Polka Dots, Pumpkins and Passion – How Yayoi Kusama Has Crafted Longevity

Polka Dots, Pumpkins and Passion – How Yayoi Kusama Has Crafted Longevity

With over 78 years of artistic acclaim, this fierce Japanese craftswoman has had infinite impact.

Yellow Pumpkins, courtesy of Miles of String

Artists are often inspired by their surroundings, and 88-year-old Yayoi Kusama was no exception. Kusama’s family worked as wholesalers in the Japanese town of Matsumoto. Avoiding the shortages of many places in WWII, young Kusama’s storehouse was always filled, often with colorful orange-yellow pumpkins that soon became her artistic muse at the tender age of ten. But her life’s work has not just broken, but completely shattered, the typical “still life with fruit” mold. As revealed in Readymade Journal, Kusama has spent years incorporating the themes of repetition and infinity into many of her most-famous pumpkin pieces, by combining unique sculptures with mirrored rooms, and a liberal dose of her beloved polka dots. Why dots? In Kusama’s view, “a polka-dot has the form of the sun, which is a symbol of the energy of the whole world and our living life, and also the form of the moon, which is calm. Round, soft, colorful, senseless and unknowing. Polka-dots become movement … Polka dots are a way to infinity.”

Mirror Room, courtesy of Informastern


Yayoi Kusama’s adventurous, no-holds-barred approach made her one of the most influential of the pre-pop artists, and a key player in the avant-garde. Her works influenced her contemporaries such as Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, and George Segal, and her career took her from Japan to New York, with her works displayed in museums around the world. Now approaching ninety years of age, Kusama continues to work as an artist, and earlier this year, a 50-year retrospective of her work opened at the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington, DC.


Takeaways from Yayoi Kusama’s longevity:

  • Passion Can Surface Early
    Kusama started her artistic career at the age of 10, working with what inspired her. Don’t be quick to dismiss childhood enthusiasm as a youthful whim.
  • Connect the Dots.
    Kusama incorporates her vision of dots as the sun and the moon into her work. You don’t have to take things quite so literally, but look around you for inspiration that ties into your goals.
  • Be True to Yourself.
    It’s important to be flexible, of course – but your passion is your compass. If it’s working, like Kusama’s pumpkins and polka dots, evolve within in your vision.
  • Don’t Be Afraid to Stand Out.
    Kusama’s work is unusual, to say the least, as is her personal style. But that very creativity is what has established her brand as an artist – a brand recognized with a 2006 National Lifetime Achievement Award from the Order of the Rising Sun.

“Me, toos” fade from the spotlight quickly – if they ever capture at all. So when it comes to crafting your own path, be bold, be brave, and don’t be afraid to stand out from the pack – no matter how unusual your vision is.