A Moment in Art History Video: The Great Wave off Kanagawa – How Much Influence Can a Simple Woodblock Print have on World Culture?

Today we’ll be looking at The Great Wave off Kanagawa by Japanese woodblock print artist Hokusai. The piece started showing up all over the world in the late 19th century, and it has become a major cultural icon since then.

Artwork in the background on this video:

Ink and watercolors on ricepaper by Karen Jensen: https://pinetop.xanadugallery.com/collections/karen-kurka-jensen

Memory Horse by John Stebila: https://pinetop.xanadugallery.com/collections/john-stebila

Landscape with Canoe by Lucy Dickens: https://pinetop.xanadugallery.com/collections/lucy-dickens

About the Author: Jason Horejs

Jason Horejs is the Owner of Xanadu Gallery, author of best selling books "Starving" to Successful & How to Sell Art , publisher of reddotblog.com, and founder of the Art Business Academy. Jason has helped thousands of artists prepare themselves to more effectively market their work, build relationships with galleries and collectors, and turn their artistic passion into a viable business.


  1. I haven’t seen these pieces, yet, but love his work. I really liked these art history discussions. They are very well done.

  2. Great short exposition regarding Hokusai’s work, Jason! As a coastal painter, I am familiar with his work, and particularly with the power and simple statement of this design. How fortunate we are to have artists who can translate the power and beauty of our natural surroundings in this way. I look forward to your next “moment in art history” video–thank you!

  3. Thank you for enlighten me/us with your art history videos. They are very interesting and I definitely learn a lot from them.

    The Great Wave from artist Hokusai reminds me of a tsunami devouring the boats and its sailors while proud Mount Fuji stands steadfast in the background. To me it is a very dramatic scene, but with a calming effect. This brings out the drama once again!

  4. I love these ‘Moments in History’, Jason. So interesting! I have been so inspired by this image, although I never knew the name of the artist until now. Thanks!

  5. Thank you for this!
    The Great Wave is THE piece of art that spurred me to begin creating art using fractal geometry. Due to many coincidences, in late 2010, I kept seeing images of it everywhere, even in my son’s video game in the background. Then I watched a documentary about fractals, and it showed up at the end. I had heard of fractals almost twenty years previous to this, and had never quite forgotten them. I was intrigued, and was trying to explain them to my daughter, via text messaging online. She told me I should maybe draw one for her. I kind of laughed, thinking how difficult it would be, but then decided to take up the challenge. I created a series of watercolours, photography, and digital prints from images I had created using fractal software. In the meantime, I read Benoit Mandelbrot’s book The Fractal Geometry of Nature. Hokusai’s Great Wave is featured in that book as well. In a few years, in 2014, I presented a solo show of them. If anyone is interested, I wrote a blog about the art and much of it is viewable at my site FractaLiArt.com. I continue to creat the art, but haven’t updated the site in a little while.

  6. I painted a martini glass painting with the influence of the Big Wave. In my martini glass was the ocean including a mermaid and fish. The mermaid is looking at the big wave at the rim of the martini because there was a surfer catching this big wave. It’s a fun painting with a rain falling on the martini as if he was in a storm. There is even a black crow on the rim of the martini. The Big Wave influence lives on. This painting is not for sale as my son grabbed this one.

  7. A friend owned an original print of the wave……assessed to be a better imprint than what the Met has! !!! She and her husband were avid collectors in their youth and had some fabulous and eclectic items in their home.

  8. Hokusai has influenced my work in that I try to simplify my work, he broke things down to the simple forms and worked in that spaces for any detail. Beautiful clean colors. Thanks for sharing this.

  9. I have loved this print from the first time I saw it, and I love it because it is an image of a split second in time. It gives mass and structure to water and it makes no effort to replicates movement, it stands there frozen in time and space. It is an image that should not work, in a media that relies on line to depict an image. It’s magic and wonderful.

  10. I’ve always been intrigued by this piece and drawn in by its rhythmic movement. For all its look of power it, to me, is not menacing but is just the opposite by offering an insight to moving beauty, and an invitation to experience a feeling of excitement yet perhaps one of calm as well.
    I also very much enjoyed your piece on Degas. He is a favorite even tho my own work verges on the non-representational !
    Thanks so much for these very appreciated glimpses into art history, Jason.

  11. Dear Jason,
    I love Hokusai’s work and have seen his work in person at several of the museums plus the Hoksuai Museum in Tokyo. Fascination for Ukiyo-e art and in particular the woodblock prints inspired my husband and I to take a short workshop in the printing aspect of Ukiyo-e prints with David Bull , who now lives in Tokyo and is perpetuating the art of Ukiyo-e woodblock printing.
    I also am so intrigued by both Kabuki and Koh theater and actors. Thank you so much for your moments in art history. They are a delight! Caroline

  12. I became familiar with the Great Wave while attending the Art Institute of Chicago but don’t remember if I viewed it in person……have always been a fan of Japanese woodcuts and own a print by Toshi Yoshida. My printmaking has led me to great respect for their works; am surprised they did not create their own wood blocks for printing

  13. I love these Moments in Art History because I always learn so much. And kudos to you for all the production work that goes into this, from the script, to your researching of the supporting images to all the editing…so smooth and well done. Looking forward to the next one.

  14. The strong sense of design and the stylization of the landscape has influenced many Modern Artists, including Georgia O’Keeffe who have in turn inspired contemporary artists like me. The idea of using nature as a inspiration but then allowing ones imagination the freedom to create something new from it is very apppealing to me.

    I have seen many Japanese woodcut prints, some old and some by contemporary artists. I appreciate their well-thought out designs and the poetic quality they seem to project. I can see why musicians and writers have looked to them for inspiration.

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