Eristic Showcase

Listed in alphabetical order by title.

Ancient Greeks and the Bonsai Flame Wars

By William F. Hiltz , USA

Ancient Greeks and the Bonsai Flame Wars
Working out definitions fascinates me. Concepts like "Art" are bandied about in our culture with reckless abandon but little clarity. Yet it was the bandying about of similar abstract concepts in Athens over two millennia ago - concepts like Justice, Virtue, Piety - that inspired Socrates and his student Plato to ask clarifying questions that formed the basis for all subsequent Western thought and civilization.
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Against The Wind
The conventions of formal bonsai display are more than arbitrary protocols lent gravity by the weight of history and tradition. Rather, the conventions of formal display reflect basic principles of perspective, balance, and composition. In an introductory essay on bonsai display, Andy Rutledge illustrates the way in which the layout of the tokonoma reflects the viewpoint of a human observer as she contemplates a natural scene.
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Age Discrimination

By Will Heath, USA

Age Discrimination
Not very long ago in order to display, view, judge, or compare bonsai you had to attend a show. At these shows or showings the bonsai were displayed at their best, neatly trimmed, pruned, polished, and slicked for maximum appearance and palatability. Soil was brushed, pots oiled, accents groomed and scrolls dusted.
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In this particular case, it is a very transparent effort on the part of one who has a deep seated need to destroy the concept of bonsai art. Congratulations, your need for affirmation has delt yet another blow of idiocy to our endeavor. The sad part is that many young or uninitiated enthusiasts have just been fed a falsehood that may ever keep them in the dark on the subject of artistry. It's enough to make someone blow chunks.
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Babylon: The Origin of Bonsai?

By Will Heath, USA

Babylon: The Origin of Bonsai?
It would seem that in almost every written history of bonsai, credit for its invention is attributed largely to China. In the following paragraphs are three quotes I found by searching the web for "bonsai history." These histories are readily available for viewing on the web.
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Blinded by Commonness
About six months ago while wandering though a local bonsai shop looking at some Chinese elms I noticed something that disturbed me. Every single bonsai there that had decent trunk width also had a very obvious trunk chop. The change in taper from the trunk to the new leaders was dramatic to say the least, some actually bordered on the ridiculous. The foliage on most was wired into place to create a screen of sorts for this obvious flaw but one could not help but to notice it anyhow once it was seen.
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Blind In One Eye

By Walter Pall, Germany

Blind In One Eye
What really strikes me is when I meet otherwise reasonable, intelligent, cultivated and learned people who are utterly unreasonable about judging their own trees. Well again it is human nature to be unable to judge yourself, but one should still expect that the gap between reality and the personal perception of reality should not be all too wide.
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Bonsai – The True Art of Deception
Trees are plants that grow out of the ground. Typically they are large; some are even labeled as massive. Bonsai on the other hand are small and live in pots. One has managed to live and survive on its own as an individual specimen for decades or centuries, and as a species for millenniums, while the other is dependent on a man or woman for its day-to-day survival. The differences, the deception, could not be greater.
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Classical Bonsai Award at 1st National Bonsai Exhibition

By Peter Warren, UK

Classical Bonsai Award at 1st National Bonsai Exhibition
Choosing the winner of the Yoshimura award however was easy. The decision was unanimous amongst the three judges, Seiji Morimae, Pedro Morales and myself; the Black Pine of Mike Page fulfilled all the criteria with ease. After the decision was made Mr. Morimae and I were asked, in a very polite way by many people who couldn’t understand the value of the tree, to explain the decision. I would like to thank all those who had the desire to learn and the courage to ask.
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Classical vs. Naturalistic = Useless Debate
Aside from the art vs. not and hobby vs. pro debates, perhaps the most divisive sort of debate in the various bonsai communities is that of classical vs. naturalistic stylings. This is unfortunate because it is a debate over what style is king of the second-class bonsai.
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In Defense of the Mallsai

By Will Heath, USA

Defining Bonsai
The term Mallsai has become a joke, a punch line, even an insult in the community; the very name brings to mind images of poorly designed bonsai purchased by the ignorant and sold by the unscrupulous. Such material has acquired a reputation that is vastly undeserved and is inaccurate in portraying the important role it has played in expanding the bonsai community.
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Defining Bonsai
The term cookie cutter bonsai has stuck under my craw ever since it was first coined. Perhaps it is not the term itself that offends me, but the context in which it is used. It is often applied when referring to a Japanese Masterpiece. I would love to have a backyard full of these so called cookie cutter plants; they just don't look like cookie cutters to me. Perhaps if I stand fifty feet away from these Japanese artworks they start to blend together.
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Ownership and Artistic Credit in Bonsai

By Will Heath, USA

Ownership and Artistic Credit in Bonsai
It doesn't matter how long you own a purchased piece of art (bonsai is indeed an art form, so I will use other art forms as examples on which to base my thoughts on) the artist is always recognized. Art collectors the world over have long sought after and purchased works of art for their private and/or public collections. Many works of art have changed hands quite a few times over the course of history, owners have changed, and yet one thing always remained constant, Monet's "Water Lilies" have always been Monet's "Water Lilies" and never has the owners name been attached.
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Finding a Soul in Bonsai
The Japanese have a word known as Kami. As far as I know I am about the only person who has chosen to associate this word with Bonsai. Other Bonsaists choose to use Wabi and Sabi when defining the quasi-spiritual aspects of bonsai. Kami is for lack of a better definition defined as spirit or soul, an almost personality that inhabits things of great beauty, power, and artistry. It is a force that almost gives a thing a life of its own that supersedes a tree or a pot or a sword, or a landscape. All of these aspects of Bonsai are very real in their effect on the finished tree but very difficult to define.
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For The Love Of Bonsai

By Attila Soos, USA

For The Love Of Bonsai
Bonsai is as much part of my life as is coffee, chill-out music and public radio. It seems like it always has been that way. Well, at least for the past 15 years. It was a natural evolution: I always loved nature, and living things fascinated me. The arts, in one form or another, provided a sort of backdrop to my life; a medium necessary for keeping my sanity.
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The Future of Bonsai, The Third Dimension
I have been involved in numerous discussions over the course of the last few years as to what the future holds for the art of bonsai both in America and elsewhere. I have given this a great deal of thought, viewed a few bonsai collections, talked to some artists, and put in some long research hours, all to better understand the current state of art in bonsai. The general consensus seems to be that each country and districts thereof tend to want (consciously or unconsciously) to develop an individual style that is unique to them.
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The Gentlemen's Club

By Richard Fish, UK

The Gentlemen's Club
An interesting and insightful question was raised by a female colleague of mine a few days ago when she visited the Art of Bonsai project website to read some articles:
"Why are they all men?"
A simple question, without a simple answer; at least I didn't have one handy. My colleague's overriding and most indelible impression of bonsai art was that this is a women-free zone.
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In Support of Workshops
The following is an observation I have made after having been a member of a bonsai club for about ten years: there are club members you attend bonsai workshops and there are also members who do not. While this may, at first, seem overly simplistic I would ask you to ponder it a bit. I think there is an interesting question here. Why is their division among otherwise like thinking individuals (all enjoy bonsai and all are active members in an organization dedicated to the enjoyment and study of bonsai) regarding their participation in outside bonsai educational activities – workshops?
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Is That Bonsai Real?

By Will Heath, USA

Is That Bonsai Real?
The unassuming tree pictured above recently provoked an extended and at times heated debate on one of the internet bonsai forums. The topic: the "proper" relation between the position and movement of a tree's surface roots and the position and movement of its trunk.
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It's All Mr. Yoshimura's Fault
In 1957 Yuji Yoshimura published his book "The Japanese Art of Miniature Trees and Landscapes." So began the dissemination of the bonsai art to the masses, at least in the USA. One major thing Mr. Yoshimura did was to set down a list of categories describing and, more or less, defining the different styles in bonsai as it was being practiced in Japan at the time. He also described the rules and concepts for branch placement with the do's and don'ts. All of this became both a blessing and a curse.
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The Problem With American Bonsai

By Vance Wood, USA

The Problem With American Bonsai
With the end of WWII interest in bonsai began to blossom outside the confines of the Japanese community fanned by an interest from returning G.I.s and their families from the Far East, specifically Japan. The Non-Asian population began to voice a desire to posses and create these miniature wonders for themselves and a need to fulfill this desire created a vacuum that cried out to be filled. Slowly some enterprising individuals sought to supply this need, first with books and then with classes on a local level.
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The Rest Of The Story
There I was, staring intently at what was most likely the best example of a rugged, windswept Black Pine that I had ever seen. The tree looked ancient, the bark had deep fissures, the trunk swept back in a jagged curve displaying jin and shari in all the right places, the branches mirrored the trunk to show that they had endured the same harsh conditions that the rest of the tree had, and the foliage was sparse where it should have been, the foliage of a survivor and not like many other examples that show the foliage of a tree that has never seen a worry.
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Talent - The Holy Grail of Bonsai

By Will Heath, USA

Talent - The Holy Grail of Bonsai
By all definitions, talent is inherent, it cannot be learned, taught, bought, sold, or acquired in any manner what so ever. Studying with the greatest masters will not create what is not there, reading all the best texts will not cultivate what can not be grown, a person either has it already or they never will.
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Truly Natural Style Bonsai
These are excellent examples of bonsai artistry and are completely natural in their appearance. What I believe Walter and others submit as natural style bonsai are aesthetically neglected structures that literally imply the chaos and poor structures common to trees in nature. That is neither aesthetically pleasing nor good for bonsai.
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What if 'traditional' bonsai style did not exist?

By Walter Pall, Germany


Let's look at 'classical' bonsai as they were shown over times. Where can we do this? Well, it can be done by looking at issues of the Kokufu-ten books over the years. If you ever have a chance to look at one from before the war it will strike you that the majority of trees shown in there don't look at all like what most see as 'classical' bonsai today. In fact a majority would be considered inferior today. Then one moves on to editions after the war.
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Where Are The Innovations?
I believe that for anyone who is seriously engaged in arts, understanding the various aspects of art theory and its evolution has important benefits. One of them is recognizing the interdependence of arts at a deeper level.
One of the oldest theories having significant influence over the arts in the Middle Ages and early modern period is the ancient rhetorical theory.
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Why Do We Seek Age In Bonsai?

By Morten Albek, Norway

Why Do We Seek Age In Bonsai?
Age is a very important element in the art of bonsai. But why is it so important, and how has this evolved? Part of the answer might be found in the history of Japanese monks. But the fascination of old trees in the west might as well be founded deep in our own cultural heritage, and a part may also be influenced by our own religions.
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