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  • Writer's pictureCatherineK

Ikebana is an Art of Space

I had a teacher tell me, ”Always remember that Ikebana is an Art of space, visual space and invisible space.” Which has got me scratching around for my notes as to what this ‘Space' really means in Japanese aesthetics.

A form of space seen in Japanese art forms, such as traditional Japanese gardens and Ikebana, is Ma (), which means an interval of space or time, or is perhaps better translated as emptiness or void, negative space.

The Japanese perception of beauty is largely based on space, especially space as it is found in nature. In the art of Ikebana space is an essential component and often the focal point of an arrangement. Once you begin your path practicing Ikebana you learn to see space not as something to fill in or to use up, rather as an element to be created and preserved.

Proper use of space allows the positive elements in the arrangement to form lines; this is viewed as ‘invisible energy’. Ma allows for this energy or sense of movement within a design. You as the artist learn to leave room between the branches to allow this ‘energy’ to flow through the arrangement just as a natural breeze would rustle the branches in nature.

Space is carefully shaped by the placement of materials creating a harmonious feel. When we observe Ikebana, we are encouraged to step back to appreciate the whole arrangement. You want your viewer to notice the delicate interaction between all the parts of the arrangement leaving your viewer with a sense of harmony and balance.

This concept of Ma is something that relates to all aspects of our lives. Ma is the fundamental time and space that life needs to grow. If we have no time, if our space is restricted, we cannot grow. How we choose to spend our time and shape the space we live in directly impacts our progress.

As a philosophical concept, Ma relates to our basic need as humans to identify with purpose, to aspire and represent our lives. Ma is the space within which we exist, the space we originate and evolve from. Our lives begin empty of meaning but we have the power to shape our time and space with lasting purpose.

Whether you are creating space in an arrangement or just creating a space to think this provides a positive influence in all aspects of life. Instead of empty, this ‘space’ is alive with possibilities, free from restrictions, ready to be renewed and enlivened.

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