Several years ago I experienced the pleasure of participating in a 3 week workshop. The program featured Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arrangement. This art form involves so much more than simply putting flowers in a vase as it is steeped in the philosophy of developing a love of nature while working in a meditative way.
Ikebana is finally being acknowledged as a form of fine art as it qualifies in the same sense that painting and sculpture do. This practice has a long recorded history; it is supported by articulate theories and is concerned with aesthetics and creativity. In my search for the workshop, the only place it was offered was at the Brisbane Institute of Art.
Ikebana unfolds in its creative process within certain rules of construction. Its materials are living branches, leaves, grasses and blossoms. At its heart lies the beauty resulting from colour combinations, natural shapes, graceful lines, and the meaning within the total form of the arrangement. It is disciplined, refined, uncluttered and fulfills the dictum that ‘less is more.’ And what a joy it is to work creatively with living forms of nature.
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Ikebana (living flowers) is the Japanese fine art of floral arranging. This includes far more than placing flowers and foliage in a container. Ikebana is also a disciplined art form with a spiritual philosophy – one of living with simplicity in the present moment. It is believed that when a person works with flowers and plants, this action will cultivate a deep appreciation of the natural world.
The practice of Ikebana flower arranging began in China during the 6th century. Initially it was practiced by Buddhist monks as a means of creating offerings for temple ceremonies. When the Japanese monk, Ikenobo, became highly skilled in this discipline, he carried it on to Japan where Ikebana flourished as a cultivated art form.
By the 14th century only men had been allowed to practice Ikebana. The Samurai class of warriors arranged flowers to calm and focus themselves before a battle. By the 19th century both men and women were openly practicing this art form as part of the tea ceremony. Beautiful floral pieces were regularly created for display in the tokonoma, the alcove near the front door of a home, as a way of formally greeting and welcoming visitors.
Most Ikebana arrangements favour one of two traditional styles. The first is Moribana, in which floral materials are arranged together in a shallow container, within a needle point or pin frog holder. The second style, Nageire, composes flowers and foliage in a tall vase.
Ikebana requires the following items: a container, a kenzan (pin frog) and a hasami (small sharp scissors). Three stems or plant pieces of varying lengths make up the triangle that defines the boundaries of the design. The tallest stem representing heaven is called the shin. A medium-length stem characterizing humanity is the soe, and the hikae, the shortest line of the triangle, relates to earth. The display can also be set off with some filler floral material and a single focus flower. While plants are lovely just as they are, with human help they can be effectively arranged to become even more beautiful.
Because Ikebana is created for a particular time and place, it must be appropriate to that setting. If used where people meet or gather it becomes hospitality. When placed in a sacred environment, Ikebana becomes a gift of the faithful that expresses their devotion. And as flowers soon die – the impermanence of nature and all life is represented.
Creating Ikebana will allow the practitioner to become calm, by living in the moment. It will also assist one to identify with the beauty found in the natural world and within all art.
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