“The main element of ikebana is not the flower but the spirit of bringing them to life.”
Sofu Teshigahara, Kadensho.
Recently I had a conversation with an Ikenobo Master. We had The Ikebana International exhibition represented by Ikenobo, Ichiyo, Ohara, Sogetsudokoryu, and Sogetsu. She commented on a small installation made by myself and my students. It was Wonga Vine in all its splendour: dynamic, mysterious, asymmetrical movement- dangerous and powerful beast of the forest. We wrapped it partially in bright red and navy blue Japanese fabric and thick rope. We called it Spring, the power of a new beginning.
The Ikenobo teacher commented: “This is not Ikebana. Ikebana is about nature. You have no flowers.” She tried hard to be polite.
“Sure it’s Ikebana,” I replied, “Look at the powerful Shin. It’s a sculpture. In Sogetsu we make Ikebana with any kind of materials. We can create beauty not necessarily from flowers, but stones, metal, paper, even the earth. Sogetsu Ikebana is a contemporary art.”
We smiled, and bowed, and totally disagreed on the matter. But it set me thinking. In the West, Sogetsu Ikebana is misunderstood not only by other practitioners of other schools, but by practising Sogetsu ikebanists as well.
Sogetsu Ikebana has a duality, as enigmatic as the Japanese character has. On one hand it’s Ikebana as any traditional school is: we use flowers and branches; learn through Kakeiho basic forms; arrange the space with Shin, Soe and Hikae; apply line, colour and mass concept. On the other hand, Sogetsu Ikebana is not just about nature, or seasons, or particular forms. It’s about the person who creates it. It’s about the artist and his/her spirit and intention.
One takes a piece of nature and adds something that was not there. This is what creation in ikebana means.
Sofu Teshigahara, Kadensho.
From time to time I run Introduction to Ikebana workshops for the beginners, people who have never done Ikebana before. They come to hear about Ikebana and to try it hands on. I usually offer Moribana Basic Upright style- the first form we learn in Sogetsu. In the workshop everyone uses the same kind of materials: two branches for Shin and Soe, three flowers for Hikae group, and Jushi.
The result always amazes me. From fifteen plus Ikebana arrangements there won’t be two the same. Some resulting Ikebana would be large and flamboyant, some would be timid, some would be very detailed and meticulous, some would be rough as a sketch, some would be nothing like what I had demonstrated, and all of them would be two dimensional. I can guess the character of each participant by looking at their ikebana. What each of them made is who they are.
To become Sogetsu artists you have to walk a long path. You absorb the language of flowers; make endless encounters with nature, master basic shapes, develop your hand, your eye and your heart; take in the art of space; seek for ikebana mysteries and, perhaps, find some. We grow and change on the path: develop our senses, taste, elegance and sensitivity to create a better art.
For artistic Ikebana we have to overplay nature and express what we’ve become on the path, at this moment.