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artofbonsai.org • View topic - Is That Bonsai Real?
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 Post subject: Is That Bonsai Real?
PostPosted: Tue May 03, 2005 8:13 am 
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Is That Bonsai Real?
by Will Heath

Image
Drawing by Richard Fish


That stunning bonsai that is displayed so well, the beauty that screams perfection, the image that touches your very soul --- is it natural, or is it cosmetically enhanced? Does the award winning grace come from the bonsai and the artist who shaped and styled it? Or is it the product of cosmetic trickery, makeup, dyes, props, and other unnatural enhancements that could turn an average bonsai into a showstopper?
Ridiculous, you say?

Consider the many enhancements that we already take for granted, from Tanuki to waxing foliage to carving deadwood. We oil our pots, brush our trunks, we wax this and wax that, all to better bring out the natural beauty of our bonsai and it's display. We push or postpone flowering by adjusting climate so that a tree will reach its peak on the day of the show and we purposely keep a tree in the shade to darken the foliage. I have even recently learned a trick to hide wounds where you simply press pieces of bark from the removed portion onto the sealing putty to camouflage the area.

Acceptable? Apparently, but where and when should we draw the line? When do the innocent tricks used for so long become cheating? Do we stop at dying foliage a prettier shade or using putty or clay to thicken the trunks or limbs? At attaching additional flowers from a separate plant, or gluing on additional foliage in a needed location, or clipping removable nebari onto the lower trunk for the show? When does the judging change from skill at cultivating, styling, and displaying artistic bonsai to skill at makeup and preparation? When will the cosmetologist replace the artist?

How prevalent is this? It is truly impossible to tell as what artist would readily admit to enhancing his skill or even covering up his lack thereof? Which artist would confess that the flowers on that award winner were actually grown on another plant altogether or that the luscious green of the foliage on that pine is the direct result of spraying dye #189 on in thin layers?

In this day and age of instant gratification and even faster leaps in technology in horticulture and the art of bonsai, these may indeed be questions to be addressed sooner than we think.


Last edited by Will Heath on Fri Jan 25, 2008 11:27 pm, edited 5 times in total.

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PostPosted: Wed May 04, 2005 12:14 pm 
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Some of the techiques used to hide little faults are accepted practice amongst the higher echalons. Attaching a piece of bark to a small bare spot would be perfectly all right. The old bark on the rest of the tree testifies for the age and character. It is authentic and needs some repair. Conversely, adding new bark to the entire lower trunk would be falsification, since it did not previously exist on the tree.

Adding fruits to a tree that does produce the same fruits is another example of acceptable practice. However, if you add something that the tree has never produced, I see that as dishonest.

Dying or lacquering the foliage is out of question in my opinion. I saw it in one exhibit on a Natal plum, and it looked ridiculous and tacky.

Enhancing the deadwood with preservers, colors and sometimes cement is widely accepted. The only requirement I see here is to be in harmony with the rest of the composition.

Grafting different species belonging to the same genus is only accepted in case of Junipers in my experience. I have never seen others, and I strongly believe that it would be looked at as a freak show.
These are my thoughts on this, based on what I saw in the last fifteen years, I am sure that others have more to say.


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PostPosted: Thu May 05, 2005 8:36 am 
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"That stunning bonsai that is displayed so well, the beauty that screams perfection, the image that touches your very soul --- is it natural, or is it cosmetically enhanced? Does the award winning grace come from the bonsai and the artist who shaped and styled it? Or is it the product of cosmetic trickery, makeup, dyes, props, and other unnatural enhancements that could turn an average bonsai into a showstopper?"

The question is really does any of that make any difference? The end justifies the means in bonsai. By it very nature, bonsai is unnatural--trees aren't meant to be kept by humans in pots. So the very foundation of the art/craft/whatever isn't natural.

There are only varying degrees of cosmetics/trickery/props etc. They range from crass and ineffective (laquered leaves) to the subtle and transparent (well Dremeled jins and glued on quince fruit on quince trees). The fact that bonsai is unnatural is a given. The proof of an "award winner" is if it's "unnaturally natural" and moves the viewer.


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