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Kyusu and Chawan

Handmade Japanese Teapots und Teacups with a Natural Touch.

Tea-ceramics by artist Arthur Poor Tea-ceramics by artist Arthur Poor Tea-ceramics by artist Arthur Poor

The art of drinking tea reveals many aspects of Japanese culture. When Monk Saichou returned from China in 801, he brought the first teaplant seeds to Japan and grew them on Mount Hiei-zan. During the following centuries drinking tea gained popularity amongst members of the Japanese elite. They arranged tea ceremonies, where they displayed ceramics imported from China (karamono), that were often richly decorated. In the 15th century, Japanese tea-masters developed chanoyu, also called chado, the "way of tea", as a way of meditation. Based on their new Japanese aesthetic concept of wabi-sabi, they used undecorated simple looking tools produced by native craftsman and sometimes even made tools themselves. The wabi sabi style rejects ornaments, prefering earthy natural looking pottery, crafted in a well-balanced asymmetric design.

This site shows beautifully handmade pottery for drinking tea, designed and made by the artist and Japan specialist Arthur Poor. In the January 2011 issue of the Austrian magazine faq, Japanese teapots (kyusu) and teacups (chawan) by the artist were shown to illustrate an article on the aesthetics of wabi-sabi.

kyusu teapot

To Pottery
See Japanese style teapot, teacup and ikebana vases made by artist Arthur Poor.


To Paintings
Enjoy paintings by the artist and read information on exhibits and other activities.

Early Reception of Wabi Sabi in Europe

The Trade with a Distorted Cultural Image.

At the world exposition in Paris in 1867, Japanese woodcut prints reached Europe as packing material for other exhibits and initiated the Japonism movement. Collectors and artists increasingly focused their interest on art imported from the "fairyland" Japan, however this interest did not stimulate a thorough examination or discussion of Japanese culture. From Kakuzo Okakura's point of view, the passion for drinking tea seemed to be the ideal vehicle to finally give Europeans an understanding of his home country's culture. In "The Book of Tea", which had it's primary publication in the English language in 1906, he wrote: Strangely enough humanity has so far met in the tea-cup. It is the only Asiatic ceremonial which commands universal esteem. The white man has scoffed at our religion and our morals, but has accepted the brown beverage without hesitation. Okakura does not mention the terms wabi and sabi, but he writes about aesthetic qualities, that are connected to wabi, such as asymmetry, simplicity, modesty, incompleteness and the rule, that colors and forms should not be repeated.

In 1919 "The Book of Tea" was published in German language for the first time. Back then, splendidly decorated objects continued to meet the European demand for exotic art. In contrast, there was still hardly any demand for ikebana vases and teacups crafted in wabi sabi style. This fact is proven in Otto Kümmel's revised second edition of "Applied Arts in Japan", that aimed to be a "short but reliable guide for collectors of Japanese tools". In this book, Kümmel wonders, that Europeans seem to lack appreciation of art: Compared to pottery, there is no other applied art in Japan, in which the forces slumbering within the material - the true shapers of applied arts - found a more powerfull and expressive language. Regardless of this fact - or for this very reason? - of all Japanese arts, it's the creations of pottery, that have been judged with little understanding and have been collected even less luckily in Europe. The characteristics of Japanese pottery [...] cannot be found on it's surface, they do not appear in the material's flamboyant gloss and richness of ornaments, nor in a virtuosic technique, that most easily draws the attention of the Europeans. Furthermore Kümmel states: Japanese pottery has never created tools, that were merely used as decoration - which are, frankly speaking, tools that are ashamed to be a tool and cannot be used. This being said, Japanese export-article-pottery, that to this day is regarded as Japanese pottery by many Europeans, has been argued against. Undoubtedly, it has been made by Japanese, but not for Japanese, and therefore it belongs to Japanese art only in a local context - or in other words, quoting an appropriate remark by [Francis] Brinkley, it is "nothing more than a Japanese estimate of our own bad taste".

Although his book addresses collectors, Kümmel, like Okakura, did not explain the terms wabi and sabi to his knowledgeable readers. According to the common opinion about Japanese art, the artist's personality plays an inferior role, because in Japan the main concern is the continuation of artistic tradition. Kümmel's opinion is more open minded: Looking at the finest chanoyu pottery, one does not get the sensation, that it has been made by a specific person at a specific point of time; it looks as if it has formed from within the moving forces of the material itself, as if it has not been made, but has grown instead. Indeed, all of these tools are works of coincidence, but it is a coincidence, that has been guided by a supreme mastery of craftsmanship and the most profound artistic sense. In these pieces the artistic personality manifests itself even more powerful and clearly, than in the lacquer ware and metal work, which are thoughtfully worked out in detail. However, it's a personality, that seems to have turned into a part of nature itself.
Also Okakura writes about the importance of the individual in connection with artistic aspects of chanoyu when he cites tea-master Kobori Enshu: The great [tea-master Sen no] Rikyu dared to love only those objects which personally appealed to him, whereas I unconsciously cater to the taste of the majority. Verily, Rikyu was one in a thousand among tea-masters. And Okakura is convinced: That the tea-room should be built to suit some individual taste is an enforcement of the principle of vitality in art. Art, to be fully appreciated, must be true to contemporaneous life. [...] Slavish conformity to traditions and formulas fetters the expression of individuality in architecture.

Spatial elements and teapots crafted according to the principles of wabi sabi offer a great capacity to accomplish shapes with a natural appearance, as well as individual artistic expression. Therefore it is surprising, that in Europe professionals, employed in the field of artistic design, and collectors did not show greater interest in wabi sabi. On the other hand, Japanese craftsmen unconsciously catered to the European taste and continued to make profit by nourishing the European market with custom-made art, that only represented a distorted image of their own culture. What would Rikyu have thought of this?
Nevertheless, thanks to this hybrid-art Japan and the western world surely managed to come closer together.

Tusche-Malerei 茶の湯

You should know ,that chanoyu only means to boil water, brew the tea and then drink it. - Sen no Rikyu