wouldn’t typically think of fish when you think of a traditional image in art,
would you? Fish are pets you get at fairs and carnivals, not fine art ...right?
Wrong! Guess what? The koi fish is a centuries-old art icon! She’s like the Mona Lisa of finned friends.
And when you stop to think about it, it makes sense. Who’s to say fish aren’t beautiful? They come in a variety of colors, are glittery and sleek, and they move in a graceful underwater dance.
Why Love Koi?
To fall in love with koi fish as an artistic
image, it’s important to know more about them as an animal.
Koi are Chinese in origin, but they were nurtured by the Japanese once they were introduced to Japan. The name koi literally means “brocaded carp.” Basically, they’re fancy versions of the common carp. They were domesticated and then bred to create a variety of different colors and patterns.
There are people who collect koi fish and use them to compete in koi shows! Those prized koi can cost up to hundreds of thousands of dollars!
Koi don’t need a whole lot of care. If you live in a colder climate, you don’t even need to bring them inside in the winter! They’re cold blooded, and they go dormant in winter to survive. So long as you keep the ice on the surface broken up so they can get oxygen, they’ll be fine!
There are over two hundred different kinds of koi!
These aren’t your average goldfish: koi are smart. They can even be taught to eat from your hand! In that respect, they’re a bit like an aquatic dog!
People keep koi as pets everywhere except for Antarctica!
Koi in Japanese Art
If you ever flip through a book of Japanese art,
you’re going to see images of koi. The reason for this is due to more than just
good looks: there’s also good luck and legends surrounding the koi fish.
The stories go that there once was a school of koi trying to swim upstream the Yellow River in China. Things were going well, albeit difficult, but then they came upon a waterfall. How were a bunch of tiny fish supposed to ascend a mighty waterfall? Many of the other koi turned back, too daunted by the task. Their journey was at an end. One koi, however – a lovely golden koi – kept swimming.
She encouraged a few others to join her, to jump up into the spray of the waterfall and swim up its downpour. It was a feat so noteworthy that demons stopped what they were doing to watch this koi try to travel up a waterfall. They even increased its size to challenge her more! She didn’t stop, though. Those who had tried to join her eventually let the current carry them back down steam, but she kept jumping, swimming, and staying determined.
In a miraculous turn of events, she reached the top! Her perseverance paid off, and she found clear waters, lots of food, and a tremendous sense of tranquility. Her power and strength carried her through the impossible. To reward her for her bravery and will, the gods transformed her. She went from being a tiny golden koi to being a magnificent golden dragon!
So, koi fish are regarded as an emblem of potential and hope. The little koi that keeps swimming will someday become a mighty dragon.
That’s why they turn up everywhere in Japanese artwork, usually accompanied by water and lotus blossoms to symbolize the noble journey they’re on. The reach of the koi fish in artwork spans from traditional woodblock prints to modern day tattoos.
Other Artsy Fish
You may have heard: after a ton of anticipation, the sequel to Finding Nemo is finally swimming its way into theaters!
Sometimes people forget that animation is art too. You need a strong background in drawing and painting to move forward with animation. By giving fish personalities, Pixar brought their art into a whole new realm. With Dory, Merlin, and Nemo, fish aren’t just pretty to look at; they have unique stories to tell too!
The “just keep swimming” mantra in Finding Nemo is much like the tale of the golden koi who became a dragon. Perseverance, hard work, and determination are the most rewarding things in life.
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