After my recent teapot breakage I have been meditating on the whole concept of teapots. Although I have written a ton on such things (see here and here), I feel that I have much more to say about teawares. Please reader, join me in a series of posts that look at the beloved teapot…
To me the teapot is both an object of art in and of itself and an indispensable element in the greater art of tea. The later could either be as the performance art of tea ceremony or in the skillful art of preparing tea or “gong fu cha”.
If you see the teapot as only an object of art then it serves no actual practical purpose other than that of art itself. If you like to collect this type of art and display it- that’s fine by me because I also enjoy looking. However, to me, the real art of the teapot is in its use.
The teapot is 3-D, three dimensional, because it is sculpture. To view a teapot in a photo or on a screen is to not do it any justice. When appreciating sculpture you have to see it at different vantage points to truly appreciate it.
The teapot is also functional art in that it serves a purpose- to make tea. Historically, it was made for this purpose and because tea holds an important part in many societies- its make was both practical and for appreciation. This appreciation developed into an art. In actually using the teapot to make tea, we can we also appreciate its art on a deeper level by picking it up and appreciating its texture, its weight, the sound its lid makes when closing it, the sound hot water makes when filling it, the sight of its pour.
However, only by making tea in ceremony or, alternatively, by brewing gong fu cha (with great skill) can we reach the deepest level of appreciation. At this level the teapot is only a smaller part of the art of preparing tea. Its selection, to improve the tea steeping esthetic as well as to improve that particular tea which you intend to steep. Basically, you are selecting that teapot because you think it will improve the taste or bring out a certain desirable quality in a certain type of tea. The selection of a certain teapot also should be in harmony with, the guests, season, other teawear, the environment, the person preparing the tea, and in the esthetic of the guests you are serving. It is at this level where art emulates life. And life is tea.
I suppose, issues of art aside, there is also the financial part of this as well. An old unused teapot can command very high prices these days. I’m currently finding the price of quality yixing has gone through the roof lately, mirroring the price of puerh. Part of this is art collecting, part of this is increasing interest in puerh, part of this is in speculation, part is that old items are just being valued at the same price of a new pot of similar quality.
On the other hand, to actually use the teapot is essentially devaluing it. Risk of breakage increases. For me, using it with a bunch of small children around, breakage is an almost certainty. I think some teapot collectors out there might have groaned when they saw that last pot of mine busted up. However, I think it was definitely the teapot users out there who could identify with this inevitable situation most.
It goes without saying that I am in the puerh drinker and teapot user categories.
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