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 Post subject: I am an artist
PostPosted: Thu Feb 17, 2005 11:23 pm 
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I Am an Artist

At our family reunions, many members of my family pick up guitars and banjos and sit around in a circle playing bluegrass standards and old country music favorites. They?re musicians. Actually, they?re bankers and construction workers and real estate agents. But their hobby, serious or casual, involves playing an instrument. Seldom, if ever, does anyone outside of the family hear them play, but ask them and they?ll tell you, ?Sure, I?m a musician.? It?s no great badge of honor; it?s just an accurate description. A musician is someone who plays music on an instrument.
My good friend Terry, before he died, was a poet. Seldom did a week go by that he didn?t put down something trivial or significant on paper; a few lines or a few pages that meant something to him and, perhaps, to others. He was published occasionally in some obscure newsletter or magazine, but mostly he wrote for himself, his family and his friends. But he was a poet, as he freely acknowledged if you asked. A poet is not merely someone who stands at a podium to read or recite at Presidential inaugurations. Poets write poetry, and that?s what Terry did quite regularly.
I am a bonsai artist. On a weekly or daily basis I perform artistic techniques and horticultural practices that help coax the bonsai in my care toward my vision of their future. I have a plan for what each of my bonsai should communicate, or at least what they should look like. So, in essence, I seek to use a small tree to create an image that speaks of something more than just being a small tree. I?m an artist, because that?s what bonsai artists do. It means nothing special for me to acknowledge that I?m an artist. It?s simply an accurate description.
So why all the fuss in our bonsai communities over what being a bonsai artist means? No kidding, too often we sound like a bunch of histrionic namby-pambies:
?Well, I?m not an artist. I just try to make decent looking bonsai.?
?I?ll be a bonsai artist when other people start telling me I am.?
?Ha! You?re no bonsai artist. An artist is someone like [insert name here]?

Baloney. Being an artist doesn?t mean that you?re someone who walks around in a beret and ascot, smoking designer cigarettes on a 14? filter. It just means that you work to make creative, communicative or evocative images, sounds or performances. It doesn?t mean that you?re a professional and it doesn?t mean that you?re even all that good. It just means that you practice artistry.
I believe that most of us in bonsai us who can?t bring ourselves to admit that we?re artists simply don?t want or can?t handle the responsibility that we believe comes with such a claim. And that?s too bad because it?s a silly aversion; one based on a fallacy. It?s time to put it to rest.
Too many of us are working the wrong side of a self-fulfilling prophecy. Too many of us have decided to wait until we?re really good artists before we decide that we?re bonsai artists. If this is you, I promise you ? you will never be a bonsai artist. You?ll never be one until you decide that you are one.
Every bonsai artist I know, every one of them I?ve ever met decided to be a bonsai artist. They didn?t wait to have the appellation bestowed upon them. They each admitted to themselves early on that artistry was what they were engaged in. They each also knew that this meant nothing special. It was just an accurate description of their endeavor. As a result, they were freed from the ridiculous baggage of illogic and delusion that too many of us saddle ourselves with, ?to our everlasting detriment.
Some of you may be familiar with the quote, ?get busy living or get busy dying.? Well, the spirit of that sentiment is appropriate in this context. You?re either a bonsai artist or you?re not. You?re either consciously trying to make bonsai art or you?re not. If you?re not, you?re a gardener. Good for you, but don?t confuse what you do with the art of bonsai. If you are trying to make bonsai art, you?re an artist. Acknowledge that fact and quit shying away from the term and the ideal.
I?m trying to make my bonsai more beautiful and evocative. I?m trying to improve the aesthetic quality of my bonsai. I?m not famous and I?m not a master. I?m a bonsai artist. What are you?


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 Post subject: I am an artist
PostPosted: Tue Feb 22, 2005 4:31 pm 
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Andy,
I disagree (I think) with much of what you said - but, then, you'd expect me to, wouldn't you! Ha, ha!
Let me illustrate this by asking you: how would you differentiate in a single descriptive phrase between the hobbyist (in your eyes the artist who makes mediocre bonsai) and the... what shall I say... creator of trees that are more or less universally accepted as fine bonsai or neo-masterpieces? Or perhaps you don't see the need for such differentiation?
Is there not a correlation between this thread and Richard Fish's article on deciduous bonsai? If everyone who grows bonsai can reasonably be labeled an artist, then they surely are equal. If the majority wish to cover their ineptitude with foliage then, in a democratic society, the majority must be right.
The statement that you dismiss as balderdash: "I am an artist when other people tell me I am," is, in fact, the one I would offer as a reasonable definition. When hobbyists aspire to that goal, they are aiming in the right direction and they will have the incentive to improve. When they can sit on their laurels and say, "well, I grow bonsai, therefore I am an artist," they have neither the incentive nor the mind-set to become one in the true sense.
Colin


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 23, 2005 7:37 am 
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Thanks for your thoughts, Colin.
Now I disagree with you - all who "grow" bonsai are not artists. I never suggested such. No, only those who work to bring those bonsai toward an artistic aesthetic are bonsai artists. Given that description, the skill, ability and understanding of those individuals will vary greatly. It's a simple fact.
As I said, an artist is one who works to make their bonsai more beautiful, more evocative, according to established and widely understood artistic conventions. Why the need to make further distinctions?
Take for instance this idiot, Christo. I'll not argue that he's not an artist. But at the same time, most of what he makes (e.g. his current idiocy of "The Gates" in NY's Central Park http://www.christojeanneclaude.net/tg.html) is not art. He's an amazing graphic artist, but in the world of real art, his gaudy public efforts are wholly artless. But he's an artist. He's also a "decorator" who has the money to proclaim that his various decorations are art. Art is not to be confused with decoration.
If we were to judge him only by his large-scale public efforts (instead of his amazing graphic art efforts) and according to the widely understood tennents of artistry, he'd not be an artist. But that's simply not true.
I believe that we simply have to accept that there are good artists and not so good artists. Just as there are good baseball players and not so good baseball players. The way that a hobby like bonsai works means that artists of all competencies are producing work for many to see, instead of being weeded out by ability - as are baseball players.
Kind regards,
Andy


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PostPosted: Wed Feb 23, 2005 7:45 am 
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Andy and Colin, you certainly provide food for thought.
Well, for what it's worth....
Quote:
....how would you differentiate in a single descriptive phrase between the hobbyist (in your eyes the artist who makes mediocre bonsai) and the... what shall I say... creator of trees that are more or less universally accepted as fine bonsai or neo-masterpieces?

If one can differentiate, then no doubt one will also be able to define the demarcation line between the hobbyist and the creator (of trees... etc.), or, in other words, between a would-be artist and a true blue one.
A major achievement! Especially since being a hobbyist (i.e. "a person who pursues an activity in his/her spare time for pleasure") does not necessarily exclude being an artist.
Quote:
The statement that you dismiss as balderdash: "I am an artist when other people tell me I am," is, in fact, the one I would offer as a reasonable definition.

Or proof of a sort, I presume. Hm. Wouldn't that rather depend on who tells you?
Quote:
Every bonsai artist I know, every one of them I?ve ever met decided to be a bonsai artist.

By "bonsai artist", I guess you mean any sort of bonsai grower? Well, you haven't met me and you don't know me, which is just as well, because I would have become the exception to the rule.
Quote:
It means nothing special for me to acknowledge that I?m an artist. It?s simply an accurate description.
-----------------------------------------------
I believe that most of us in bonsai us who can?t bring ourselves to admit that we?re artists simply don?t want or can?t handle the responsibility that we believe comes with such a claim.

There's a kind of implied contradiction, here. Andy, if you acknowledge to yourself that being an artist "means nothing special", then why do you think it important that others should acknowledge it as well? That is what you imply, isn't it? What importance can one then attach to the admittance that one is an artist? Reading between the lines, I think that you see some attitudinal difference - but in practical terms, what is its value?
Any artist worth his salt is primarily aware of work and aspiration, not of noblesse oblige and seldom of accomplishment. And unless he/she made a living by creating and selling art, and have to fill in a tax form, the appellation of "artist" would receive little or no attention.
Lisa


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Wed Feb 23, 2005 8:07 am 
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Hi Lisa,
Quote:
By "bonsai artist", I guess you mean any sort of bonsai grower?
Well, you haven't met me and you don't know me, which is just as well, because I would have become the exception to the rule.

No, as I said, bonsai "growers" are just gardeners. I'm talking about those who are using artistic techniques to bring their bonsai toward a specific aesthetic image.
Quote:
There's a kind of implied contradiction, here. Andy, if you acknowledge to yourself that being an artist "means nothing special", then why do you think it important that others should acknowledge it as well? That is what you imply, isn't it? What importance can one then attach to the admittance that one is an artist? Reading between the lines, I think that you see some attitudinal difference - but in practical terms, what is its value?

The value is in not being involved with meaningless and delusional preoccupation. The value is in being freed of the ridiculous baggage of irresponsible and irrational distinctions. There is no contradition. I'm talking about logical, clear acknowledgement of a simple fact. Those who practice artistry are artists. There's no need to attach any grave significance to that label - "artist." There are excellent artists and there are poor ones. But if each practices artistrsy, each is an artist. We in the bonsai endeavor create ridiculous and irrational standards for what is a simple practice. It's silly and it harms our community. There's no need to do this.
Quote:
Any artist worth his salt is primarily aware of work and aspiration, not of noblesse oblige and seldom of accomplishment. And unless he/she made a living by creating and selling art, and have to fill in a tax form, the appellation of "artist" would receive little or no attention.

It's not about attention, Lisa. It's about simple facts and rational distinctions. The appellation does not define the ability or measure the results of the artist's work. That's not the issue in my essay.
Kind regards,
Andy


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Mar 03, 2005 12:47 pm 
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Andy and others,
You may find it interesting to know that in many European cultures it is quite OK to call yourself an artist. In German and Italian you can well do it without appearing all too vain as long as you can offer some basis for the claim. You are an artist if you work artistically which simply means creative. It is taken for granted that an artist must first be a good craftsman before being a good artist. A person being more craftsman can well produce better overall quality, only not creative and rather repetitive.
I have given up to play this game to pretend to be so modest and not call myself and artist. The truth is that I just would not do bonsai at all if not as an artist. And then I am not so famous for my modesty anyway.
Also this word master is used different in different cultures. In Italian everyone who teaches is a master and can call himself a master without appearing arrogant.
As a constant wanderer between cultures I see a lot of this and wonder whether we should always be oh so politically correct and sneak into the listener's culture.
Example: most people take it for granted that the Japanese behave the way the do in their culture, even if they are citizens of the USA for many decades. This is not so acceptable when some European cultures do it.


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PostPosted: Sun Mar 06, 2005 7:11 pm 
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No solutions here, just acceptance that it's one of those questions I used to discuss in my hippy years with a bunch of painters and poets, and none of them had the answer either!
I've missed this thread for a while, and it's interesting to see how it appears to be an either / or contest between hobbyist and artist in many people's eyes. Somewhere there is supposed to be a dividing line between the two.
Certainly, as a teacher of bonsai at all levels and in many countries, I can assure you that not all bonsai is art and not all serious bonsai growers are artists, even if they think they are.
There is a continual (but not straight) line between the novice hobbyist and the 'great artist', with many stages. One does not abandon each stage to achieve the next, one builds upon them. Thus the great artist is also a hobbyist (it's his life!), he is also a student, and he is always seeking to improve - seeking that next, special creation. To reach the far end of the line, the process involves total immersion: the thorough absorbtion of knowledge, constant practice, constant production of new works, and a dramatic change in thinking; you live, dream and worship bonsai.
How far along this line each of us travels depends on many factors, but the further along you go, the closer to becoming an artist you become. It is a gradual transition, not a sudden leap!
You can't say one minute this person is not an artist and the next minute he is. One day, his club peers will say "you're an artist", and to them he is one, but perhaps not to artists further along the line to greatness - some day he might be.
I suspect all artists at any level are happy with public acclaim and recognition - they need to make a living. Acclaim and recognition by one's peers is not so easy to gain but is, strangely, more important.
Colin


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 07, 2005 12:27 pm 
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I believe "artist" emcompasses all those who attempt a specific endeavor, but without an accompanying adjective (bad, good, mediocre. etc.) the word artist is only a generalization. Ego probably motivates some to use the term for themselves, but by being in someone's presence you can likely judge if there is a foundation for believing they can practice what they preach. It is probably wise to not "look into" the motivation for using the word too much. It's acceptable terminology, in my opinion.
Some people have huge egos, but they have the skills and experience that are rightfully sought out because they represent the pinnacle of the art. In contrast to this are those who possess the same level of proficiency but are much more modest in their description of themselves. Both types have much to offer. If someone has a huge ego and no skill, it is immediately apparent.
As for me, I feel that the term artist is distinctly different than "master". In any event, the true compliment is when the reference comes from others.
Just the opinion of one,
John


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 Post subject: Art=partnership
PostPosted: Tue Mar 15, 2005 12:29 am 
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I believe that practicing bonsai at the highest level is artistry, but not like any other. I don't believe that the bonsai artists has the same liberty that most artists do (a blank canvass, a block of clay, etc) because most material used for bonsai already suggests a shape or form to some extent. *Of course this can be manipulated using the well know techniques. I can't think of any bonsai artists I know who can sketch out a bonsai tree on paper and go out into the field to find the material that will perfectly replicate the original concept. Usually the art of bonsai is a "partnership" between artist and tree. I can not think of any other art form that this hold concept holds true (please fill in you you can). It is for this reason that I think the term "artist" when refered to bonsai should be placed in a special category. I recently posed this question to Arthur Joura and he gave one of the best answers to the secret behind the "art" in bonsai. In paraphasing, a bonsai is an attempt to organize nature. Humans have this tricky tendency to want to organize the disorganized; this is, in a sense, what bonsai artists do. They find a tree that speaks to something in nature, and then organize the tree to amplify the message to the human perspective. I believe that the real bonsai artist is the person who can master this "partnership", to maintain the natural look of the tree, but amplify it's message to the human perspective. I have, however, seen demonstrations that I could not comprehend, where the artist takes raw stock without much shape or form, and make an unbelievable work of art appear right before my eyes. In a sense, not taking any "cues" from the material as to what the final product should be, and forcing the tree into the artists own vision. This ability still remains a mystery to me at this point in my studies. Anyway, that's how I look at this art, a partnership between the best of what the material has to offer and the best of what the artist has to offer. But of course, I reserve the right to be utterly wrong :o) .
All the best,
Jason D. Lattier [/u]


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 15, 2005 1:33 am 
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'Usually the art of bonsai is a "partnership" between artist and tree. I can not think of any other art form that this hold concept holds true (please fill in you you can).'
Jason,
take the art of the theater or movie director. He starts out with a big ensemble of all sorts of actors, call them 'raw material'. He then has to find ways to put them together somehow in a piece; he has to live with what he has, but he can make the best of this. The actors are more or less slightly pushed into their role. They all have to adapt themselves more or less to the piece. some will grow tremendosly, some will do what they always did. In the end, if done well, the whole thing appears to be just right, as if it could not be any other way.
Then, of course there is all the surrounding things, like stagine etc. There the director has much more freedom to choose whatever he lkes.
To the naive viewer it may look like directing a theater piece or a movie is all about putting the contents together and here we are. The naive audience thinks that the success comes from the actors only. They are obviously doing the whole work. Or are they? Why is it then that the good directors get such a lot of praise?
An artist who styles a tree out of raw material is much in a similar position. He has to live with what he has, but can only go as far as the material allows him. He can do almost anything to the surrounding, like pot etc.
The fact that you see someone creating pieces of art out of 'nothing' tells me that you have not developed the skill yet to see the piece of art in a very complicated shrub. Demosntrators go long ways to find the 'impossible' piece of mateiralin order to look like magicians on stage or in a magazine. A good piece of material for them is one which looks absolutely hopeless, but enables them to create the obvious future masterpiece in a given time. So they do not make something out of nothing. It is only that the general crowd does not see the something in the nothing from the outset. And the crowd does not know the techniques behind this.
Very poor demonstration matieral is a piece where the majority of the audience can see the bonsai already. Unfortunaltely this is quite often the case because the process of selecting 'good', 'Impossible' material is not widely understood.
On the other hand one can argue about the value of a demonstration if at the end people like you, Jason, are puzzled and would have no chance to have learned something for their own benefit. Then the demonstration was just to show a genious at work.
I prefer to teach people, to explain how I come to my conclusions.
Walter Pall


Last edited by Walter Pall on Thu Jan 19, 2006 10:12 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 15, 2005 1:14 pm 
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Great thoughts Mr. Pall,
I think the analogy of a film director is a quite appropriate one. You bring up a very interesting point in your discussion about creating bonsai out of impossible material. Just take, for instance, a this creation by Cheng Cheng-Kung: http://internetbonsaiclub.org/simpleboa ... 7/catid,7/
Of course he has some great material upon first viewing, but when I saw the final result, my jaw dropped. This brings me to a question I've often wondered about. If there are advanced "techniques" in seeing the perfect bonsai form in raw material, what are the chances that two "master" bonsai artists would produce the same bonsai out of a single piece of raw material. Back to the ChengCheng-Kung example, I can't believe that any other artist out there could have created this masterpiece out of the same piece of raw stock. If there is this "eye" for bonsai in raw material that would seem to present no cues for development, how would one go about developing it? Or can it be something learned? How does one move beyond looking for that 1,2,3...1,2,3 branch placement and begin creating that next level of bonsai that can actually speak to the viewer? I would be nice if one could develop this skill without falling into the trap of imitating others; or is imitation of high quality bonsai a good way to learn? Personally, I am first a student of horticulture and as my studies have related to bonsai thus far, I feel perfectly comfortable growing and basic styling. But this leaves me with, what I think, is my greatest shortcoming thus far: artistry. I'm not quite sure how to effectively make that transition from bonsai grower and shaper to bonsai artists. I would love to hear some thoughts from those of you (Like Mr. Pall) who obviusly have made this transition. Thanks.
All the best,
Jason D. Lattier


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 15, 2005 2:36 pm 
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Jason,
I do believe that another artist would have come up with a very similar solution if they are working in the same general style.
So how does one acquire this skill? I think after the beginner's and intermediate stage it is about talent and practice, practice, practice.
I have analysed probably more than ten thousand trees. This includes trees in the mountians on the spot for finding out whether I should collect them and also trees in nurseries.
Then you have to work on several hundred trees to get this experience which helps you to analyse new material better again. It is a never ending story. One has to do it all year long over many years.
Are you ready for this?
In my workshops, demos and tree critiques I try to teach some of this approach. This is probably what you are looking for. No way to do it on the net.
Walter


Last edited by Walter Pall on Tue Mar 15, 2005 4:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Tue Mar 15, 2005 3:30 pm 
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Thanks for the advice, Mr. Pall. I figured the answer would be like everything else in bonsai: "it takes time and practice." When I finish grad school, I will hopefully be at the point where I can get an apprenticeship with a bonsai nursery or arboretum where I could have access to many trees to work with and study on a daily basis. I believe that would be the best case scenario for me. Until then, I'll just keep plugging along trying to learn as much as I can from the local club and from forums like this. Thanks for your help.
All the best,
Jason D. Lattier


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 Post subject: Re: Art=partnership
PostPosted: Tue Sep 13, 2005 5:32 am 
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Jason D. Lattier wrote:
I have, however, seen demonstrations that I could not comprehend, where the artist takes raw stock without much shape or form, and make an unbelievable work of art appear right before my eyes. In a sense, not taking any "cues" from the material as to what the final product should be, and forcing the tree into the artists own vision. This ability still remains a mystery to me at this point in my studies. Anyway, that's how I look at this art, a partnership between the best of what the material has to offer and the best of what the artist has to offer. [/u]

Demos can be very misleading. One can demonstrate magical actions and shoot out "look what I can do with this poor material", but the lack of progress recording is something I've never understood. In fact, Walter told that a demonstrator could easilly choose a very poor material just to show off his abilities to bend and carve. Why don't we have demos which show the progress of last year demos ? Is that because all the trees are dead by now ? Many shows are annually organized so it will be easy to arrange this type of demo.
The last statement is superb: the best partnership of both artists, namely men and nature. That's bonsai for me!


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PostPosted: Thu Jan 19, 2006 7:39 am 
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I think it's a little simplistic to say that all persons who attempt some aspect of an art are artists. Likewise, it is wrong to state that only those with some innate talent are artists.
I believe the difference lies in the intent of the artist. Once there is an intent to create a piece of art then you have an artist on your hands.


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