Hello, everyone. Thank you for coming today, and thank you, Shoan Lo for making a beautiful Ikebana display for this special event. Also I would like to say thank you to Dr Jeremy Breaden from Japanese Studies Centre Monash University for his help in organising this event.
My name is Shoso Shimbo, and I am happy to introduce today’s guest speaker, Dr Osamu Inoue.
Dr Inoue is an associate professor at Kyoto University of Art and Design, and the vice president of the International Society of Ikebana Studies. He completed his PhD on the Christian Socialism Movement in England from Kyoto university in 2007. In the same year he obtained the status of professor in the Saga Goryu School of Ikebana. Since 2009 he has published a number of papers on Ikebana and this year he published a very important book, The Thoughts of Ikebana (「花道の思想」 ) from Shibunkaku Shuppan. The book is the most comprehensive introduction to Ikebana, its aesthetics and philosophy and is based on a deep understanding of Japanese culture and history. This is a remarkable book that anyone interested in Ikebana cannot miss.
It was about 5 years ago that I read one of his papers for the first time. I was so excited to find someone who is studying Ikebana in a properly academic way. Also his research interest was so close to my own. I immediately wrote an email to him to tell how pleased I was. Since then we exchanged numerous emails and we decided to found the International Society of Ikebana Studies (ISIS) with other prominent Ikebana researchers around the world. This is the first international academic society in the history of Ikebana, and we have published three volumes of our annual journal, the International Journal of Ikebana Studies.
Dr Inoue has been also helping our project, Ikebana Gallery Award. This is the first online Ikebana competition that is open to any Ikebana student. Our blog and Facebook post now reach over 5000 viewers. Dr Inoue has been one of our volunteer judges since 2012.
We are very pleased to have Dr Inoue here today to share his insights in Ikebana and research findings from his new book, The Thoughts of Ikebana. Please join me in welcoming our guest, Dr Osamu Inoue.
Recognising the differences between Ikebana and contemporary art would help us to understand both of them better. For instance, compare my ikebana which I made for Hanabishi Japanese restaurant with Flower by a contemporary artist, Takashi Murakami (Google Flower, Murakami).
Although I don’t know much about Murakami, I can assure you that you can never make any sense of the work no matter how much you look into the image. I have said before that the the most crucial element in contemporary art is meaning. Then, what is the meaning of this work? Perhaps it is in the contexts of history of Japanese painting including ukiyoe and anime, and that of Pop arts in America. Without the knowledge of the art historical contexts, you cannot really appreciate the work.
On the other hand, what you see is everything in Ikebana. Of course, sometimes the knowledge of historical or social contexts is required to interpret an Ikebana work. But Ikebana is not very good at utilising its external contacts. It is sensibility rather than intellect that matters in appreciating Ikebana. In that sense, I think Ikebana is a bit similar to Haiku.
For example, what is the essence of the famous Haiku by Basho, “An old pond — a splashing sound of a frog jumping in”? It must be silence or solitude in nature. The crucial thing is whether you can sympathise with this verse or not. Some may interpret this Haiku philosophically. If you think about unimportant details too much, however, you would miss the essence of the art.
Notably, in both Ikebana and Haiku, the creators have to develop refined skills to produce works that resonate in the heart of the viewers/readers. Artistic skill or craftsmanship is valued. Acquiring such skills involves training. The process is traditionally referred to the way of art and is synonymous with personal development in Japan.
However, as I mentioned, in western art, particularly before Impressionism, skills were not so valued. Flower paintings can be made by anyone if he/she has skill, therefore it is not so valuable. On the other hand, historical paintings require imagination, narratives and inspiration, therefore are more valuable. Such an attitude may still prevail in contemporary art.
In sum, sensibility is important to appreciate Ikebana, while intellect is necessary to appreciate contemporary art.