Hiro Matsusaki on mon 3 feb 97
This is a re-transmission of what I thought went through a couple of days
ago. I don't think it did. I still found it in my mail software packet. My
When I'm proofing this, it's sunny and warm outside, at 10C or 50F. It's the
last day of January 97. When I started the initial draft on this one on
Sunday, it was a sunny bright day with two feet of snow at minus 40 (both C
To talk about teabowls sounded like a good idea at that time. Five days
after, I am not so sure. The temperture will go down again, after having
been way down and way up. I should be spending time outdoors. Fortunately,
I do not depend on clay to earn my living. Nor am I "inside" the circle of
potters or students and expected to obey the shared norms for support --
technical or otherwise. I think I can afford to make mistakes -- to be
corrected by detective works later, as a sort of my hobby.
Actually I do this because I also like to do this type of stuff, besides
pottery. To write on things I think I know best is not a bad idea. Nice to
do different things for a change, anyway. It's a comfortable feeling.
Teabowls show best in an appropriate setting. The Teahouse in the August
Moon may no longer exist. But teabowls accompanied by an iron kettle gently
emitting a puff of steam with a gentle whisper is a nice backdrop. Tea
ceremonies involve more than teabowls and a kettle in a fireplace. A part of
the ritual is to proudly demonstrate the material riches, although this type
of exhibitionism in conspicuous consumption is a social taboo in daily lives.
If invited to a Japanese home, one is not supposed to praise the material
things, even if the rabbit hatch is immaculately kept. It is not a graceful
gesture, considered gauche. Likewise, a man should not praise the beauty of
the lady of the house face to face, either. It will be a faux-pas betraying
hidden intentions. Thou shalt not covet that which does not belong to you.
Teabowls are but a small part of tea ceremonies. For example. they need many
accessory items, including a small tea container, either made of clay,
lacquered wood or enameled metal. The clay one is normally the cheapest.
And it looks like an urn with a lid to match, but much smaller. It often
looks like a tiny fancy mug.
A small clay container to store green tea is called _chatsubo_(cha is tea,
and tsubo is a tall pot with narrow shoulder and small top opening).
Typically, it cost far more than _chawan_ (cha is tea and wan is
open-mouthed bowl, as with a ricebowl we often see in movies). And only one
pot suffices for a tea party, many teabowls are needed. Imported, or lacquer
and enamel chatsubo usually cost far more.
A famous _chatsubo_ imported from Luzon, the Philippines more than four
hundred years ago, actually from where an overseas Japanese colony (a
permanent settlement: -- another one was in Bangkok, Thailand) existed,
reputedly cost fifty times more than the best and the most expensive
domestic tea container. The value of money in those days is hard to convert
into the current standard, but, let us say it was a tidy sum equal to the
yearly budget to run a small banana republic, or an entrenched but useless
bureaucracy in a developed nation.
Does the price of pottery (painting or other art objects, for that matter)
indicate its quality and value? Can we say that the higher the price paid,
the better the quality of the pot? I assure you I have a lot of experience
By the way, do you know how much green tea cost? A regular green tea costs
about $12 per 100 grams, or $50 a pound. Compared to the cost of regular
ground coffee, it is at least 10 times more expensive. I am comparing
supermarket varieties here. Green tea for tea ceremony (finely ground tea of
the best quality) costs at leasst ten times more, again. I'm exaggerating of
course, but the truth is not far off. At this price green tea is a drug,
which gives a strong kick, and keeps you awake all night, for sure.
Back to the cost and quality correlation of clay pots. From my observations,
the answer can be simplified as follows. We all know that in many instances
the market price of a given piece has nothing to do with its intrinsic value.
The uninitiated or ignorant may think that cheap is cheap. The novice may
think that the cost of clay and labor (time and money needed to produce it)
must reflect directly on the price. Needless to say, the artist knows
better. And the collector disregards the maket pricet. And I'll simply give
What lesssons do we get from this brief discussion, then?
(A) Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. Some pots are technically junk.
Others are a find. Free competition on beauty is like a committee decision.
Lousy, but safe. There is no such thing as free, where resources are
(B) History repeats itself. Clay pots repeat themselves. Many forms and
new techniques are but "revivals" and "renewals" of old ones, or alien
animals transplanted from other parts of the world. What's wrong with
reinventing the wheel (on which to throw and form clay day in and day out).
Good forms are hard to come by. And the size of our hands have not gotten
any larger, bigger, or smaller. What we can accomplish with the same old
tired hand cannot be that different. And should not. Even with machines.
(C) Form derives from function. Human activities, however, have destroyed
much of the pristine beauty in nature under the banner of progress (called
economics). Not much peace of mind exists in our daily chores. We are
getting to be too busy--just to survive. What sort of function are new in
this scenario? Not much aesthetics, unless we improve our actions first.
(D) Still, we must keep sanity by having our eyes set on beautiful things.
Some of us can see things far better than others. There is a wide variation
in our sight abilities to see things, technical matters included. Some are
gifted and others are not. Consider technicalities which are in black and
white. We do have trouble seeing things eye to eye, even there on mundane
technical matters. Never mind aesthetics and other refinements.
The above in a nutshell are my own observations on pottery techniques and
aesthetics. Generally, it's rare to find both of these two qualities or
attributes in a single individual. History of pottery is no exception. No
beauty without excellent techniques. And no techniques come alive without
aesthetics. But either can mask the realities of our abilities for
self-expression via clay.
Most of us are blessed with a pair of good eyes. I do not think it necessay
to make them perfect. Just nourish the eyes to make us better enjoy those
good things in life, I guess. They are beyond or more than what money can
buy. Nor should they be. A good balance is the key.
I'd like to sign off with a personal note.
I ever regret having parted with the first coffee mug I made, despite
admonitions not to do so. I practically gave it away. It was a single
glazed stoneware piece, more than one pound in weight despite repeated
trimming exercises, shrunk down to 6 to 7 inches tall after reduction fired
to cone 11. In retrospect, I have not possessed a better mug since. In both
function and aeththetics, it would have been ideal to have my morning coffee
while cyber surfing. With a skewed opulled handle, it snugly fits my fingers
and its bulk keeps the coffee hot for a long time. A fisherman's tale must
FAX: 403.963.7954 Phone: 403.963.3809
Akita-jin \"Lee Love\" on tue 4 feb 97
Right now, I am drinking coffee from a Shino winter tea/latte'
bowl a friend of mine in Omaha made. My morning ritual includes
drinking one bowl of coffee. I always do this before my morning zazen
One thing I think helps in the appreciation of Japanese pottery,
especially tea ware, is zen meditation. I was brought to pottery through
zen and almost all my tea experience has been at monasteries or temples.
The tea ceremony in Soto Zen temples is very simple.
I have 5 winter tea/latte' bowls in the Jerome show right now at
Northern Clay Center in St. Paul, MN. I just soda fired some discard
water bowls that came out pretty nice. My Akita Taiko is using the best
one as a water bowl right now. Z:^>
/(o\ Lee Love In St. Paul, MN Come see some pixs of my AkitaPup:
\o)/ mailto:Ikiru@juno.com http://www.millcomm.com/~leelove
Dairin@Buddhist.com "You can observe a lot by watching."
.. Lee@Bruce-Lee.com -Yogi Berra-
On Mon, 3 Feb 1997 09:26:05 EST Hiro Matsusaki
>I'd like to sign off with a personal note.
>I ever regret having parted with the first coffee mug I made, despite
>admonitions not to do so. I practically gave it away. It was a single
>glazed stoneware piece, more than one pound in weight despite repeated
>trimming exercises, shrunk down to 6 to 7 inches tall after reduction
>to cone 11. In retrospect, I have not possessed a better mug since. In
>function and aeththetics, it would have been ideal to have my morning
>while cyber surfing. With a skewed o pulled handle, it snugly fits my
>and its bulk keeps the coffee hot for a long time. A fisherman's tale
>must end here.