. To explore working on a project that is a part of a larger whole, have your students create a collaborative portfolio where each student contributes one print on the same theme.

You may choose to assign the theme, but have the students work together to decide how and if the works will be aesthetically related. For example, do they want to standardize the format or size of the individual works or set some color restrictions to create connections between their individual prints? How will they decide on the order in which to present the works?

Activity 3 Listening and Writing

In the late 1800s, European artists collected and studied innovative prints by Hokusai and other Japanese printmakers. Artists in media other than the visual arts were also influenced by Hokusai’s work—the French composer Claude Debussy owned a copy of Under the Great Wave, off Kanagawa; like Hokusai, he was fascinated by the sea. 

Have students listen to Debussy’s musical composition La Mer (The Sea) while looking at Hokusai’s print. What are the similarities between the two pieces? The differences? 

Choose a selection of Debussy's La Mer to listen to from here.

For a musical analysis of Debussy’s La Mer, listen here.