The Future of Bonsai, The Third Dimension
Page 4 of 7

Author:  Attila Soos [ Wed Aug 10, 2005 4:27 pm ]
Post subject: 

It's funny, but the more the discussion about the possiblity of a bonsai intended to be viewed from all sides goes on, and the more arguments I hear against it from different people, the more I like the idea. All the arguments against it fall flat on their face, in my view.
As far as nature's intention of creating a best front for everything goes, my favorite view of a nude woman is a partial back view with her face looking backwards and smiling at me. So that I have the best of both worlds. I hardly believe that nature created that twisted position as her best front.
As to the argument that bonsai is not a copy of nature, it is our interpretation of nature, this is completely irrelevant to the topic. If the front view is abstract or illusionary, so can be any other view. On a strictly one-view trees, you create the illusion of depth. On a 3D tree, you create actual depth. Both can be done. It's our choice. Creating illuson of any kind, can be called art. But just because on a 3D tree certain illusions are not necessary because you create the real thing, that doesn't make it less artful. The art-ness of it can lie its many other aspects. It is strange that many of us believe that if we create the illusion of a landscape, that's art, but if we create the actual landscape, that's not art anymore. And it doesn't have to be naturalistic at all (if you don't like that stuff). It can be just as abstract as a traditional bonsai.

The argument "what is it for anyway?", is irrelevant as well. "What is bonsai for, anyway?" sounds the same to me.
The argument the a tree should have a best front, is irrelevant as well. Nobody said that it shouldn't. There is always a certain view that we may prefer better than others. A 3D bonsai just have to be credible from all angles. Instead of forcing the viewer to accept one angle, each of us can decide which one we like.
There is the infamous argument "what about the eye-poking branches?". My answer is "what about?" There is nothing wrong with them. Just don't stay too close and don't get hurt.
Recently re-read Naka's bonsai manual. The argument is that branches should not curve or move towards the viewer because from the front view the movement will be invisible. The branch that curves towards you, will look straight. Therefore, it should be avoided.
Well, that rule is perfect for the one-sided view. But for the 3D view, it doesn't apply, since a branch that moves towards you from front, will have a visible movement from the side. So, this rule loses its relevance in this case, and therefore will be ignored. We just need to use our brain a little to use the rules that make sense in our particular circumstances.
And lastly, this 3D concept is not a substitute for traditional bonsai. An artist can and should do both, I believe. There are certain effects that can easily be achieved with the traditional one-side view and difficult or impossible to do with 3D bonsai. Namely, more complex landscapes or conscious optical distortions in order to increase the impact of certain features. When that's the intent, the artist can use the one-sided view.
So, there is a place for both.
I suspect that this discussion would be very different if some real sculptor artists were involved in it.

Author:  Will Heath [ Wed Aug 10, 2005 4:42 pm ]
Post subject:  Re:

Soumya Mitra wrote:
What i intend to convey by my understsnding of front of bonsai is that since GOD intended that creatures ( higher life form) should have a face ( front , frontal view, best view) similarly trees also have such feature. Only we need to identify and showcase it while creating bonsai art.
When we can't identify or fail to relate to the best view we may take refuge under a different set of game rule or propose the new rule as ORIGINAL sacrosant and panacea .

Although you have brought up some very good points on this subject, I have to disagree with your statements I have quoted above.
The creator did not select a front for "higher beings" We call the side that has the eyes the front, who knows what the creator calls the front. You see, the creator took the time to make humans visually pleasing from all sides, he did not hide shoddy workmanship in the back like many bonsai artists do. He did not make only one single side pleasing, every side of us, every angle is beautiful, there are no bad views. You may very well prefer looking at one side, while someone else may enjoy another view.
If the creator intended us to be viewed only from one side, we would live in a two dimensional world.
Let's say you are walking though the fields and come across a magnificent Oak standing there. Do you enjoy it's beauty or do you walk around it trying to figure out which side the creator meant it to be viewed from. And let's say I also walked up to this Oak but from the other direction, would not I also be impressed with it's beauty or would I too circle around looking for what I think is the front?
Where is the front of a circle, of a triangle,of a square? The idea of a preferred front in nature just doesn't cut it, trees and all things living or not have three dimensions, not two. The front you prefer may not be the front I do, so who is right?
We both are.
And that my friend is the whole point of these thoughts.
Will Heath

Author:  Will Heath [ Wed Aug 10, 2005 4:47 pm ]
Post subject:  Re:

Attila Soos wrote:
I suspect that this discussion would be very different if some real sculptor artists were involved in it.

Excellent points Attila and I suspect you are right.


Author:  Andrew Loosli [ Thu Aug 11, 2005 3:17 am ]
Post subject: 

thank you very much for finding the right words. To the sculptor question: I was really puzzled by some rather impatient posts here, so I went for a walk. I bring you back greetings from the 'citizens of Calais' who stand in a museum court nearby. I looked for the front and found out that you can either look at them as the one who waits for the town key or as another citizen who watches them go. Or both. When you like Rodin you certainly will walk around them.
At home I watched an old movie. One of these that are in fact filmed theatre: Persons come from the right or the left, meet in the center and talk, the camera all the time standing at the same spot. 'Arsenic and old laces' and all that stuff, you know. Just to compare I then watched a short scene from 'seven' with it's totally different camera settings. You could not have shown that movie in the fifties, I suppose. Objective camera, subjective camera, still camera, moved camera ? that was an argue like this once.
Thus openminded lets get back to our topic: All of us know these old big trees. These unique ones that impress people so much they make up legends and rumours. Fancy such a tree. If you do not like the naturalism take some very wild juniper sculpture, it is really irrelevant. Build a hall round it in your fantasy. Place the tree in the center so that you will see under its lowest branches. Enjoy. But if afterwards you do not like traditional bonsai anymore then you have misunderstood.

Author:  John Dixon [ Thu Aug 11, 2005 8:30 am ]
Post subject: 

There is obviously no shortage of artistic creativity in the thought process here.
The problem is the actual implementation. It will be a compromise that trades traditional guidelines for others.
You mentioned John Naka and his comments about branch placement, eye-pokers and such. Exactly what he taught cannot be practiced with this 3D philosophy. Therein lies my skepticism. Guidelines by the greats, like Naka, have served me well up to this point. I am very hesitant to change what I have done up to now, for what I believe is still just theory. Those of you who are supportive of 3D need to realize that people like me are NOT trendsetters. I am waiting for these theories to be proven superior to established methods.
You said that arguments for front views have fallen flat on their face (I like the pun, whether intended or accidental). Well, how about the questions concerning pot styles, and pot placement? Where are the "3D" answers to that? Pot selection and placement have always been critical steps in making a good composition. So far, the 3D considerations glaze (pun intended) over this.
I agree with visual attributes being part of more than just a front-view, always have. But once again I ask, what is the cost paid when we do not give a preferred view the majority of those attributes? Is a good 3D bonsai superior to a great front-view bonsai? I still say no. In your remarks you do agree with a [quote] "front-view", if I read correctly, but the compromise of this for 3D remains absent from the 3D supporters. The question is, "until you have a starting point, how can you "start" the race, much less finish it?"
I thought an integral part of this thread was the 3D DISPLAY aspect. I would like to hear more about that too.

Author:  Attila Soos [ Thu Aug 11, 2005 11:49 am ]
Post subject: 

Displaying such a tree can be done in a much more informal setting, compared to traditional formal displays. That's exactly one of the reasons why I see appeal in it, it is much closer to our western mindset. I like the idea of museum-like displays, where statues are placed on a pedestals or poles, and the walls provide a clear, uncluttered surrounding. But I also like garden displays on poles. Here the surrounding doesn't matter, as long as the trees are given enough breathing space.
For pots, round , hexagonal, and square pots come first in mind because they provide equal weight all-round. This could be best for more or less upright trees. For trees having a pronounced leaning form, I see oval as a better choice because it accentuates the space along the direction of the trunk.

Author:  Attila Soos [ Thu Aug 11, 2005 11:52 am ]
Post subject: 

BTW, church in my opinion is a great place to display these trees. Somehow, the universe and nature represented by these small trees harmonizes really well with the concept of any religion.
And you don't have to worry about people looking at the "wrong side" of the tree.

Author:  Craig Cowing [ Sat Aug 20, 2005 10:31 pm ]
Post subject:  Re:

Attila Soos wrote:
BTW, church in my opinion is a great place to display these trees. Somehow, the universe and nature represented by these small trees harmonizes really well with the concept of any religion.
And you don't have to worry about people looking at the "wrong side" of the tree.

Funny you should mention that. I'm bringing a tree to church tomorrow but I haven't decided which one. My congregation is accustomed to me bringing them, and they like seeing them.
Rev. Craig Cowing
Zone 5b/6a Sunset 37

Author:  Al Keppler [ Sat Sep 03, 2005 12:34 am ]
Post subject: 

Remember that the front you prefer may not be the same front others would prefer, we all see a tree differently. When you look at a great work of art, the things that move your soul may well be very different from the things that move mine. Thankfully the artist included all and not just what moved one person, in fact this may very well define what makes some work wildly popular while other works are not, appealing to many.

After reading this lengthly discussion, with no real validation of either view possible, I found the above quote strange. It has been said more than once during this discussion, and I seek further clarification on the subject.
My point of view, as I read it is vastly different than the above, is my point of view. As are the way I style my bonsai. I do not style my trees to please the masses so to speak. I create what pleases me. When I display in a public venue, I am endeared by those that saw something and thank those that did not connect with my soul. I have no agenda nor desire to try to come back the next year and persuade those that "did not see" to see something different in my work.
My work is to be taken at face value, and one can like it or not. I feel that doing bonsai to please all the people all the time, starts to get like work. The artist becomes a slave to the gallery, only producing what sells. The artist begins to lose his creativity and the art stagnates. All his/her bonsai begin to look like cookie cutters and the personality is lost.
I totally agree with auxillery pleasing views and will always strive to make my bonsai the best possible from the sides and back.
Finally, comparing sculpture to bonsai is really not the same thing. While I agree that in the artists lexicon, sculpture more readily fits what we do when compared to painting. While all the arts make use of the same tools and pretty much use them in the same context, trees are living. The sculpter has much more control of his medium, has the ability to take away or add to when desired, and is not held to the rigors of life. I've never seen a sculpture die during the two year sculpting process.
The closest thing that a sculpter may have to deal with in his medium that is akin to what a bonsai artist may deal with is those that sculpt in stone. The sculpter will have to deal with fractures, cracks, imperfections in the stone that may have to be integrated in the final design.
The sculpter though, for the most part, can make what he wants from the raw material. We are far less fortunate in that process.
Just one artists opinon, Al Keppler

Author:  Craig Cowing [ Sat Sep 03, 2005 12:45 pm ]
Post subject: 

The nature of the medium in which an artist works can determine, at least in part, the outcome of the work. We're not as different as other artists as you might think, although most other artists don't use time the way we do as a tool.
Think about sculptors, for instance. A sculptor who works in marble, let's say, is going to prefer one sort over another. Michaelangelo, for instance, preferred the marble from a particular quarry in Italy. And, some stone will have imperfections in it. I suppose some might be able to see the hints of perfections and select another piece of material, and probably some won't see an imperfection and the work is already partly done, so they decide whether to alter the work or start over.
Woodworkers are limited by their materials--you know that, Al. There are some woods that are going to work well for certain types of projects, and some that won't. Some warp easily, may be prone to checking, and some material may be inferior because it was seasoned improperly. You have to decide if the material meets your standards before you proceed. And, it's always possible you may find imperfections as you go on. And, you may find that it is possible to incorporate an imperfection into the finished work.
The whole point is that there are some limitations on artists in other media, perhaps except those who make sculptures out of cast metal or something like that. The artist has to work around the imperfections, incorporate them into the design, or get other material.
This is becoming a bit of a rant, but I guess that's ok in this forum. One of my other hobbies is doing gravestone rubbings. It involves doing rubbings on paper of gravestone art using wax crayons. I have found that the materials available to a carver determined the general style to a great degree. Those who had fine slate available to them were able to do fine engraving that would last (and often has) for centuries. On the other hand, those working with softer stone, such as the brown sandstone found in the area I grew up in Connecticut, were limited to bolder designs with much less fine detail because the stone is soft and it erodes much more easily.
So, material can determine the style too.
Ok, rant mode off.
Craig Cowing
Zone 5b/6a Sunset 37

Author:  Al Keppler [ Sun Sep 04, 2005 12:19 am ]
Post subject: 

Thanks Craig, but eventhough the medium used may have some limitations, be it wood or stone, as a sculpter I would still have the freedon to carve or build what I want. I can use poor wood, but it does not keep me from building what I want.
I would think it very difficult to make a cascade tree from a collected formal upright pine. I guess with enough time one could, but why? It would just be better to work with what you had and continue to improve that. I guess what I was trying to say is,
"that at any given time, the bonsai artist will be vastly limited with in his medium due to the complexities of the material at hand."
Those with more resources will obviously have more choices, and probably be seen as more artistic within a given time frame.
Regards, Al

Author:  Howard Smith [ Mon Sep 05, 2005 12:31 am ]
Post subject: 

Much of what I am about to say has already been said, but I thought I would just throw in my take on the subject. 3D bonsai to me is a separate endeavor. Just as saikei or yose-ue uses different techniques than bonsai itself. I agree that if you ask ten different bonsai artists what the front of the tree is, you will probably end up with at least three different answers, probably more. Each will have its own merits. However, much of the art of bonsai in my experience is to bring out the best of that one chosen side. A commitment is made early in the development of a tree to make that one front speak for the whole tree.
This is done by shaping branches with a forward movement to be more inviting to the viewer, or i.e. give the illusion of a much larger tree. The back branches are rounded off which privides more depth, again giving the illusion of a much larger tree. The forward lean of the apex adds to the illusion of an imposing height. The placement of the tree in the pot provides stability in harmony with the visual movement of the chosen front. The primary branch of a bonsai is not always the first lowest branch, again depending on the flow of the trunk from the front. All these things are done to give the illusion of a much larger, older tree. These fundamental techniques of bonsai would be moot in 3D, they would be lost.
When I had the oppurtunity to go to Kokufu, one of the first things I noticed that struck me about the magnificent trees I saw, was how the artist emphasized the strengths and de-emphasized weaknesses. This was by no means sloppy technique or poor material, but rather artistry at its best. This would be impossible with 3D bonsai, and I believe this part of bonsai artistry would be lost.
I also cannot explain why, and I'm sorry I do not have the words to express this but I feel that a tree's character, or its soul, would be diluted with 3D bonsai. Perhaps because part of how I choose the front of a tree is to find its distinguishing characteristic - fantastic deadwood or the dance of the lifeline on a juniper, absence of scars on a deciduous tree, best view of nebari on a pine, etc...
I am not opposed to 3D bonsai; it seems like an entriguing idea and would be fun to do. But it is a different artform, and like windswept style, the truly good specimens would be few and far between.

Author:  Hector Johnson [ Fri Dec 16, 2005 7:06 pm ]
Post subject: 

Something that appears to have been overlooked here is that bonsai are usually designed with a specific front because they are an exercise in perspective.
Whilst Western artists took until the 14th or 15th century to realise perspective in their work it was prevalent in Chinese and Japanese art much earlier. Bonsai are a part of the artistic tradition of Asia, with all of the expectations and tradition that entails.
Use of the forward-leaning trunk; the short "eye-poking" branches near the crown of the tree; the frontal aspects of the apex design; the placement of back branches; position within the pot; direction and balance; foliage training... all of these things are perspective devices, necessary for the creation of the illusion portrayed by a bonsai. They all contribute to the experience that constitute a "good" bonsai. In fact, it is apparent to a trained eye when they are not present.
That is not to say that the composition should not be aesthetically pleasing when viewed from other angles than perpendicular to the front. Indeed, a good tree should follow the same basic rules when viewed from any angle, including directly above.
There is, however, a best place from which to view a tree to see its branch structure, trunk line and perspective. That place is the front, as chosen by the artist. It should be pointed out that over-reliance, or under-reliance, on the concept of "front" leads to a tendency, often seen in the bonsai prepared by self-taught and unskilled artists, to make a few classic mistakes.
They are:
Lack of back branching. This is usually the mistake made by artists who have learned the art from books. An unawareness of back branches, and the sense of perspective they impart, results in "flat" 2D trees. They may look okay to the ignorant, but they miss the 3D effect of better trees.
Round pots. Not knowing how to identify the front of a tree means that trees are often potted in round pots, by artists often trying to look as though they know what they are doing. In fact, they are making a glaring mistake, to the initiated viewer. They are practically screaming "I have no idea where the front of this tree is, so I'm hedging my bets." In fact, there are few exceptions to the rule that round pots should be used only for "literati, or bunjin trees. The exception might be good quality junipers, in drum-style pots, in my experience.
This may be the viewpoint of an opinionated idiot, or it may just be the result of gleaning whatever information I can on the subject, over the years. I'm not looking to be particularly contentious, merely to convey my understanding of the motivations behind specifying a front.
Trees should be able to be viewed from all angles, certainly, but there is always going to be a best place from which to view any tree.
The concept of being able to view any tree from any angle means that you are willing to accept less than perfection, on even the "perfect" tree, if such a thing were to exist... or less than the best, on any tree that doesn't achieve perfection. Fine, if you want to accept the mediocre, but the concept of 3D trees should be regarded as a separate art, and labelled as such. It is no longer bonsai, in the strictest sense.

Author:  Walter Pickett [ Sat Dec 17, 2005 1:10 pm ]
Post subject: 

I am new to this group, and have found it more helpful than any other bonsai discussion group I've found. I can learn how to shape a tree, but what is most important is learning to see the best shape to make the tree.
This discussion is on a topic I have thought about for some time.
I think that theater is a good analogy for this discussion. The most common way of staging a play is to have the audience all on one side of the stage. The alternative is theater in the round, with the audience surounding the stage.
Theater in the round has its advicates and devotes. They point out that the actors interact more naturally. They do.
But the performance isn't generally paid for by the performers. The audience pays the bill for the production. And with the theater in the round, I am always seeing the back of one actor, and the one I am seeing the back of is blocking my veiw of the one facing me.
The marketplace makes theater in the round rare.
Like in bonsai, it is generally better to sacrifice reality for a good show.
But a few plays I have seen in the round have worked pretty well. Well enough that I don't miss a play based only on the ad saying it is in the round.
On Aug 5, 2005, John Dixon said to show him "proof" that bonsai in the round (my paraphrase) was better. That brought to mind something from Euclidean geometry.
There is an assmption, or maybe a postulate, I haven't studied formal geometry for many years, that says the following. Given a line and a point not on the line, one and only one line can be drawn through that point parallel to the given line.
That seemed obvious, and was generally accepted for over 1,500 years. But some thought it should be provable, aqnd kept trying to prove it. Finally two people decided to approach the proof by assuming it was not true, and show that it lead to contradictions. It didn't.
Now there are several kinds of geometry, three of them based on the above statement.
One says that through that point, ONE AND ONLY ONE line can be drwn parallel to the given line. That is Euclidean geometry, or plane geometry.
The second says that through that point, NO line can be drawn parallel to the given line. This is spherical geometry.
The third says that through the given point, AN INFINITE NUMBER of lines can be drawn parallel to the given line. This is hyperbolic geometry.
And all these (and other) geometries are actually useful in the real world.
My point is that one rule was broken, and rather than destroying geometry, the replacement rule gave a whole new artform.
Yes I just referred to geometry as an art. Let that pass, please.
The first geometry had over 1,5000 years of tradition behind it, plus the fact that it worked. That didn't prevent the other geometries from eventually being accepted. And the new did not replace the old. Rather they gave ways to solve new problems the old could not solve. The old still solves problems the new can't solve. They are complimentery.
Replacing the rule of a single front will not be the end of bonsai, but rather it will be a different form. A rare form. Not many tres will lend themselves to looking at in the round. Not many bonsai artists will be up to shaping those rare trees suitable for showing in the round.
Naturally, there will also be the poor attempt at the new form of bonsai, like are poor attempt at the old form of bonsai.
But given the above, I believe some of the arguments against bonsai in the round are irrelavant. Will you have to sacrifice a little quality on the best side for the good of the whole tree from all sides? Yes. And if such trees are shown in traditional setting, they will suffer for it. Rather their owners will suffer. A tree in the round should only compete with another tree in the round, because they are being grown and shaped under a different set of assumptions. Each was produced under rules absurd to the other.
That doesn't mean that all of a given grower's trees should be one or the other. I could see having all but one or two of my trees on benches with chairs in front for sitting and admiring them, and the other one or two on monkey poles either turning or with chairs all around them.
None of the trees I have now, nor any in the near future, will merit growing in the round.
One hackberry yamadori I collected in a central Kansas prairie had no bad side. But deer did that, and that deer is doubtless long dead. Unfortunately, so is the hackberry.
Walter Pickett[/quote]

Author:  Hector Johnson [ Mon Dec 19, 2005 10:07 am ]
Post subject: 

So, it would be a separate art, altogether? That's my basic argument, earlier in this thread.
I would be very surprised to see any substantive changes to the way bonsai are presented, as a result of our prattlings.

Page 4 of 7 All times are UTC - 5 hours [ DST ]
Powered by phpBB © 2000, 2002, 2005, 2007 phpBB Group