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What is Suiseki?

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Suiseki is a Japanese word which means “water stone.” It used to refer to the Japanese tradition of stone collecting and appreciation, as well as to the stones themselves. It is one among many traditional Japanese aesthetic arts, and suiseki displays can be seen in Japanese homes, gardens, and museums. In communities outside of Japan where this art is practiced, shows may be held to expose people to this art form, and some artists travel with their collections to display their stones in prominent museums and cultural centers.

This art form appears to have originated in China, where people have been appreciating the natural aesthetic beauty of well-formed stones for over two thousand years. Gongshi, or Scholar's Rocks, continue to be valued in China, and they are often found on display in the garden. Both suiseki and gongshi are usually displayed on their own, as standalone items which invite appreciation, exploration, and commentary.

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The stones used in suiseki are naturally formed. Although people may wash them, the stones are not carved or treated. The goal is to appreciate the stone as it was created by nature, rather than trying to shape the stone to fit a specific aesthetic ideal. Some of the stones are mounted on wooden blocks, in which case they are known as suiseki daiza. Dark stones tend to be favored, as are stones with rich aesthetic details like veining and variations of color. Stones from exotic locales may be valued if they have an aesthetically pleasing shape, but exoticism alone is not enough to qualify a stone for a display.

Some stones are selected because nature has slowly molded them into a specific shape. Landscape stones in particular are very popular, with people seeking out stones which look like waterfalls, mountain ranges, and other natural features. Landscape suiseki are often employed in bonsai as decorative accents. However, abstract stones are also greatly enjoyed, and other stones may take on the shapes of plants, animals, and other figures.

Like other traditional Japanese arts, suiseki is taught in Japan by masters of the craft. People outside of Japan can also study with masters, although some people attempt to study with books and trips to suiseki displays. It takes years of study and working with stones to become competent at this art, and studying other Japanese aesthetic traditions can be very important, as it allows the student to consider it within the framework of a larger aesthetic tradition.

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StarJo
Post 6

I had the opportunity to visit a Chinese garden, and I could definitely see how suiseki was a big part of it. There were amazing looking rocks placed throughout the entire garden, much as we would place flowers. In fact, the place felt more like a rock garden than a flower garden.

I saw some rocks that had been worked upon by nature. They had been filled with holes by erosion from some type of water source, and they looked like a piece of coral or a sponge.

Someone informed me that the Chinese thought that walking a twisted path would confuse evil spirits and stop them from following you. This made me wonder if maybe the hole-filled rocks were a way of capturing the spirits and keeping them at bay, as well.

wavy58
Post 5

@orangey03 – I believe I also have some suiseki in a decorative item I have in my living room. I bought a stone water fountain, and in addition to being constructed from rough, aesthetically pleasing stone, it also has a few extra stones scattered about in the pit where the water falls.

This little fountain is battery powered. When I turn it on, water trickles out of the midst of the stone center and onto the rocks below. It is very soothing to look at, and it has helped me focus on more pleasant things after a stressful day at work.

I always thought it was the water that calmed me, but maybe it was the stones. If there is a whole art form dedicated to appreciating them, maybe there is something to it.

orangey03
Post 4

Suiseki has been incorporated into some Japanese home products. For Christmas one year, I received a small meditation garden that contained several smooth, attractive stones. These stones were meant to be caressed to bring about calm.

The garden has a small rectangular frame filled with white sand. It came with a small rake, a sand smoothing tool, and a bag of stones. It also came with a CD of relaxing music.

I enjoy the cool feel and the simplistic beauty of the stones. It really is relaxing to hold them in my hand and place them in the sand.

One stone is shiny and black, one is dark green, and several have purple veins running throughout their surfaces. I'm sure they were chosen because of their smoothness and interesting colors.

SteamLouis
Post 3

@burcinc-- Nurseries are another good place to check about courses. The owner of the nursery I go to has training in suiseki and other Japanese art forms and gives classes on the weekends. My husband took her classes for a month and made several suiseki pieces for our yard. So checking with a nursery that offers suiseki, gongshi or bonzai tree might give results.

And if you don't have access to an actual course, you could try self-teach books and DVDs. Or if you have contact with someone who has trained in it, they can help you and give you feedback as you progress too.

I think the biggest part is taking the time to look out for unique stones which might require some traveling in your free time.

ysmina
Post 2

@burcinc-- I have two bonsai plants at home. They are basically miniature plants in pots. I'm sure you've seen them at stores before. For me, bonsai is the plant version of suiseki. It's the same idea, except that the plant is alive and needs to be cared for. But it's also an art form because it portrays nature's beauty inside the home.

I think bonsai and suiseki are great ways to add positive energy and balance to a home because nature is very calming. I don't know where you could be trained to be a professional suiseki artist but it might help to contact suiseki clubs or associations. I know there tend to be one or two in every

state.

Until then, I think you should start it on your own. You can select a nice wooden or stone plank to place the stones in a corner of your house for example.

I know that this is a serious art form in Asia, but it must have also started off this way at some point. For me, art begins with imagination and emotion, it doesn't require professional training. Unless you want to present them to the public in a personal gallery or something.

burcinc
Post 1

I've grown an interest to suiseki recently because I've moved close to the coast and spend a lot of time on the beach now. There are some beautiful rock formations on the beach like large rocks still partly in water and even small stones. I just love to look at them when I get the chance. You can see how the waves have given them unique shapes over time.

This is definitely not something that we humans can create. This is beauty of nature and its patience. I really respect suiseki art for this reason. It's one matter to try and make your own art, it's another to recognize and appreciate art which is already there in nature.

Sometimes I bring some of these stones home from the beach but I'm not sure how to display them in a way that would make them qualify as suiseki. I now understand the need to take professional courses on it to be able to say that I'm a suiseki artist.

How many years of study does it take on average to be a suiseki artist? And what are the most renowned centers of study for suiseki? Are they all in Japan or are there some in the West too?

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