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The Humanities Conference 2003

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Ikebana: Saying It with Flowers

Bruce Wilson.

As both a modern sculptor and a master of the Sogetsu School, Sofu Teshigahara described Ikebana as the use of fresh flowers to create sculptures that breathe and express life.

Representing the Kiku School of Ikebana -- founded in Dusseldorf, Germany, by Georgie Davidson in 1972 -- I will conduct a demonstration using the containers and plant materials of Rhodes to demonstrate some of the basic principles of composition that inform such living sculpture. These include the use of the positive and negative sides of plants; the values of empty space and asymmetry; and the interrelationship and meaning of the three lines that represent heaven, humankind, and earth in classical ikebana arrangements.

In the course of this hands-on demonstration, I will also be addressing some of the cultural premises that gave rise to this art in ancient Japan in the first place -- the belief in the inseparability of the material and spiritual planes, the practice and enjoyment of art as an approach to the divine order and beauty of the natural world, and the role in everyday life of this practice. I’ll also discuss the reception of this form in the West. How is it that an art formed by Buddhist monks and protected by samurai in the East, a required subject in the national curriculum of a major country, has slipped into western consciousness as a kind of interior decoration?

And then…some questions about the present and future. What does the appeal of Ikebana in the West today owe to the resemblance of its ancient principles to the tenets of what we have come to call postmodernism? In an age of mechanical reproduction and environmental degradation, what possibilities for the humanities in the renewal of the does it present?

Because of the unique setting of this conference, it would be appropriate also to compare the Asian principles of proportionality inherent in Ikebana to the West’s Golden Mean, and to reflect upon the view of nature portrayed in Asian works to the early Greek concept of nature as life-giving source.

This workshop might involve extensive audience interaction.


Bruce Wilson  (United States)
Prof. of English and Comparative Literature, Director of Asian Studies
Division of Arts and Letters
St. Mary's College of Maryland

Bruce Wilson is Professor of English and Comparative Literature, and Director of the Asian Studies Program, at St. Mary’s College of Maryland. The translator of 100 Tang Poems for the Commercial Press, Ltd., he travels frequently to China, where he has lived and taught for many years.

  • Ikebana
  • postmodernism
  • flower arrangement
  • sculpture
Person as Subject
  • Davidson, Georgie Teshigahara, Sofu Kukai

(60 min Workshop, English)