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 Post subject: Trapped by Bonsai
PostPosted: Tue Apr 14, 2009 7:27 am 
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Joined: Fri May 05, 2006 12:09 pm
Posts: 11
Location: Jakarta, Indonesia
Trapped by Bonsai
by Budi Sulistyo

Image
Photograph and Bonsai by Budi Sulistyo


Bonsai is an ancient art form from East Asia, which many claim to be over 2000 years old. Only royal families, noblemen, and high-ranking people formerly practiced the art in the past. Back then, Bonsai was a precious present fit for a king or high-ranking official and it also served as an object for meditation by holy monks in the temples. The art itself was considered much too high to reach or even understood by ordinary people.

Practically, bonsai is just a small tree planted in a pot. It needs sunshine, water, fertilizer, air circulation, pesticides, as well as fungicides to keep the plant living happily. However, bonsai is quite different from general potted plants, as bonsai also requires special knowledge in order to shape it into a certain criteria, so that it will achieve an ultimate beauty. The art of shaping bonsai is a unique thing, as usually people with talent can create beautiful bonsai, while some others might find it very difficult to achieve. Quite often, those artists who can create good bonsai are called masters. However, besides mastering the art of shaping, a person has to know well the knowledge of taking care of the plants. In the past, it was only a very few people that knew how to grow bonsai in the right way.

Bonsai can be grown from seeds, cuttings, air-layers, or from collected material, no matter how the material is obtained, in order to achieve the desired result, it would require a long time learning to care for them and acquiring expertise in shaping them. There are many styles in terms of a bonsai shape that are classified by the character of the trunk, the angle the trunk grows from the soil, number of trunks, the way the branches grow, and the way the roots grow. All these aspects still must be combined with the characteristics of the various species used for bonsai. Considering all that must be considered, learnt, and applied, the expertise of growing bonsai is a bit complicated and is often considered sophisticated.

Image
Photograph and Bonsai by Budi Sulistyo

Beautiful bonsai cultivated for a long time with love, expertise and good care will have a very intimate relationship with the grower. It is some thing to be proud of and could be of a very high value of money in the market. It means that besides being a work of art, bonsai also becomes a commodity to sell. Many rich men are very proud to have bonsai as their sophisticated plants in their garden.

Bonsai competitions held to find the best bonsai displayed in the show is some thing very common. It could and has been done with picture competitions as well, so that it can cover very large areas around the world. The best bonsai will increase the prestige and fame of the artist or owner. The bonsai selected usually will also get better appreciation from the public. It will make the price of the bonsai increased dramatically.

Image
Photograph and Bonsai by Budi Sulistyo

Considering the above, it is clear that bonsai revolves around many aspects. Some of these aspects are love or personal emotions between the artist and the artwork, expertise or mastery in creating art works from something simple into a real beauty accepted by many people. Becoming famous as a bonsai master, a great collector, or as the leader of a sophisticated high level society organization are also aspects of bonsai. With all these options, people can easily enter the trap related to bonsai.

I found that some friends were addicted very much to bonsai. They thought that bonsai was their way of life. Some left their schools and others left their jobs just to make bonsai as their main objective. The desire of getting fame, the illusion that bonsai will give them a lot of money, and the desire of becoming the best bonsai master in the world have poisoned them, so that they are trapped in an illusion of another world that could be much worse than their original.

Some wealthy people in the East are willing to spend a lot of money to collect best bonsai in a show and pay very high prices for them. They do not know much about bonsai. What they know is the plaques or certificates attached to the bonsai. This has created a condition in which quite often they have to hire special bonsai artists to take care of the collections, so that the bonsai will remain in good condition. In the countries where nobilities of bonsai are not yet accepted as a committed tradition, this condition could be a good place for bonsai traders to earn a lot of money through the judging process.

It also happened that some friendships were broken due to simple differences in the way of appreciating a bonsai. Politics in bonsai is some thing very common, though not many people want to accept the existence of it. I noticed that it has happened since the very beginning I entered the bonsai society and later on, I found out that it is not only in my country, but also in many other places in the world. Actually, it is a shame to find out that desires, emotions, jealousy, and ambitions are controlling bonsai more than that of the noble principle intended in the essence of creating a bonsai.

Image
Photograph and Bonsai by Budi Sulistyo

Anyhow, friendships, piece of mind and nobility is in fact still there. In the midst of all of the traps opened in the bonsai doing, we have to find the balance of “yin” and “yang” in enjoying the beauty of a bonsai. Bonsai itself is really a very noble living art to enjoy, both in finding peace and as a meditation object. Achieving that point will increase the artistic value of bonsai doing greatly.

Maturity in getting rid of all the traps and finding out the essence of life hiding behind it is like trying to reach a mystery in the real beauty of a bonsai.


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 Post subject: Re: Trapped by Bonsai
PostPosted: Mon Apr 20, 2009 7:02 pm 
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Joined: Fri Dec 29, 2006 9:33 pm
Posts: 10
Location: Pembroke Pines, Florida, USA
Dear Budi,

Your perspective on the art of bonsai is " on the money ", in my humble opinion. We all can get " caught up " in the various aspects of bonsai at the organizational level, but as my teacher said to me, time after time, " it should ALWAYS be about the trees ". Your own trees, in your own garden, are the best teachers, and the best escape from all the other problems. I go there often !!


Ed Trout Pembroke Pines, Florida


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 Post subject: Re: Trapped by Bonsai
PostPosted: Wed Apr 22, 2009 9:37 pm 
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Joined: Fri Oct 17, 2008 11:14 pm
Posts: 4
Budi,

I agree, its easy to get caught in the trap of "winning". However, in my experience this kind of euphoria from "winning" is short lived unless its supported by a true love of the object about which your winning. Mastery of bonsai is a very, very long process. People see beautiful trees and don't have a clue as how difficult it is to attain that beautiful tree. Malcolm Gladwell in his book "Outliers" talks about how long it takes to master anything. The evidence shows that it takes about 10,000 hours of practice before mastery is achieved in anything from music to computer programming. If you break that down, it comes to 2-3 hours a day, 7 days a week, 52 weeks a year for 9.5 years. Most people do not have that kind of dedication and become frustrated when their trees die. Buying quality trees in order to win contests becomes very expensive because without the profound knowledge necessary to keep them alive and looking good, the buyer will only get one show per tree. Even the most experienced bonsai hobbiest has branches that die or insects that infest.

Paul


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 Post subject: Re: Trapped by Bonsai
PostPosted: Thu Apr 23, 2009 4:14 am 
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Joined: Mon May 29, 2006 10:43 pm
Posts: 130
Location: Mexico, Merida
Hi Budi I agree quite well with your words, have seen it in the past and sad to say it is very common thing to see in Europe and in many other places. And yes Paul it takes a long time to master anything, however, Bonsai does help a lot, since the hard work is done by the tree it self. And for many it is a an economical resource to get expensive trees from abroad and resell them. Many of the best names in bonsai do this. Which is fine! people must live of something and the image is created. However, the dark side as mention in another topic, truly is when friendships are broken or when one becomes trap as Budi mention. I think we should always be aware of this and remember we are only human.


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 Post subject: Re: Trapped by Bonsai
PostPosted: Sat Apr 25, 2009 7:50 am 
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Joined: Tue Aug 08, 2006 12:45 pm
Posts: 99
Location: Dhaka, Bangladesh
Budi,

A nicely thought out article, and I agree with your point of view.

The monetary part and fame is acceptable, as many has taken it as a profession.
However, the dark side (and you have rightly pointed out) of bonsai culture is the 'politics' and 'jealousy'; destroying friendships and causing detrimental effect on creating aesthetic bonsai, it's appreciation and practice. And it exists in my country too.

But anyhow, good will overcome evil in course of time, as you must have experienced yourself. No matter what the odds are, good will come out sooner or later. Period.

Shaukat


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 Post subject: Re: Trapped by Bonsai
PostPosted: Fri May 01, 2009 11:01 pm 
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Joined: Thu Mar 26, 2009 2:04 pm
Posts: 4
As I read the numerous threads and articles on the subject, I think this article best illustrates the realities of what "bonsai as art" are. What this article describes is graduate school in an art college and all of the "politics" and jealousy" therein. There are those that accept the community and share their daily experiences/knowledge as they apply for shows, grants, and awards; a tide lifting all boats. Then there are those that feel doing so would compromise their own standing in the running because ultimately they lack the real confidence/skill to stand shoulder to shoulder with their peers and be judged. It is more important to see themselves succeed individually because their ultimate goal is to be that famous artist not just "another artist". In doing so these people hurt themselves in the long run because it is really the former relationships that keep you going after all else has ended. A fact proven out by the tributes to someone like Vaughn Banting.
Forever there have been the "why are bonsai not seen as art" threads and what you are seeing now are these threads describing the real time birth pains as the form develops more recognition. If this were not the case, I don't think people would be dropping everything under the delusion that they could become bonsai "rock stars" as the author describes.
One other aspect that I think this article addresses briefly that I believe is another development of this change is the idea in the following:

Quote:
This has created a condition in which quite often they have to hire special bonsai artists to take care of the collections, so that the bonsai will remain in good condition.


I know some will disagree but to me this is a good thing. This is also another sign of the acceptance of bonsai as collectors without the skill need those who have the skills. In the art world these would be called art handlers and exhibition installers and they are mostly comprised of artist with art degrees that need money to live. I think the answer to the problem of having unskilled collectors showing trees to win awards is give them their own lime light by showing them in galleries as "The Bonsai Collection of..." just like museums borrow private collections of art and send them all over the world. As these trees become known through this venue they would be rejected from competition just as the Calder at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection is no longer up for the Turner Prize.


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