japonisme: the ikebana bouquet

06 May 2009

the ikebana bouquet

why do we in the west display flowers so differently from the styles of japan? why do we have nothing resembling bonsai? given that all people are the same, why are we different?

why bonsai and ikebana in one land, and bursting armsfull in another? this is not a rhetorical question.

why ballet, why butoh? or shakespeare or kabuki or no?

what role does the alphabet play? i've suggested before that calligraphy led easily to a simplified, focused art, but what of western capitals? in their straight lines, power? aggression?

is it the tendency of one-goddedness that's developed in the west v. a more diffuse worship? a separation between god and man v. an incorporation of all in all?

could it be the scientific method? the knowledge that the earth orbited the sun? a sense that the earth can be ruled v. the sense that what is, is? the process v. the outcome?

it is suggested that ikebana started with the practice of giving flowers to the buddha. of bonsai, it is said, "With Japan's adoption of many cultural trademarks of China, bonsai was also taken up, introduced to Japan during the Kamakura period (1185 - 1333) by means of Zen Buddhism, which at this time was rapidly spreading around Asia.

The exact time is debatable, although it is possible that it had arrived in AD 1195 as there appears to be a reference to it in a Japanese scroll attributed to that period. Once bonsai was introduced into Japan, the art was refined to an extent not yet approached in China. Over time, the simple trees were not just confined to the Buddhist monks and their monasteries, but also later were introduced to be representative of the aristocracy as a symbol of prestige and honour.

The ideals and philosophy of bonsai were greatly changed over the years. For the Japanese, bonsai represents a fusion of strong ancient beliefs with the Eastern philosophies of the harmony between man, the soul and nature." 1

and though perhaps only charles rennie mackintosh painted flowers in a manner resembling those in the japanese culture (no accident there), certainly no one could suggest that an armful of wild flowers was any less an act of worship too.

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Blogger John hopper said...

I think as far as bonsai is concerned, many in the West don't have the patience for the development of the bonsai. Yes, we can nurture in the West, gardening for example, but many do expect quick responses from nature. If results are not forthcoming, out comes the plant!

As far as the Western alphabet is concerned, cramming everything into 26 letters is not a good sign. We perhaps miss all the delicate subtlety of the many Japanese and Chinese characters.

As to representing nature and flowers in particular, we have a long history of scientific botanical illustrations, so perhaps it is difficult for us to get past that analytical view of nature, and to see a more spiritual aspect.

07 May, 2009 05:57  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

interesting, john. i'm certainly with you on your first point; process v results seems to be seen throughout this comparison.

and your second point adds a new valuable to the question: i had only thought of the physical action involved in representing the alphabets. there again we have process, but you've added many new shades to the answer.

but your third point doesn't ring true for me. first, we've found so many botanical notebooks coming out of japan (i've occasionally reproduced pages here), that it would seem that cancels out your argument.

the practice, the doing, requires being in the moment, something at base of asian religions, and perhaps the opposite of those of the west.

thank you.

07 May, 2009 09:15  
Blogger John hopper said...

Yes, I see your point. Interesting. I wonder whether we will ever change.

08 May, 2009 02:36  
Blogger lotusgreen said...

there was a show on public television last night about the invention(s) of writing, which 'originated' on all the continents individually, all around the same time.

it did not take it to the next level, but it was interesting to see the cuneform versus the brush.

08 May, 2009 06:59  

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