Ikebana is the Japanese art of flower arrangement.

Ikebana is more than simply putting flowers in a container. It is a disciplined art form in which the arrangement is itself a presentation in which nature and humanity are brought together. It is steeped in the philosophy of living and expressing an intimacy with the world.

As is true of all other arts, ikebana is creative expression which uses certain definite principles of construction.

Its materials are living branches, leaves, grasses, and blossoms. Its heart is the beauty resulting from colour combinations, natural shapes, graceful lines, and the vividness conveyed through the total form of the arrangement.

Ikebana is, therefore, much more than mere floral decoration.

Ikebana is an art, in the same sense that painting and sculpture are arts. Except that it is bound within, acknowledges, and celebrates the frailty and impermanence of all things. An ikebana arrangement sometimes has only a life span of moments, at most a few days.

It has a recorded history; it has developed articulate aesthetic theories; and it is concerned with creativity. In Japan, flower arrangements are used as decorations on a level with paintings and other art objects.

Although over recent decades ikebana is often thought of as just a skill women needed to know to be eligible for marriage, ikebana displays are essential to any public space in Japan.

It is a pervasive form that is found everywhere and through which we sometimes can find ourselves, alive, looking with wonder.

Visitors to Japan are often surprised to notice that their taxi driver has hung a little vase with a flower or two at the edge of the windshield. The Japanese house that does not at all times contain some sort of arrangement is rare.

The world is always changing. Plants grow and put forth leaves, flowers bloom, and berries are borne regularly and repeatedly throughout the seasons. The awareness of birth and death and frailty is the first step in involving oneself in ikebana.

In principle, ikebana aims not at bringing a finite piece of nature into the house, but rather at suggesting the whole of nature, by creating a bridge between the indoors and the outdoors. This is why arrangers are likely to use several different types of plants in a single arrangement, and to give prominence to leaves and flowerless branches as well as blossoms. Even when a single type of flower is used, an attempt is made to bring out its full implications of the vastness of the world and our lives.

Whether a work is composed of only one kind of material or of many different kinds of materials, the selection of each element in the arrangement requires a clear eye and an almost ruthless hand. An arranger with considerable technical skill combines materials, prunes away distractions, reveals beauty in the relationship between forms and space.

What distinguishes ikebana from other approaches such as "flower arrangement" is its asymmetrical form and the use of empty space as an essential feature of the composition. A sense of dangling harmony among the materials, the container, and the setting is also crucial.

These are characteristics of aesthetics that ikebana shares with traditional Japanese calligraphy, paintings, gardens, architecture, and design.

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