Art: OUT OF THE FLOATING WORLD

TO most Westerners, Japanese art spells woodcuts. This pains the Japanese, who are justly proud of their brush drawings, Buddhist sculptures and painted screens. But like American jazz, Japanese woodcuts succeed in expressing a popular culture precisely. The unique charm of that culture was amply displayed this week when some 350 top-rank Japanese prints went on view at Chicago's Art Institute.

The Japanese call their prints Ukiyo-e, meaning literally "pictures of the floating world." For the great period of Japanese printmaking (1650-1850), the "floating world" meant mainly the silk-swathed, sake-steeped joys of Edo's...

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