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Ikebana and the art of contemporary floral design

If you have ever read anything about Japanese culture, it becomes clear how this Asian country strives to develop connections with nature in as many ways as possible. This is even true when it comes to arranging blossoms.

Ikebana, the Japanese art of flower arranging is not anything like classic flower arranging. Rather, the goal in creating an Ikebana arrangement is to establish rapport with nature. The design becomes a living thing that creates harmony between a bit of nature and a bit of humanity.

What is Ikebana?

Ikebana 2Ikebana has a recorded history in Japan, with the floral arrangements displayed in important places just like fine paintings and other artistic pieces. Ikebana is a creative expression, and like other art forms, is a process in which the artist follows certain construction rules.

The main support structure of an Ikebana arrangement is a triangle with three unequal sides, typically made from twigs. The three points of the triangle can symbolize heaven, earth and man, or sun, moon and earth, depending on the intent of the artist. Since the structure of the arrangement is a scalene triangle, the number of basic shapes that can be built is numerous, which means the artist can achieve completely original looks in the finished arrangement.

In developing Ikebana arrangements, the focus is often on something other than blossoms. Ikebana is about clean lines and minimalism and it may be that only a small number of blooms are used among twigs, stalks and other bits of nature. When looking at an Ikebana collection, the eye is drawn to what the artist wants to emphasize. It may be a twig in an unusual shape, a collection of blossom colours or textures, or maybe a particular shape created from the composite pieces of the arrangement. The container holding an Ikebana arrangement is central to the composition, and numerous styles of pottery, stone, glass or natural fiber can be used depending on the visual impression the artist is striving to achieve.

Living Materials

IkebanaIn Ikebana, materials in the arrangement must be living. Items include leaves, twigs, grasses and flowers, all of which tend to have special meaning in Japanese culture. Mosses, seeds and pods are highly prized Ikebana materials as well as withered leaves, plant buds and fruit. The end product should give life to the materials as well as the intent of the artist. The arrangement should tell a story.

For anyone interested in pursuing the art of Ikebana at home, supplies are readily available online by doing a Google search.

The Spiritual Aspects of Practicing Ikebana

Ikebana 4It is not known how Ikebana came to Japan, but the general consensus is it came when the Buddhist monks arrived sometime in the sixth century, and began evolving into the classical style of Ikebana about nine centuries later. Because this is a practice brought to the rest of the world by monks, there is a spiritual component to practicing Ikebana.

The artist must maintain silence while working on his creation in order to experience the subtle intricacies in nature one does not usually observe in the course of a busy life. Over time, the practitioner of Ikebana begins to be more tolerant of differences in form and function, not only in his living material, but within people, as well. In due time artists who practice Ikebana in its truest form, become more spiritual in nature.

Ikebana and contemporary arrangements

Ikebana 3Ikebana typically distinguished itself from traditional flower arranging by its use of asymmetrical form and the attention the artist placed on creating empty space between materials. The goal with this type of arrangement has always been to produce a sense of harmony among materials and between the artist and the arrangement.

However, the influence of Japanese art and architecture has been affecting the way contemporary floral arrangements in the West are being created today. Modern contemporary arrangements tend to be a mixture of European and Asian influence without the deliberate Japanese attempt to use only living materials and develop a deeper understanding of nature and harmony between creator and created.

Where to buy contemporary arrangements

A quick online search will show you what type of contemporary arrangements are being offered in various floral shops in your area. You will most likely find a wide variety ranging from ordinary to extraordinary depending on the training and artistic flair of the florist. It seems likely that contemporary arrangements will become more and more popular because they speak to the individuality of the both the designer and the person who chooses a particular arrangement.

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