If you handed me a printed map from a rest stop, I’m not sure I would be confident in telling you which direction to go. To me, physical maps are geographical puzzles you shove into the back of your car’s glove compartment. In the past, I never thought of a map as beautiful, let alone as an example of art; however, this perspective was challenged after a field trip to the Hatcher Graduate Library.
Instead of the normal lecture, my digital research class was treated to a brief tour of the Shapiro Undergraduate Library and Hatcher Graduate Library. Out of the numerous books, resources, and study spots, what caught my attention the most was something I would have never expected: maps. I was mesmerized by the Unique Perspectives: Maps from Tokugawa & Meiji Japan exhibit, which was on display until October 30th. While slightly faded, an array of swirling colors and intricate details captured my attention, and I found myself wandering back to the exhibit after class.
For a moment, I forgot about the stresses of essays or homework and was whisked away to another time and another place. Triangular mountains and waving rivers somehow made me feel at peace. While granting me historical facts, these displays stretched my imagination. All the lines and jagged squiggles weren’t meaningless marks on paper, but places, history, and art. I daresay the mere size and grandeur of some of the maps resembled priceless paintings. As someone studying Japanese through LSA’s Residential College program, I was also drawn to the uniqueness and artistry of the symbols. I imagined shiny black ink caressing the paper in gentle strokes, forming different characters with something important to say.
In moments I saw maps – and art – in a new light. I found myself no longer cringing at the series of puzzling lines, but captivated by the complexity and splendor the maps held. Now, I’m not educated on traditional map making rules, nor am I an analytic art critic; it’s possible my perspective of the display simply reveals my ignorance about maps. However, I viewed even the most simple of maps as anything but stereotypical or boring. This is my first blog post, and if a small trip to the library prompted me to see maps in a new light, I can’t wait to explore what other artistic treasures are in store during my journey here at the University of Michigan.