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artofbonsai.org • View topic - I am an artist
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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 ) 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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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Wed Feb 23, 2005 8:07 am 
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PostPosted: Thu Mar 03, 2005 12:47 pm 
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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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PostPosted: Tue Mar 15, 2005 2:36 pm 
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Last edited by Walter Pall on Tue Mar 15, 2005 4:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Art=partnership
PostPosted: Tue Sep 13, 2005 5:32 am 
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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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