The Future of Bonsai, The Third Dimension
Page 1 of 7

Author:  Will Heath [ Thu Jul 28, 2005 2:42 pm ]
Post subject:  The Future of Bonsai, The Third Dimension

The Future of Bonsai, The Third Dimension
by Will Heath


I have been involved in numerous discussions over the course of the last few years as to what the future holds for the art of bonsai both in America and elsewhere. I have given this a great deal of thought, viewed a few bonsai collections, talked to some artists, and put in some long research hours, all to better understand the current state of art in bonsai. The general consensus seems to be that each country and districts thereof tend to want (consciously or unconsciously) to develop an individual style that is unique to them. Most lean toward the factor that the trees in their area and the way they grow there will influence them. This is of course a huge contributing factor and it no doubt has and will continue to shape bonsai styles. However, I feel that these regional influences, although important in defining an areas bonsai design, are relatively minor compared to the revolution I see in the direction that the future of bonsai holds for us. I think this revolution will make bonsai better, more advanced, and greater than it has ever been before.

First let me explain where I think the current state of bonsai as an art falls short. We often talk about the four-dimensional art form that makes bonsai what it is. We talk a great deal about depth in bonsai and about avoiding two-dimensional trees, yet we choose a "front" as a preferred viewing angle for our bonsai. We take advantage of this "front" to carefully arrange branches and foliage to hide flaws. We painstakingly select the best view of the tree and then spend our time grooming and defining this one single view. All pictures that are presented of the bonsai are of this "front" and this "front" is also the only view shown at shows. Often when viewed from the side these bonsai are narrow and very unnatural.

I believe that only styling and perfecting one single view of a bonsai is simplistic and sorely outdated. I believe that the next major step in bonsai is the creation of true three-dimensional trees where the bonsai is viewed in a 360 mode and no faults can be hidden. Imagine taking bonsai to this step, where chops are no longer hidden behind foliage, where two dimensional trees are quickly revealed, where flaws, scars, and mistakes are no longer turned to the back side because there isn't one. Every single idea and technique of the artist must be perfect from every angle and view.

Can bonsai be shown with a 360 view? They can and are being shown this way already. Click on any of the links on the right side of this Korean site and you will experience truly three-dimensional bonsai. The experience says it all, to see the whole tree, to expose all the artists' vision, to actually sense the depth, the full, the all of the bonsai for a change. Granted, not all the trees on this site meet the criteria for three-dimensional bonsai, only a few pass the test, but the unique perspective of viewing a bonsai from all sides is exciting.

Colin Lewis in his book, "The Art Of Bonsai Design" while restyling a Juniper, runs into a problem with choosing the front because all sides have possibilities. He "solves" this problem by styling the bonsai in a manner where all sides look good. He creates a great example of a truly three-dimensional bonsai. While designing a Juniperus Chinensis Sargentii he states on page 81 "Although I had established roughly what I had in mind for the design, I still found it difficult to settle on the best side. In a rush of lateral thinking, I realized that if I couldn't solve the problem, I could eliminate it by not deciding on a front. If all angles looked good, why not use them all?" He goes on to say on page 86, "In addition to my desire to create an all-around bonsai - one which could be viewed from all sides - I also wanted to create visual harmony among the trunks, the jins and the foliage masses."On page 88 he shows multiple sides of his bonsai, a cascade that I would be proud to own even if it only had one of the four remarkable fronts shown.

Styling a tree for viewing from all sides will be immensely more difficult than what we are used to. It will take much more skill and require even more patience than ever before. It will produce better and more technically advanced bonsai. It will also leave simple two-dimensional styling in the past.

Walter Pall has recently shown a couple of bonsai that have multiple front view possibilities and recently commented on this subject saying, "While I always had one single front in mind as the best one I tried to make the tree look natural and credible from all sides. In the end I found several fronts which are looking good to me. That's exactly the kind of problem that I want to have."


Here is the future of the art of bonsai, expanding the perfection, increasing the skills needed, and presenting bonsai to the public in a brand new, more exciting way. Here is what will define bonsai in the years to come and I believe this is what bonsai was always meant to be.

Of course, as pointed out to me by Attila Soos, "this concept will challenge some of the traditionally held views of how a bonsai must be styled, such as, the apex has to lean forward, the branches can't point toward the viewer, the trunk movement must have a sideway direction, and the front of the tree should be free of branches to show the trunk. But I believe that the above mentioned guidelines do not invalidate the merits of a truly 360 degree bonsai."

I realize that strict abider's of the traditional rules may have problems overcoming these "rules" and many will still be unable to open their mind past the point of "choosing" a front only. Many who have spent time mastering the typical two-dimensional styling of bonsai may well be offended at the concept that there possibly is more to learn, more to master, that flaws can no longer be hidden, and that there is more to a bonsai than just a carefully groomed "front."

This is certainly not a 'new' concept. We have read and heard this spoken of often in past decades. But it seems that the general bonsai practitioners do not follow it in general or are at the least very hesitant to do so. Even those who preach it quite often don't follow it. Truly three-dimensional bonsai may never be completely possible given the nature of the material we work with, but the attempt can only lead to better bonsai, better artists, and a deeper appreciation of the whole.

The good news is that I know of a few artists like those quoted above that can grasp this concept and are putting out good 360 degree, three-dimensional trees. We need to start displaying them in ways such as with The Korean site that will show all of the art and not just a "snapshot" of 25% of it.

Will shows in the future consist of slowing rotating stands and/or displays? Will they have rows of bonsai displayed on open floors where the viewers can walk on either side? Will Monkey poles become the norm where people can walk around and view the entire bonsai? Can we as artists accept the challenge and step up to it? Will a great divide between artists come into effect, the 3D's and the 2D's? Will subdivisions in shows be made to showcase the 3D? And lastly, will two-dimensional bonsai become a thing of the past?

Author:  Morten Albek [ Fri Jul 29, 2005 10:18 am ]
Post subject:  One or more fronts?

I will like to go into this discussion for mere reasons.
First of all because I find it a good tread and interesting theme you started Will, and at the same time to I do not agree with many of the points of this tread.
I do not think bonsai should be designed to have more than one front. The basis of bonsai is to see the trunk line and movement as the very heart of the design.
Secondly, I haven?t seen a bonsai with more than one front styled convincing yet, and thirdly I can?t see how bonsai will be improved as art by shredding one of the most fundamental rules in bonsai styling.
If it could improve the image by using more than one ?front? I would have no doubts using this formula. But I can?t see how this should work without compromising the image. I haven?t seen it yet.
The pictures in the tread do not use more than one front as I read the images. The trees might have more than one front to choose from with different qualities, but you have to make the choice. Trying to use several fronts at the same time will be like trying to sit between two chairs at once. It doesn?t work.
I do not think the mentioned Korean site proves otherwise. First, the Korean site seems to be a sales site only, and the 360? turning photos serves clearly the customers to see the tree from all angles (which are a very good service). But it doesn?t defend bonsai to be viewed all around the clock as I see it. Why not? Because, as I see it, bonsai is only partly comparable with other three dimensional art (sculptures i.e.) that?s clearly has a front, but sometimes can be viewed from their left or right sides, and even from the back ? but most objects still has a front presentation. Like a bonsai. You can see it from the front mainly and slightly from the sides if you move.
By choosing the front you help the audience to look into the bonsai and discover its beauty.
I want to raise another question, because I can?t see the point in shredding the ?front rule?. What is the problem of viewing a bonsai from a chosen front?
Is it devaluating bonsai that a front is chosen from where the tree looks at its best?
What?s the problem with this?
To ask the other way around: What does it gives to the image of the tree, that it has more than one front?
If a bonsai should be viewed from more than one front, I think the development of this would have been forced through a long time ago. I can?t see a new way of developing bonsai today by trying to develop this part of bonsai, because I can?t see the meaning right now. The way bonsai are best viewed are clearly with a chosen front, because this art form have certain limits we must accept, to perform the art.
One of the proven effects of using a front and letting the tree come forward, is the illusion of a big tree, because this technique makes an elusion of a big tree with the viewer standing underneath looking up an into the tree. This illusion is lost by turning the tree seeing it from other angels, and thereby the image of a big tree disappears.
I don?t think the essence of a three dimensional object is the same as the bonsai can be presented with equal quality from all sides. The three dimensions just give us the same opportunities as in the art of sculpturing. It gives depth, form and a deeper livelier image to present, with its light and shadows, form and figure.
This might seems as a one side shoot down of your arguments Will, but I do not hope you are offended by this, because all these arguments are interesting. Regardless if we are sharing our views or not, it isn?t necessarily the way through the path that is interesting alone, but sometimes the goal solely.
Disagreeing with the main point, I contrary agree a lot with your line: ?Every single idea and technique of the artist must be perfect from every angle and view?.
This is absolutely true, but it doesn?t mean we have to be equally observing and judging a bonsai from all angles. A bonsai still have a front from which it is best presented, but the perfection of details all around the tree can be watched from the front of the image alone !(?).
Like in a painting, the artist has to manage mere techniques fully, to achieve a fine result. The layers beneath the final layer of paint may be barely visible, but they shine through and have their influent of the top layer that may be dominant, but not works alone.
The same technique and dominance on the final result is counting in many other art forms. A sculpture must have detailed techniques at the back, unless we only see the front clearly. The merely hidden details shine through in the final work, even when this has a clear chosen front.
Concerning the lines quoted from Mr. Colin Lewis book. I more than fully respect Colin Lewis and his work, because I find him one of the best western bonsai artists we have today. Funny enough I have just read this book of Mr. Lewis you mentions. It?s the fourth time, and I have read it thoroughly these last days during my holidays. But I just don?t agree at this point if the point is to show the tree from all the chosen sides. Only one is the best at the present time, but later another one can be chosen if the tree are restyled and changed.
I do not think a bonsai can have four equal good fronts at the same time. A good bonsai material though has more than one front to choose from, but for present one must be chosen. This makes the artist able to make the exact lines and balance with branches and movement in the leaves underlining the soul of the bonsai; the trunk.
Best regards
Morten Albek

Author:  Will Heath [ Fri Jul 29, 2005 10:23 am ]
Post subject: 

I will take the time to consider your points made here, but first let me congratulate you on a well written, coherent, and intelligent rebuttal of the ideas put forth. Your post could and should be used as an example of honest debate of an issue without unduly attacking the author.
Will Heath

Author:  Will Heath [ Fri Jul 29, 2005 12:26 pm ]
Post subject: 

It would seem that somehow throughout the years bonsai has become an object of art that is styled, shaped, and designed solely to be enjoyed from one single view only. Selecting a front and styling this selected viewing angle only has become the subject of many articles and debates. The general consensus now seems to be that as long as a bonsai looks good from this narrow viewing window, it is acceptable and considered to be a success.
Artists are using this narrow viewing window to now hide bad chops, poor ramification, one-sided nebari, scars, and other unsightly flaws of the bonsai. Instead of using techniques to correct these flaws and allowing the tree the time it needs to grow freely to heal and develop. Instead, they are rushing the bonsai into a pot and then counting on the narrow viewing window to allow them to hide flaws in the back, behind foliage, all safely tucked away out of view.
Somewhere we lost the tree and replaced it with a snapshot of one single view only. We lost the space, the spread, and the three-dimensional whole that makes up exactly what a tree is and is supposed to be.
Bonsai has often been compared to sculpture, yet we ignore that most sculpture is truly three-dimensional in that it can be viewed from all sides. Sure, the ?front? of a sculpture may be the preferred viewing angle, most people want to look at the faces and the artist no doubt had a front? in mind while carving the art. However, the technical expertise can be enjoyed on most sculpture from all sides, the rear being as realistic as the front, the sides in proportion to the whole. This is true art, art that enumerates nature, and art that has multiple viewing windows all as realistic as the rest.
Take Auguste Rodin and his sculpture, ?The Kiss? for example. The preferred front view as shown here is no less a piece of art than the slightly altered side view here. We could also look at his sculpture ?The Burghers of Calais? or his ?Iris, Messenger of the Gods? or even his ??Kneeing Female Fawn? . The common denominator here is that even though there is a front to these, all other sides show the same talent, the same expertise, they are all visually pleasing.
Ii is very much more difficult to design an object in the round, to make it visually pleasing from all sides but it is not impossible by no means. How will this make a bonsai better? To answer that you must answer this, would taking way the beauty of three sides of any of the art I have linked to here devalue the art? Would only one visually pleasing side make the art worse?

Will Heath

Author:  Andy Rutledge [ Fri Jul 29, 2005 10:17 pm ]
Post subject: 

I?m sorry, but I disagree with your posit and your examples in this article. The examples are taken out of context and ignore the fundamentals of bonsai artistry. Bonsai of artistic quality must have a front. There?s no getting around it, for reasons related to our specific medium and other reasons I'll describe.
But ours is not the only medium that requires a ?front.? A landscape painting is not a 3-dimensional view of a landscape ? specifically, of course, because of the fact that it is made of paint on a flat canvas ? but also because paintings are an artist?s interpretation of a specific scene, rather than a verbatim reproduction of a landscape. Elements are arranged so that they work for the medium, for the artist?s interpretation of the landscape.
And this is not just because the artist wants to impose his or her interpretation on viewers. Rather, this is largely because the artist wants to compose the various elements in the scene so that the viewer?s eye is lead into and around the scene in a way that is effective, interesting, and so that emphasis is placed appropriately according to the artist?s intention. Such a thing is not possible when all angles and all manner of possible composition are supposed to be taken in.
In another communicative medium, visual advertising, great pains are taken to get just the right presentation of the product. And it is not just the product that must be viewed from the correct ?angle,? both the literal and figurative meanings of the term. The associated elements in the ad are also painstakingly arranged in order to offer the greatest impact.
This might be to show off the striking eyes of the model wearing the dress that is advertised, or perhaps the sharp nipple of the girl wearing the t-shirt being advertised. Even how the light reflects off of the condensation droplets on the bottle of the beverage being advertised. The entire composition is arranged just so in an effort to exploit human behaviors and tendencies. That is what gives art its power.
When filming a motion picture, the director and cinematographer do not use just any old camera angle, just any old lighting, or any old arrangement of the people and/or elements in the shot. They use fundamental artistry to compose the elements, angles, lighting, etc? so that there?s more to the shot than meets the eye, so to speak. Mood, atmosphere, environment, drama and a host of other relevant factors are suggested to varying degrees of success by how clever the director and cinematographer are in their jobs. This is artistry.
It is no different with bonsai. Bonsai are not just branches and leaves and root structure and bark and twigs. These things alone might be somewhat interesting or beautiful in and of themselves, but the fundamentals of artistry are necessary for them to be able to communicate specific themes or stories to viewers who come from a wide range of backgrounds and experience.
Take the arrangement of branches on the trunk, for instance. Surely there are lots of ways that branches may be ordered so as to present a convincing and compelling composition, but ?all? arrangements of branches are not visually compelling, effective or beautiful. Yes, on a full-sized tree in nature we are not generally offended by odd branch arrangements, but a bonsai has very little real estate with which to create illusion and communication. We cannot equate the two examples by any means.
If we are lucky, a piece of material may have one or two angles from which the branches alone are successful in communicating what we wish to communicate with a bonsai. But more is necessary! The surface root structure is very important in telling the bonsai?s story. Again, if we?re lucky one or two angles will prove effective for our purposes. The line and angle of the trunk is very important to the beauty and communicativeness of a bonsai. Some angles might be nice, but others are usually down right awful.
Now, all of these elements (and much more!) arranged just so ? and in context with one another - are necessary for a cohesive bit of artistry to allow us to create just the right illusion we?re after with a bonsai. Such a thing is not possible when every angle of view is expected to do the job of carrying off the illusion and communicating a cohesive theme. And it is not realistic to expect that artwork with this medium should do so.
Now, this is not to say that a well-composed and well-crafted bonsai cannot be beautiful or inspiring when seen from any angle. In fact, I?m sure that most of us enjoy taking in the whole structure of a nice bonsai by examining it closely from all angles. I certainly do. However, this sort of examination and enjoyment is not the same thing as experiencing the impact of artistry, properly composed and presented as intended by an artist. Not by a long shot.
Kind regards,

Author:  Will Heath [ Fri Jul 29, 2005 11:06 pm ]
Post subject:  Re:

Andy Rutledge wrote:
Now, this is not to say that a well-composed and well-crafted bonsai cannot be beautiful or inspiring when seen from any angle. In fact, I’m sure that most of us enjoy taking in the whole structure of a nice bonsai by examining it closely from all angles. I certainly do. However, this sort of examination and enjoyment is not the same thing as experiencing the impact of artistry, properly composed and presented as intended by an artist. Not by a long shot.

Thanks for taking the time to write such a well spoken rebuttal that contains so many valid points to consider.
You have given us three very good examples of visual art to consider. I can't help but to wonder if the fact that all three examples were admittedly two-dimensional was somehow purposeful?
It is easy to understand your explanation as to why the front is imperative in the examples you gave, there are no sides in the mediums used, there is no back, the front is all there is, so of course it would be extremely important that the message, the art, the meaning be portrayed precisely.
Could the same be said about the great sculptures? Would the sculptor have been less concerned on the impact his statute made from the side? Let's take a modern sculptor like Frederic Remington, is any side of his art less valid than another? His "Mountain Man" or his "Cheyenne" for example are classic examples of his talent from all sides. They are, visually pleasing from all angles.
Now, this is not to say that there is not a "front" or a view, as you said, that gives the viewer the whole feeling, the mood, the total experience of the whole. The difference between this art form called sculpture and what we call living sculpture is that there is detail to be seen on all sides. There are no faults, mistakes, or poorly executed technique hidden in the back. You can see the artist's talent on all sides and enjoy the minute details that make the whole so great.
Are we limited by the medium we use? Of course we are, but time can heal most things. Could a bonsai be better, more than a simple snapshot of a front? Would a bonsai styled to be visually pleasing from all sides be more artful than one that is not? Is this truly impossible, a pipe dream, a dead end road and if so, what separates bonsai artists from sculptors? It must be more than the material used because we have the advantage there, we use a medium that can heal itself, that can be changed, that grows.


Will Heath

Author:  Andy Rutledge [ Fri Jul 29, 2005 11:13 pm ]
Post subject: 

Hey Will,
Yes, I did present 2-dimensional examples, but I hope that the ideals of compositional choices were not lost on anyone because of it. Again, the 2-dimensional composition in these (actually in nearly all) art forms is there to enforce and reinforce the artistic composition necessary for the artist's message. Not merely so that ugly elements get hidden. Not at all.
The thing is, the fullness of the 3-dimensions is not entirely hidden with bonsai. From the front, one may see the back and rear angles of a bonsai in nearly every case. This is, in fact, almost entirely necessary for a convincing image.
Again, our endeavor with bonsai is one of illusion and suggestion. What is hidden is usually nearly as important as what is obvious. It is the parts that we fill in for ourselves that helps to bring us into the world of the artist. That's where the medium and the imagination of the viewer meet - hopefully with an exciting harmony.
Kind regards,

Author:  Walter Pall [ Sat Jul 30, 2005 3:40 am ]
Post subject: 

Traditional bonsai were and are made for exhibit in a Tokonoma. There they are exhibited with the carefully chosen front toward the viewer. The viewer sits or knees right in front of it and is supposed to see the tree directly from the ‘right’ angle. They are designed to be exhibited with a pot of course, with a table, a scroll, an accent object in a very specific setting.
A traditional bonsai was made for this purpose only and therefore always has to have one and only just one front. It is fine and even better to look good also slightly off the front to the right and to the left because one also views the tree from this angel sometimes. Whether the tree has other fronts or not is irrelevant because only one front can be chosen anyway.
The traditional bonsai master sees himself as craftsman with a very high obligation for perfect work. This includes also the sides and the back of the bonsai, although they will never be shown ‘officially’
This notion is taken for granted by most bonsai practitioners in the west. But they totally forget that the overwhelming majority never ever exhibits a bonsai in a Tokonoma. The overwhelming majority does not have a Tokonoma and most don’t even know what it is. Yet as s rule they produce bonsai with one front only. The overwhelming number of bonsai are never ever placed on a good table and certainly not with a scroll and accent object. But they are still styled as if they were.
Traditionalists will insist that we are not understanding bonsai if we are looking at them as objects exhibited in a private garden on a shelve or a pedestal.
Bonsai are also exhibited in bonsai exhibits. There in general they are placed as if they were sitting in a Tokonoma, with the front toward the viewer. Since one approaches these trees also from the sides they should look good from the sides too. But they have one and only one front still.
In the west and more and more everywhere bonsai are mainly exhibited in private gardens. There they will be viewed from the ‘official’ front bout also from the sides. Often from all sides, depending on how the bonsai is placed. It is placed like a sculpture would be placed in the garden. A sculpture usually has to look good and credible from all sides. It will still have one best side though and this is the one that is brought out in placing a sculpture .
If this is the case with most bonsai today the notion of a living sculpture is pretty obvious. A bonsai exhibited in a garden should look good from all sides because it will be seen form all sides. It will still have one best front but it is an advantage to have more than one good front. Even the sides which are definitely not a front should or even must look good and credible. Otherwise the whole sculpture appears awkward.
I have spoken of bonsai created as ‘bonsai’ only her so far. A modern notion is that a bonsai is a little tree. Now this sounds so obvious but it is hard to imagine how much controversy this notion has caused and is still causing. If you accept that it is a little tree then you have to ask yourself the front question in a different way. A little tree that reminds you of the large tree. Now the large tree, does it have a front, one front only? Of course it may well look best from one angle, but it has as many fronts as you can walk around it. It will look different from every angle. It will look better or worse, depending from where you see it. But it will always be this big tree, credible from all sides.
If one has given up the notion of ‘bonsai’ and creates small trees in a pot then, of course they MUST have many fronts. There will usually be one which seems the best, but still it will look credible from ALL sides if done well.
‘A distinct style develops as a result of a certain philosophy, and aesthetic principles deriving from that philosophy.’ Attila sad it. And that is the key to this seemingly controversial discussion.
All those who firmly believe in a bonsai being a ‘bonsai’ meaning a traditional bonsai, will have problems with the notion of multiple fronts. All those who believe in bonsai being a ‘tree’ will find it obvious that it must have multiple fronts.
Just for the record, I think I can sneak into both skins. My own trees sometimes have only one distinct front and sometimes many fronts. Looking closely I find that the trees which I am working on since many years seem to only have one front. The ones that I am working on since a couple of years ‘bother’ me by having to choose the best front because for some strange reason they often seem to look as good or even better from other sides than I had chosen the front from the outset. I am perfectly aware that this is not orthodox bonsai styling at all, but it somehow happens. This happens so often now that I think that there is a pattern there.
I do not sit down and try hard to make many good fronts. I just sit down and do my work. The result then is many good fronts. Why did I not do this five years ago?
I think I have radically changed my philosophy and this has radically changed my work.

Author:  David Yedwab [ Sat Jul 30, 2005 10:19 pm ]
Post subject: 

This may be totally off-point but maybe, just maybe, relevant. Today, in our internet era, most of us see bonsai, good bonsai, bad bonsai, etc., in two dimensions, on little screens (or in pictures, books or magazines). The only ones we generally see in three dimensions are our own, on our own benches that we see everyday, so we really don't see them, at all. We do see other's bonsai live at shows (like WBFF, etc.) but there we generally see them set up in traditional "tokonoma-ish" displays. Again, generally 2D. And 2D must have a front. So, bonsai, based on our current collective experience, must have a front.
Maybe when the technology allows us to view holograms in 3D and rotate them, we'll evolve our art form -- so, Will, maybe this entire thesis is, as Panasonic used to say about its product designs "slightly ahead of our time." But for me, I see bonsai in my mind's eye as largely 2D with some depth and therefore, for me, they must have one chosen front, when I see it.
Maybe it will be different in successive generations of bonsai artists -- will it still be bonsai? Maybe, maybe we'll live to see the answer.

Author:  Michael Thomas [ Mon Aug 01, 2005 1:01 am ]
Post subject: 

I feel like the main point of Will's argument has either been missed or simply ignored. The feeling I got out of his post was not that he disagreed with bonsais only having one front, but rather whether or not people were using that as a convenient excuse to create sloppy trees.
I believe that bonsai, as an artistic work, should probably have what is considered "the front". There will always be exceptions to that and they will either be embraced or pushed away depending on their validity.
However, I also agree with Will that it maybe the idea that there is one front and only one front to a bonsai is playing into the watering down of the art.
The bonsai that looks perfect and great when viewed from precisely the right angle is like a woman who is the most beautiful woman on earth until you get her out of her clothes and special bras and makeup and hair-dos. Then she's just plain ugly and has an attitude to fit. Perhaps this stems from the fact that I like my woman to be natural beauties. Strikingly gorgeous without any help.
I believe what Will is saying, is that if we went into a bonsai project with the idea and understanding that people would be looking at it from all sides then we would be able to create a much better bonsai when it was viewed from "the front".
If you want to think of a bonsai as magic then the bonsai that uses the guise of "tradition" to hide it's contemporary flaws then it would be the showy stage magician. The guy that is really entertaining but uses props and smoke and mirrors and has an audience that is in their seat and can only see one view. If you tried to put that guy on the street with people all around being able to look wherever they wanted, and you took his props away, then he wouldn't be that much of a magician at all. He would be a laughing stock. On that same issue. You could give almost anyone the same props he has on stage and teach them how the gizmo works and they could perform his whole show. The only thing that would differentiate them from the stage magician would be however entertaining their personalities were.
On the flip side a bonsai made with the intention of one front, but also with the understanding that people can look from all angles will be more like the street magician. This is a man who has to deal with people on all sides of him, he has to deal with people trying to trip him up and if everyone one of his moves aren't perfect then he's sunk. And whereas you could put just about anyone up on stage with the right props and make them a stage magician in almost no time, it takes many many years of hard, dedicated, and constant practice to become a successful and convincing close up magic artist.
I don't think I need to connect the dots on this analogy for the crowd we have here, but I believe that the close up magician is overall the stronger and better magician. He chose the road of patience over smoke screen.
This is what I felt Will was getting at. I may be wrong, but it's an avenue that no one has gone down yet in this thread. So, here you go. Agree or not?

Author:  Attila Soos [ Mon Aug 01, 2005 1:33 am ]
Post subject: 

Listening to this debate going on for several weeks now, I?ve realized that both sides of the argument are right. When this happens in a debate, it can only mean one thing: we are talking about two different things, so the debate, strictly speaking, makes no sense. It?s similar to the one trying to decide whether the apple or the pear is the better fruit.
First, let?s assume that we all have a good working knowledge of all the theories and guidelines prevalent in the art of bonsai. This is an important assumption, for if we play a game (the debate in this case), both sides need to play by the same rules. So, assuming that we all know exactly what bonsai is about, how come that one says that it makes no sense to create a tree designed to be seen from all angles (3D tree, from now on), and the other believes that it?s a great thing? Why is that people who love to pursue the art of traditional bonsai, are trying to convince the author of this article that his idea is a bad one?
I think it?s time to accept the increasingly obvious reality, that bonsai and a tree in a pot are not always the exact same thing. A tree in a pot can be art just as well as a bonsai can be, but, in this case, it is significantly different from a bonsai.
Trying to convince someone with the intent of creating a 3D tree to give it up and create a bonsai instead, is like Monet trying to convince Braque that cubism makes no sense and he should better stick to impressionism. Both the cubists and impressionists are using the same medium, but they look at things differently. Their approach to expressing reality is different and the product they create is different. You can?t compare and judge them by the same rules.
Andy, Morten, and many others are perfectly right when describing what bonsai is about. Walter knows that just as well. But bonsai is just one form of expression, using tree as a medium. I believe that there are many other ways to look at a tree in a pot. Many of us just don?t want to accept this diversity of expressions.
As Walter said, bonsai is designed to be viewed from one side only. Every rule is geared towards this approach. This is very nice. But what if someone wants to create the impression of a tree just like in nature? Just as in nature, where one can walk around a magnificent oak and admire it from all angles, one wants to create something similar in a pot. This magnificent oak will have angles from which the tree looks much more impressive and interesting than other angles, from where the tree will look less interesting, but nevertheless still magnificent. Just as the artist likes to admire the tree in nature from all sides for the various shapes and forms it offers, he would like to create the same experience in a pot.
This is not bonsai in the traditional sense. It is an old oak reduced to a miniature scale, and modified it according to the artist?s vision. In materializing this vision, the artist will borrow numerous techniques used in bonsai, but not every technique, since this will not be a traditional bonsai. The goal is to create a tree that can be viewed, just like in nature. With all its beauty, but also some imperfections.
Will this approach improve our trees? This is where I disagree with the article: absolutely not. Faultless technique and no ugly scars hidden in the back are part of high quality bonsai as well. If that?s the only point, there is nothing new here. But 3D bonsai has nothing to do with quality. It is just a different vision, different approach, and different product. It can turn out to be great, or it may as well turn out to be a failure. Just like traditional bonsai: there are good bonsai and bad bonsai. Just because you choose to create something different, this doesn?t guarantee better quality. When cubists decided to disregard academic painting and turned away from impressionism, they didn?t do it to improve their work. They did it because they decided to look at things differently, with a new approach, new philosophy.
Asking what the point of doing this is, and why not do bonsai, we are missing the whole point. When one creates art, one has a vision. The vision is what you believe in, where your heart is. It is up to you to make that vision come true. You don?t have to defend it, you don?t have to apologize for it. If one believes in creating a tree that evokes a tree from nature, credible and enjoyable from all angles, then that?s the path one will follow.
Personally, I love bonsai and I love naturalistic, 3D trees as well. I will enjoy creating both, depending on what the material tells me. Bonsai is very successful in manipulating the perception of space around it. Its versatility lies in creating the impression of shallow or deep space, creating perceived angles of viewing, being able to evoke a complex landscape. This is all achieved due to the single-front approach. The 3D bonsai has its focus almost exclusively on the anatomical features of the tree. The space around it becomes meaningless. One can manipulate the perceived viewing distance through the details of branching and foliage, and create scale using accents, but that?s about it. The whole story is told through the form and character of the tree. Its landscape-evoking ability is limited to the space in close proximity to the tree.
I hope that with time, the bonsai crowd will realize that there is more than one approach to show the beauty of a tree.
Fortunately, the majority of people, who love the arts and nature, don?t have a problem enjoying both. They don?t have an agenda defending a style or a particular tradition, and they will respond to what the tree tells them and to the way the tree evokes nature to them. Only time will tell whether alternatives approaches to a tree in a pot will have lasting success.

Author:  John Dixon [ Mon Aug 01, 2005 11:23 am ]
Post subject: 

I'm all for making it as beautiful as possible from ALL sides, but not at the expense of a primary view.
We should rotate our bonsai to allow a reasonable amount of light to the entire tree. We all know this. We also know that we hate to do it because it means our "best" view is not always the one we see. Here I see the advantage of 3D design. A good front is always present (maybe I'd rotate them on a more regular schedule too!!!).
I still think forest compositions decide this issue for me. Most forests are setup with the "near-view". The bigger tree's trunks visible from the front. Some are styled with a "far-view", that, of course, is where the taller trees are in the back of the composition, somewhat distorted by smaller trees in the front (the rarer forest style to be sure). Okay, let's just assume the composition is well-executed. Theoretically both a close and far view would be apparent in 3D display. Even so, what about the "side" views? Here the issue becomes problematic. Yes, the side views could still be pleasant, but they will always be secondary to the "preferred" view.
That leads me back to making the bonsai as beautiful as I can from all sides, but I still have a primary view. And that is the philosophy I feel is prudent in bonsai design. It remains my default mode.

Author:  Will Heath [ Mon Aug 01, 2005 11:45 am ]
Post subject: 

Let's imagine that we asked a sculptor to create a sculpture of a tree. Do you think they would create it with only one front? Would it be designed to be viewed from only one angle? Would they pay any less attention to detail on one side than another?
I have consistently used sculpting and sculpture as comparisons for a very good reason, bonsai is more like sculpting than any other art form. Comparing bonsai to painting is comparing apples to oranges, one is a three dimensional art form, the other is a two-dimensional art form. However, bonsai and sculpture are both three-dimensional art forms. It is not without reason that bonsai is often referred to as "Living Sculpture."
People tend to think of bonsai as a painting, they talk about designing bonsai often like they were talking about painting, creating the illusion of depth and they carefully arrange the pieces of a tree to be viewed like a painting.
Granted, bonsai traditionally has been viewed like a painting, framed in the Tokonoma, front only viewing and the internet has helped tremendously to instill this deeper into our minds with the front only two-dimensional pictures that are prevalent. Does this mean that we are forever locked into this way of designing bonsai? No more so than we are locked into clip and grow only. Things change, techniques and style evolve, and thankfully so.
Why does this simply idea that has been spoken of often throughout the ages so deeply offend so many people? Would a tree that is visually pleasing from all sides ruin bonsai as we know it. Would actually having three good dimensions be worse than simply having the illusion of the same?
Yesterday I was at a workshop that was being led by Vance Wood. I was just styling a small Juniper, not really thinking of much because the tree I was working on still had a few years of development to go. When the tree was as close to being done as it was going to get, Vance made a comment that moved me. He brought up the recent 3D debates and brought to my attention that I had just styled a tree that looked good from all angles. This brought Walter's quote to mind, "I think I have radically changed my philosophy and this has radically changed my work."
Of all the great, intelligent rebuttals of this simple concept I have yet to hear what would be lost, what harm would come of having bonsai with multiple fronts or visually pleasing from all sides? Would not the bonsai gain from this? Would not the bonsai be better because of it?
Attlia mention that three might be a difference between a bonsai and a tree in a pot. I disagree, bonsai covers both views quite well. One may be better compared to a bas relief, while the other may be better compared to a sculpture, but they are both bonsai. Separating the two would be like saying that Walter's naturalistic style is a tree in a pot, but the traditionally styled trees are bonsai. A good attempt to separate the traditional from the non-traditional but it leaves out much.

Will Heath

Author:  Attila Soos [ Mon Aug 01, 2005 12:07 pm ]
Post subject:  Re:

Will Heath wrote:
Attlia mention that three might be a difference between a bonsai and a tree in a pot. I disagree, bonsai covers both views quite well. One may be better compared to a bas relief, while the other may be better compared to a sculpture, but they are both bonsai. Separating the two would be like saying that Walter's naturalistic style is a tree in a pot, but the traditionally styled trees are bonsai. A good attempt to separate the traditional from the non-traditional but it leaves out much.

I am quite comfortable putting everything under the name "bonsai". The reason I've made the distinction was to separate traditional bonsai from anything else that doesn't follow the established path. It's just a matter of semantics.

Author:  Mark Rockwell [ Mon Aug 01, 2005 12:15 pm ]
Post subject: 

I think people may be getting hung up with the thinking that every side of a composition has, or should have, equal weight. This is very different from having a tree look presentable from all angles.
The is seldom true for many pieces of art. Sculpture is very much meant to be viewed from certain angles, even though it is three dimensional. Rodin, Remington included.
Take, for example, Michaelangelo's David. he can be viewed from the front, both sides and back. He is "credible" (despite his height) from all those sides. Quite frankly, I would rather see his face than his rear end.
Also, just because bonsai was "meant" to be viewed in a tokoname, it doesn't invalidate the "front has priority" thinking. Aren't bonsai are in gardens thoughout Japan? MOST of them are in gardens there, not in the tokoname. Sure, that's the formal place to look at them, but it's not the primary place they're seen. What's so different about the West in this regard?

Page 1 of 7 All times are UTC - 5 hours [ DST ]
Powered by phpBB © 2000, 2002, 2005, 2007 phpBB Group