We have been very busy these last few weeks and very happy we had the opportunity to entertain Peter Tea twice while he was home. He brought many fine pots with him and we hope to show you a few that we acquired from him when time allows.

We thought we might as well mix it up a bit today with one of our favorite subjects: Is it Suiseki?  Jerry Braswell was visiting last week and we had an opportunity to discuss this idea for a couple of hours.  BTW, please visit Jerry’s site as he makes some nice stands, kiri-wood boxes and daizas.

Often this discussion unfortunately escalates into an open argument – not the case with Jerry and me – but opening this Pandora’s box can often lead to outright raised voices.  Who gets to determine what belongs in the category of Suiskei?  So who is the arbitrator of the standard?  Well let me assure you of who it isn’t – us or likely you either.

I have seen a few well published and informed individuals that have established guidelines and classifications.  I think they are extremely valuable.  Mr. Matsurra’s book is an excellent guide on this subject. You can read about this book here. the idea of what belongs in suiseki and what shouldn’t can actually, in our opinion, hurt people joining our art form. How many times have you seen someone post an image of a stone – calling it suiseki – for someone to immediately jump on them to quickly inform them it is not!  Well, that is between blogger and poster in our opinion; however, we do appreciate when people just call them “viewing stones.”  We like how the stone club in Southern California deals with this issue: the California Aiseki Kai The Suiseki Tradition but underneath this header they invite you to come and learn more about viewing stones.

Basic Classification Chart - Copyright 2010, Matsurra Arishige

Basic Classification Chart - Copyright 2010, Matsurra Arishige

Click the photo for a larger view of this image.  Notice that the classifications of Biseki, Chinseki and Suiseki are all classified under Viewing Stones.  Simple, instructional, and informed.

How many arguments could we avoid if we simply agreed that our stones fall under the category of viewing stones.  We could then also include Chinese Scholar Stones – I’m sure someone will disagree with this idea, but we think of them as viewing stones as well.

So when it comes to a good stone and classification.  Let me show you a stone, we do not own it, but we really appreciate this stone.

Is it Suiseki?

Is it Suiseki?

Some might say “No, the color of the stone disqualifies it.”  Well it is true that many believe that the best suiseki are black, dark green or dark gray.  However, stones from the Sado Islands are included in the classification of suiseki and they are red!  Look at the classification of monyo-ish which include pattern stones often with vibrant color.

We look at the stone above and see several things. One it could be a shore stone with the sea’s waves creating the small cave in the lower left corner of the stone.  Or if you spend sometime observing this stone like we did – we see this is as a person with their back to us. Notice the head with the discernible nose?  How about what appears to be their right hand just visible about halfway down the right side of the stone.  Could we classify this as a sugata-ishi stone? If so, then it could be classified as a suiseki stone.

Would its color disqualify it?  The stone contains patches of black and dark brown along with a deep salmon color which we believe brings great beauty to the stone.

The point of this blog post is simply this: What do you see when you look at a stone?

If what you see is a classification and that works for you that is great.  What we attempt to do is to study the stone to “see what we see.”  I love this quote I read the other day in a book on Chinese Scholar Stones.

“All things contain elements to be viewed and, as such, to be enjoyed and admired, and they do not necessarily have to be strange, grotesque, grand or beautiful.”

– Notes of Chaorantai by Su Shi*

*Su Shi (Su Dongo or Jiuhua) lived during the late Northern Song dynasty (960-1126). He and Mi Fu were great connoisseurs of stones and also famous poets, calligraphers, and painters.

What struck us about this quote is “to be viewed and, as such, to be enjoyed and admired.”  That sounds just about perfect.  We believe if we become lost in classification and it leads to arguments or worse hard feelings, then we have stepped away from the intended purpose of this art form.

We want to see the stone to feel the stone.

Perhaps this is not the most eloquent way of saying what we want to convey but for now hopefully it works.  Do we look at the stone above and does it set our imagination on fire. Can we allow our imagination to flow by seeing ourselves standing behind a great shogun (将軍, shōgun) of say the 12th or 13th century.  Studying perhaps military maps or just enjoying a literati poem or a great and respected work of calligraphy? Is he sitting in a great castle protected by gigantic stones that create almost impenetrable walls on a spring morning just as the cherry blossoms are blooming with a quiet whisper of a wind removing them from a branch as we watch them silently floating to be carried off by a meandering stream within those great protective walls.

This is what we want to do when we see a fine stone such as the one above. We enjoy stone classifications – we do it naturally when we observe a stone, but let me say our focus now is on what our imagination sees much more so than what our analytical minds processes.

By concentrating on our imaginative vision we have come to immensely enjoy our viewing stones.  It provides hours of relaxation.  Much as movies feed our imagination, we believe that stones can do exactly the same thing – if we allow ourselves the privilege of time to see beyond the color, shape and texture of the stone itself.

Well much more and we will feel like we are preaching rather than just articulating how we feel. In some small way, we hope this helps you to open up your eyes and heart to a great art form that has been appreciated since the early 700s A.D.

To more imagination!
Sam and KJ