Hey all! This time of the year has me thinking about how much pressure our society puts on us to be 'good consumers' and how I feel about this as a maker/artist. A recent New York Times article on "The Rise of Modern Ikebana" also sparked an interesting on-line debate with fellow ikebanists about pure art vs. applied art. Wikipedia offers the following definition of pure or fine art: "a visual art considered to have been created primarily for aesthetic and intellectual purposes and judged for its beauty and meaningfulness", and in contrast, an applied or decorative art traditionally encompasses the crafts and items that are functional. But neither of these approaches really apply to the Japanese concept of the traditional arts.
Ultimately the traditional arts in Japan have been seen as a path (literally speaking, ikebana is termed 'the way of flowers', and there is 'the way of tea', etc), an often life-long journey upon which the practitioner embarks. Along the way one will encounter many opportunities for growth of a mostly spiritual nature: humility, persistence, dedication, discipline and the like. Yes, the practitioner will be making things along this path, but the focus is taken away from this act of producing (and selling) and shifted inward instead.
For a deeper look into the Japanese perspective on the arts, I'd like to share this short video about my lovely teacher, Nagai Yuuyou, with whom I studied in Tokyo for 8 years. I also wrote many essays on this topic during the years I was blogging in Japan.
2010- one of many certifications on the path towards being a 'master ikebanist'
In conclusion, Ikebana has been practiced in Japan over the past 500 years mainly as a means of self-betterment, quite separate from the realm of commercial applications. This has allowed it to remain pure and true to it's traditional roots, but also poses challenges for those ikebana artists who wish to find more ways of applying their skills in a modern society which tends to value things to which one can assign monetary value.
On a personal note, when I started Petal & Clay a year ago, I quickly had to identify that my motivation was essentially to create a vehicle through which I could share my passion for ikebana and Japanese arts with the local community. Money has not been a big factor. I am aware that I am in a privileged situation to be able to have such a perspective, but I also think it is a double-edged sword: we need art for art's sake, and yet our society also needs to value the work and role artists play in creating a space where such 'inner work' is cultivated, and in which those benefits are also shared with the community at large.
Those of you who know me also know that I have issues self-identifying as an artist, which is compounded by the fact that ikebana is pretty much an unknown art in these parts of the world, and also an art that is completely impermanent. Ikebana cannot really be sold, and it is here today and gone tomorrow...
But that's a topic for another time I think!
Less is more: ikebana using dried hydrangea in vintage Japanese vase
Lara Chho was raised as a global citizen, living all over the US and Africa as a child and youth, and living in Japan from 1998 and 2013 where she met her husband and raised her 3 children. She has been exploring clay since 1992 and flowers since 2006. She is passionate about using the arts as a means for self-discovery and for building community.