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 Post subject: Re: Classical Bonsai Award at 1st National Bonsai Exhibition
PostPosted: Thu Nov 06, 2008 6:00 pm 
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Attila Soos wrote:

Will,

There is no point for any of us trying to define literati in this thread.

You're right, we'll split the Literati discussion into another thread, as it is a valid discussion, but slightly off-topic here.

Attila Soos wrote:
Your example of "literati" is marginal at best. In the eye of many, it would not be a classic example of literati - as Colin alluded to it (nice taper, plenty of foliage - especially at the apex, pleasing and balanced branching everywhere, almost a lush feel to it). It is using some of the qualities of literati, but it falls far from the essence of it - so I would call it a bonsai with literati overtones. It lacks the sparseness and austerity of literati. But the tree is not trying to be a classic literati at all, so I don't see this as a shortcoming.

Bonsai with Literati overtones, classic literati, or Literati feel....Literati just the same....The point of choosing this tree was that it is Literati, but not what many think of as such. My point is that Literati has no guidelines that one can nail down.



Will


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 Post subject: Re: Classical Bonsai Award at 1st National Bonsai Exhibition
PostPosted: Thu Nov 06, 2008 6:03 pm 
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Mike Page wrote:

Will, you left out the important part of my statement.
Literati bonsai most surely has guidelines. They are found in the work of literati artists beginning in China many centuries ago. This is where anyone interested in this style should begin their study. Forget the bonsai books.

Could you list some of these guidelines you learned from these sources?


Mike Page wrote:
Steve Tolly's tree is beautiful. However to my eye, it is NOT literati.

Why?

Mike Page wrote:
Back to "guidelines". For me, the art of the literati are the guidelines.

Yes, and those are....?




Will


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 Post subject: Re: Classical Bonsai Award at 1st National Bonsai Exhibition
PostPosted: Thu Nov 06, 2008 7:07 pm 
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Will Heath wrote:
Mike Page wrote:

Will, you left out the important part of my statement.
Literati bonsai most surely has guidelines. They are found in the work of literati artists beginning in China many centuries ago. This is where anyone interested in this style should begin their study. Forget the bonsai books.

Could you list some of these guidelines you learned from these sources?


Tall, graceful,serene, very slender, very little, if any taper,branches sparse and in the top 1/3 of the trunk. This, to me encapsulates the style. I know you want words, but I'm a more visually oriented person.


Will Heath wrote:
Mike Page wrote:
Steve Tolly's tree is beautiful. However to my eye, it is NOT literati.

Why?


Because it has none of the charactistics I enumerated above.

Will Heath wrote:
Mike Page wrote:
Back to "guidelines". For me, the art of the literati are the guidelines.

Yes, and those are....?


Refer to the image of 15th century Chinese literati I posted earlier. If you are interested in a textbook on literati, the book I have refered to earlier is of great value. I'm not the only bonsaiist to use this book Bill Valavanis has it in his library also.

I get the feeling that you have doubts concerning my understanding of literati. It may not be vast, but it's sufficient to apply to bonsai. I'm no longer active as a teacher/demonstrator, but I've done a bit of it in years past. I have conducted literati workshops at both club and convention level. Some thought my efforts were worthwhile.

I'm sorry this seems to have reached a contentious level. Surely wasn't my intent.


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 Post subject: Re: Classical Bonsai Award at 1st National Bonsai Exhibition
PostPosted: Thu Nov 06, 2008 8:22 pm 
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Mike Page wrote:
[
I get the feeling that you have doubts concerning my understanding of literati.


Mike,
I have the same feeling. Will is trying to prove that we don't really know what we are talking about.

Will,
If you are having fun doing this, that's fine with me, but I am getting a little uncomfortable playing this game.

On the other hand, if you just believe that literati has absolutely no qualifying criteria, and anything can pass as such, I am not really interested to change your perception. I've seen people believing things much worse...

Getting back to the subject of this thread, Mike's tree and the Yoshimura award: the judges all came to the same conclusion because the did use the criteria that you don't believe in. Apparently, they believe that literati bonsai can be subjected to specific guidelines.

All the best,
Attila


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Nov 07, 2008 12:04 am 
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Attila Soos wrote:
Mike Page wrote:
I get the feeling that you have doubts concerning my understanding of literati.


Mike,
I have the same feeling. Will is trying to prove that we don't really know what we are talking about.

Nothing could be further from the truth, let's not read more into this than what it is. Mike claimed that Literati had set guidelines, I have pressed only to be shown what these guidelines are.

Attila Soos wrote:
Will,
If you are having fun doing this, that's fine with me, but I am getting a little uncomfortable playing this game.

Learning is always fun. By all means, don't play if it makes you uncomfortable.
However, I hardly think that politely asking someone to elaborate on a statement or a claim so that a better understanding of the concept can be had is cause for being uncomfortable.

Attila Soos wrote:
[On the other hand, if you just believe that literati has absolutely no qualifying criteria, and anything can pass as such, I am not really interested to change your perception. I've seen people believing things much worse...

I never claimed that anything could pass off as Literati, please let us focus on what has actually been said.

Will


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 Post subject: Re: Defining Literati Style
PostPosted: Fri Nov 07, 2008 12:15 am 
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Mike Page wrote:

Tall, graceful,serene, very slender, very little, if any taper,branches sparse and in the top 1/3 of the trunk. This, to me encapsulates the style. I know you want words, but I'm a more visually oriented person.


I think one of the words you want is feminine.

However, if I understand you, by your definition, a bonsai with taper, or branches below the top third of the height, or one with full foliage could not qualify as a Literati, is this correct?




Will


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 Post subject: Re: Classical Bonsai Award at 1st National Bonsai Exhibition
PostPosted: Fri Nov 07, 2008 11:41 am 
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Will Heath wrote:
Attila Soos wrote:
The simple fact that we can usually tell a literati bonsai from a bonsai that is not, leads me to believe that we base our decision of on a group of criteria applicable to literati. If there was no such criteria, then we could not tell them apart from other trees, and there would be no such group as literati.

And yet, none have been able to list such a criteria.

Will


I'm not sure I understand the controversy here. Some have mentioned guidelines and named them. But one can summarize "guidelines not rules" in a more folksy way:

"Guidelines is as guidelines does," to paraphrase an old saw about beauty. While Mike and Attila and others are suggesting there are guidelines, nothing in their posts suggests that they think those guidelines are rigid, legalistic rules. There is a great deal of flex. So is Steve Tolley's twin trunk white pine a literati or not? It could be, or it could be not. How flexible does one want the guidelines to be, or does one to do away with the guidelines?

While the tree in question does not readily fit into standardized "styles," (although it is obviously a twin trunk, it is highly stylized in a new direction) it certainly does not possess much of the characterization given by John Naka:
Quote:
* It has shape or form but there is no definite pattern.
* It has no pattern, it is irregular and seems disfigured.
* It is like food that has no taste at the beginning but the more you chew the more flavor comes out. When you first look at Bunjin style there is nothing exciting about it, it is so skimpy and lonely. But the more you observe it the more the tree quality and natural traits will come out. You will feel something from inside of your mind, and not only through the surface eyes.
* It looks like it is struggling for its survival, or a form of agony. The tree itself should not be in this condition, in reality it should be healthy. The shape or form may indicate struggle but not health. It seems to be a very cruel method but it is only concept. Its appearance should not be too serious nor easy, it should be free, unconstrained, witty, clever, humorous and unconventional. A good example for this is a study of any of nature's tree that has survived some sort of problem or disaster.
* To avoid uselessness, the ultimate final form or shape is a very important technique.
* It should portray a simple abstract painting, Senryu, Haiku, poem, music and song.
* Shape or form is from wind, weather, not too rugged but more graceful.

(emphasis mine)

So while we all agree on almost every aspect of what a literati is, and we all agree that it's difficult to codify, we may not agree on whether a particular tree is literati or not.


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 Post subject: Re: Classical Bonsai Award at 1st National Bonsai Exhibition
PostPosted: Fri Nov 07, 2008 1:52 pm 
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Chris Johnston wrote:

So while we all agree on almost every aspect of what a literati is, and we all agree that it's difficult to codify, we may not agree on whether a particular tree is literati or not.


Spot on Chris, pleasure to see your comments on this.
I was curious on John Naka's thoughts on literati, and I couldn't find anything from him last night, so thanks for quoting him.


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 Post subject: Re: Defining Literati Style
PostPosted: Fri Nov 07, 2008 2:14 pm 
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This entire discussion boils down to two statements: There most certainly are guidelines for Literati style, and: What are those guidelines?

When the word guidelines is incorporated into a discussion it is usually followed with a "list" of things, principles, methods, and treatments. Without this set of guidelines there are no---guidelines. We are making an argument over perception not execution. You cannot refer to images and say that these images are guidelines, that's a lot of whooey, it may be all the evidence we have and it may be the model we are driven by but it is not a guideline it is simply a form to be imitated.

A guideline provides for a clear cut definition of a particular subject, where by someone having never seen a Literati can create one. As is stands at this moment it is beginning to sound more like a Congressional hearing trying to define what pornography is. This actually happened; in one of the debates over this subject(pornography) some twenty-years ago when some member of Congress made the statement: "Well I can't define what pornography is, but I know it when I see it." It makes one wonder if viewing a lot of said material was mandatory in making that determination? What a world, what a country, what a mess.

In the end it all comes down to a subjective analysis lacking any method of making an objective one.

If you cannot provide clear cut guidelines just say so, there is no fault in that; from what I have found after going through all of my library of some forty-years in building, no one can. To me it is foolish to continue arguing a point that you cannot prove rather than to admit being wrong, when in the end you will still be proven wrong.

Maybe it would be better for all of us to determine what the style is to us and how we define it. God knows no one else can, or has. Sometimes we look to other sources greater than ourselves for justification of our actions when in reality we have gone beyond or outside of those sources where we are now required to provide the "guidelines". Do you think the Wright Brothers had to quote other sources concerning powered flight before they were able to make the first powered airplane?

Sometimes you follow a trail and sometimes other people expect you to blaze one, and sometimes circumstances put you into a position where you have to.


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 Post subject: Re: Defining Literati Style
PostPosted: Fri Nov 07, 2008 5:06 pm 
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Vance Wood wrote:
This entire discussion boils down to two statements: There most certainly are guidelines for Literati style, and: What are those guidelines?

When the word guidelines is incorporated into a discussion it is usually followed with a "list" of things, principles, methods, and treatments. Without this set of guidelines there are no---guidelines. We are making an argument over perception not execution. You cannot refer to images and say that these images are guidelines, that's a lot of whooey, it may be all the evidence we have and it may be the model we are driven by but it is not a guideline it is simply a form to be imitated.

A guideline provides for a clear cut definition of a particular subject, where by someone having never seen a Literati can create one. As is stands at this moment it is beginning to sound more like a Congressional hearing trying to define what pornography is. This actually happened; in one of the debates over this subject(pornography) some twenty-years ago when some member of Congress made the statement: "Well I can't define what pornography is, but I know it when I see it." It makes one wonder if viewing a lot of said material was mandatory in making that determination? What a world, what a country, what a mess.

In the end it all comes down to a subjective analysis lacking any method of making an objective one.

If you cannot provide clear cut guidelines just say so, there is no fault in that; from what I have found after going through all of my library of some forty-years in building, no one can. To me it is foolish to continue arguing a point that you cannot prove rather than to admit being wrong, when in the end you will still be proven wrong.

Maybe it would be better for all of us to determine what the style is to us and how we define it. God knows no one else can, or has. Sometimes we look to other sources greater than ourselves for justification of our actions when in reality we have gone beyond or outside of those sources where we are now required to provide the "guidelines". Do you think the Wright Brothers had to quote other sources concerning powered flight before they were able to make the first powered airplane?

Sometimes you follow a trail and sometimes other people expect you to blaze one, and sometimes circumstances put you into a position where you have to.


Mike Page wrote:
]
LITERATI STYLE by Professor Amy Liang
From her book, THE LIVING ART OF BONSAI

"This style was the favorite of the literati in ancient China.Trees in this style grow in valleys between precipices or beside mountain streams. The trunk is slender, tall and graceful. As a result of low sunlight, the trunk has no branches on it’s lower part. Branches are sparse and short with many open spaces between them, giving the tree the appearance of fragility, elegance and unworldly grace.The literati is the easiest style to create, but is at the same time, difficult to accomplish well. The artist must possess three qualities to make the choices necessary to create a successful literati style: keen aesthetic judgment, accumulated wisdom and superb techniques. Favorable tree species are of the pine and juniper families, maple and Japanese flowering apricot (plum), Fukien Tea, and Oldham elaeagnus. Shallow round and irregular pots of austere color should be chosen for this style to display a peaceful and relaxed"


[

I have already quoted John Naka's ideas about guidelines for literati or bunjin bonsai, and highlighted the bits that were concrete technical guidelines. Mike has quoted Amy Liang and I have done the same, and Mike has put these things into his own words. How specific should one be?

There is another person in this thread who has set down some concrete guidelines as well. Where's Waldo?

Chris


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 Post subject: Re: Classical Bonsai Award at 1st National Bonsai Exhibition
PostPosted: Fri Nov 07, 2008 7:55 pm 
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Chris Johnston wrote:

While the tree in question does not readily fit into standardized "styles," (although it is obviously a twin trunk, it is highly stylized in a new direction) it certainly does not possess much of the characterization given by John Naka:
Quote:
* It has shape or form but there is no definite pattern.
* It has no pattern, it is irregular and seems disfigured.
* It is like food that has no taste at the beginning but the more you chew the more flavor comes out. When you first look at Bunjin style there is nothing exciting about it, it is so skimpy and lonely. But the more you observe it the more the tree quality and natural traits will come out. You will feel something from inside of your mind, and not only through the surface eyes.
* It looks like it is struggling for its survival, or a form of agony. The tree itself should not be in this condition, in reality it should be healthy. The shape or form may indicate struggle but not health. It seems to be a very cruel method but it is only concept. Its appearance should not be too serious nor easy, it should be free, unconstrained, witty, clever, humorous and unconventional. A good example for this is a study of any of nature's tree that has survived some sort of problem or disaster.
* To avoid uselessness, the ultimate final form or shape is a very important technique.
* It should portray a simple abstract painting, Senryu, Haiku, poem, music and song.
* Shape or form is from wind, weather, not too rugged but more graceful.


Chris, what you have quoted above is directly from my article on Literati found at http://artofbonsai.org/feature_articles/literati.php and, as I mentioned in the article, it is not all of John's thoughts on Literati. The list is not in the same order and there are omissions from the original, you should have cited my article.

However, had you followed the link in the references on the article, you could have found all his thoughts on Literati. Please see Golden Statements Magazine, March/April 1993 (Published by the Golden State Bonsai Federation) or "John Naka on Bunjin - Gi - Bunjin Style" (http://www.bssf.org/articles-and-storie ... jin-style/)

On the first page of this thread I said "While I could easily describe most styles to you, using set and time honored guidelines, the same can not be said about Literati. John Naka mirrors most thoughts on this style, that the Literati style is a dream, a vision, more than reality, one can not simply nail the style down.

Lack of Nebari, direction of movement, trunk movement, foliage placement, scarcity of foliage, direction of growth, texture, shape, form, none of these things and yet all of these things can be attributed to the Literati style at one time, but not another."


Hence I said there were no guidelines for creating Literati, as the descriptions above could be applied to other styles as well.

Mike then stated that there certainly are guidelines, I asked him what they were. He then quoted Amy's words, "The trunk is slender, tall and graceful. As a result of low sunlight, the trunk has no branches on it’s lower part. Branches are sparse and short with many open spaces between them, giving the tree the appearance of fragility, elegance and unworldly grace."

And he stated, "Tall, graceful,serene, very slender, very little, if any taper,branches sparse and in the top 1/3 of the trunk. This, to me encapsulates the style"

To which I replied, ".....by your definition, a bonsai with taper, or branches below the top third of the height, or one with full foliage could not qualify as a Literati, is this correct? I did not get an answer.



With a few exceptions, this has been a fact finding thread, there really is no reason to get upset, not that there ever is a reason when your beliefs are questioned. Let's keep it civil and on topic.

Now that we have recapped, let's look at the guidelines presented.

John's guidelines are generic to the extreme, sure they touch on the nature of a Literati, but they better illustrate his thought that Literati is more like a dream or vision than they guide one in the creation.

Amy's words, again they touch upon the essence of Literati, but do little to guide one in the creation of such. Her statement that the branches are short is actually not correct in many cases.

Mike's statement about little taper is also not correct in many examples.

Now maybe you can see where I was going, although the descriptions above can not be said to be wrong, they can also not be said to be right in all cases. In fact, many can be applied to other styles. So, they do not work as guidelines and are not as clear cut as, let's say, a full cascade drops below the level of the pot and a semi cascade falls somewhere in between that level and the rim of the pot...or that a formal upright has a straight trunk with little, if any movement and the apex is directly above the base of the trunk.

Again, this is why I have said no one has developed guidelines for a literati yet, that I know of. Quoting others just wasn't doing it.....

I spent the day thinking of this problem and I have thought of three guidelines that work for Literati. They are simple, straightforward, and apply to every successful literati that I have seen. They are....

  • Feminine in Nature
  • Minimalistic (Which makes sense considering the one stroke tree paintings that inspired the style - thanks Vance)
  • The emphasis is always on the trunk.

I believe that every successful Literati will have all three of these features. I would love to be shown (not told) that I am wrong and I would also love to see additional guidelines that could be added to this list.



Will


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 Post subject: Re: Classical Bonsai Award at 1st National Bonsai Exhibition
PostPosted: Sat Nov 08, 2008 2:17 am 
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While I'd like to see "Feminine in nature" defined a little more carefully, I could agree with all three of your guidelines. With them in mind, I do not believe I would call Steve Tolley's white pine a literati tree. While it is feminine in nature with emphasis on the trunk, I would suggest that it is far too lush to be considered a literati tree.

I don't know that I'd limit the guidelines to three, but it's a fairly workable definition. Anyone wish to add or subtract something (not that the thing will ever be settled!)?


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 Post subject: Re: Classical Bonsai Award at 1st National Bonsai Exhibition
PostPosted: Sat Nov 08, 2008 8:46 am 
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Last edited by Richard Patefield on Mon Apr 27, 2009 6:53 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Classical Bonsai Award at 1st National Bonsai Exhibition
PostPosted: Sat Nov 08, 2008 9:36 am 
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Chris Johnston wrote:
While I'd like to see "Feminine in nature" defined a little more carefully...


Richard Patefield wrote:

Me too. I think 'nature' is definitely a word to avoid - 'character' might be less controversial.

Feminine needs unpacking, its too vague.


Maybe just feminine without the descriptive adverbage? I think the word feminine is important and valid, I have never seen a masculine Literati. Feminine covers the usual words used to describe this style, grace, charm, elegance, etc.

Richard Patefield wrote:
I'd like to see something in there about example of this type having a form appearing to have been shaped by identifiable conditions of environment or situation.

Is this not true of all trees?


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 Post subject: Re: Classical Bonsai Award at 1st National Bonsai Exhibition
PostPosted: Sat Nov 08, 2008 9:48 am 
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