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 Post subject: Truly Natural Style Bonsai
PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2006 7:53 am 
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Truly Natural Style Bonsai
by Andy Rutledge

From the "what if..." thread, here's the offshoot. Contrary to what Walter and others will suggest, here are examples of what truly natural style bonsai look like...

Image

and

Image

and

Image


These are excellent examples of bonsai artistry and are completely natural in their appearance. What I believe Walter and others submit as natural style bonsai are aesthetically neglected structures that literally imply the chaos and poor structures common to trees in nature. That is neither aesthetically pleasing nor good for bonsai.

This is the basis of my argument. What say others?


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2006 9:02 am 
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...Actually, these are what I'd call "excellent" bonsai. As I percieve it, there are 2 kinds of bonsai - excellent bonsai and poor bonsai. Efforts at naturalistic, romantic, traditional, modern, etc... bonsai is simply terminology for describing poor or deficient bonsai (of various degrees).
Excellent bonsai are evocative, natural looking, communicative works that are not bound up with artifice (outside of artistry's techniques) and appear to be natural and not overly contrived. "Natural style" is a contrived sort of neglect, in my opinion.
As far as I can tell, there is only one style of bonsai that is distinct from your basic excellent bonsai. That would be bunjin style bonsai. And no, I'm not talking about thin trunks with foliage at the top. The bunjin style embodies far more than that and has an idiom all its own - at least as far as the emphasis employed in that style.
My main bone to pick with "natural style" is that it is an exercise in ignoring the medium and the dictates of scale. That is to ignore artistry, leaving us with a deficient result.
Kind regards,
Andy


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2006 9:15 am 
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Andy,
The second tree strikes me as the most relevant to the issue. It appears to be a trident. It lacks any visible scarring, obviously an attribute. The biggest no-no in what most consider the "rules" is the fact that branching does not consistently thin in diameter as they go up the trunk. There are several that are much thicker than some of the others at the same level on the trunk.
Personally, I like that and I find it inherently NATURAL. Trees do that in nature. Some branches abort or get broken off cleanly. It buds back on the old wood and the result is a limb much smaller than the one it replaces. It stays that way. This is also more consistent with older specimens. Oaks in particular for me. As always the trick is to portray it positively and not make it standout when used on bonsai.
Maybe that's why it has a decidedly positive effect on my ideal of an aged tree. This can be used effectively with bonsai to achieve the same premise.
All three bonsai are wonderful and I would dare say specimen quality. The lack of scarring seems to be shared by all three. I realize that is usually what we want, and lack of deadwood on deciduous species is also completely normal, but I have to wonder if sometimes we automatically condone, or abstain from, its use solely from an aesthetic standpoint of what we feel is natural? I know that it was one of the first things I noticed about all three of these bonsai. Second was the branch thickness on the trident, and third was the lowest right branch on the clump (palmatum?) dipping past the lip of the pot (without which the secondary branching would not exist, please afford me a little imagination).
Great discussion. It does prompt a lot of thought. I hope others will expand and contribute.
John


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2006 9:20 am 
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For clarification: The trees from top to bottom are:
1. Acer palmatum
2. Acer palmatum
3. Stewartia monodelpha
Kind regards,
Andy


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2006 9:25 am 
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John,
Thanks for your thoughts. I agree that the second tree (a palmatum, not burgerianum) is evocative and natural looking. Your observation about the relative branch strenghts cites one of the features that helps this tree - all good works of art will have some sort of flaw, but an uncontrived flaw.
Unlike "natural style" bonsai, however, the flaw(s) does not propound its character, but is like a seasoning for added flavor. Note also that this maple has a theme - power and age. There are some specific artistic principles that were employed to achieve that sort of character. "Rules" do not have anything to do with its success (and "rules" is a misleading and detrimental term in bonsai ;-).
Kind regards,
Andy


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2006 9:40 am 
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Andy,
I wonder what you are referring to when you say 'naturalisitic' styling. It must be some misunderstanding that you have made at one time and never corrected. I bluntly say that you have no clue what you are talking about.
The three pictures you post:
Number 1 is a very nice maple in the naturalstic style.
Number 2 is a maple in the neoclassical style which is made to look more like a pine tree than a maple. It has the typical faults of a stumped tree,namely some of the lower branches are much too thin and tjhose that are not thin have too radical a change in taper. This may be corrrected over many years. The fact that it looks like a slightyl untidy pine tree does not make it naturalistic. I still would want to have it though.
The third tree is a stewartia in the naturalistic style.
Andy, go back and do more reading! Naturalistc does NOT mean untidy bonsai that were left alone for a long time.
I will NOT explain it agin here. If you have not understood or did not want to understand my dozens of explanations so far you just will never understand.
Walter


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2006 9:56 am 
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Andy Rutledge wrote:
For clarification: The trees from top to bottom are:
1. Acer palmatum
2. Acer palmatum
3. Stewartia monodelpha
Kind regards,
Andy

I stand corrected on species/cultivar, and all I can say is WOW!!! I envy the owner of that palmatum. I agree with Walter that it is more of a neo-classical style, but I love it nonetheless. Guess it just goes to show I'm still very undecided in any specific preference.
John


Last edited by John Dixon on Tue Jan 03, 2006 1:49 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2006 10:07 am 
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OK, after the anger, second try:
Andy,
I thouhgt you would NEVER get it, but finally you got it, at least almost.
Naturalistic style is a bonsai that looks like it was never toched by human hands. Not more, not less. Naturalistic does NOT mean that nature did it. It dose NOT mean made with natural methods. It ONLY means the result: a bonsai that LOOKS like a small tree that nature did.
This can be an ideal tree, a beautiful tree or a remarkable tree, a powerful tree, a slim tree, or an ugly unworthy tree, as long as it looks like humans have not touched it.
Naturalistic style does not say anything about quality, just like traditional can mean crap. It is more difficult to make a good loking naturalistic tree than a good looking traditional tree. A naturalistic tree can quickly look just untidy. Naturalistic style is NOT for lazy people.
The first and the third trees qualify very well for naturalistic, the second one not really, it clearly looks 'created', 'made'. This could change in another ten years though.
Walter


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2006 1:36 pm 
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Walter,
I appreciate your concerns here, but we must disagree on the maple in the second image. I see nothing contrived or unnatural in its form. I have seen dozens of trees in nature that look just as this one does - mostly oaks. Of course we cannot ignore the fact that artistic fundamentals were applied to it in order to make it appealing given the medium, scale, and artistic purpose of the artist(s).
I cannot claim to fathom the artist's aim here, but if this were my tree and I had created its form, my aim would be
- to keep most of the branches rather small in diameter, as this helps to maintain the feeling of a very large tree (trunk/branch proportion).
- The variety in branch diameter throughout the structure helps to evoke a feeling of naturalness.
- The abrupt paths of the branches is quite consistent with the abrupt path of the trunk. Perfect, natural consistency. Anything different would be wholly unnatural and contrived.
- The "chops" you refer to are wholly consistent (on this tree) with the natural plight of branches in nature. They grow large, break or die back and are replaced in time by smaller ones. Especially on a tree of these proportions (implied age).
- Furthermore, and this is a very bonsai-esque theme, the tree has a good deal of wabi/sabi quality. It appears to be very old and gnarled, yet there is a freshness to it that one can be sure will fade in time. It is humble, yet compelling.
So on the whole, very naturalistic - or rather, excellent and natural.
Kind regards,
Andy


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2006 2:02 pm 
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Andy Rutledge wrote:
...Actually, these are what I'd call "excellent" bonsai. As I percieve it, there are 2 kinds of bonsai - excellent bonsai and poor bonsai. Efforts at naturalistic, romantic, traditional, modern, etc... bonsai is simply terminology for describing poor or deficient bonsai.

Andy, you are making some excellent points in this thread, but you are also throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Calling a bonsai good or bad is a judgement of their quality. Just like calling a painting good or bad.
On the other hand, calling a bonsai modern, neo-classical, naturalistic, etc. is a matter of comparative analysis. Just like classifying paintings into art movements such as realism, cubism or romanticism. Nothing wrong with that. Classifiying and comparing bonsai based on their looks or their cultural context is not a bad thing. It's what humans do (those interested in art and culture). You say that these efforts are "simply terminology for describing poor or deficient bonsai". How can a painting described as "impressionistic" be bad? How can a bonsai described as "naturalistic" be bad? It only means that it conveys a natural feeling.
Your firs tree is the one that proves you wrong: it is the pinnacle of naturalistic bonsai and it is an absolutely great tree. But wait! According to your logic, it is either naturalistic, or a great bonsai. It cannot be both in the same time.
Andy Rutledge wrote:
Excellent bonsai are evocative, natural looking, communicative works that are not bound up with artifice (outside of artistry's techniques) and appear to be natural and not overly contrived.

In the above, you've just described the naturalistic style bonsai... without being aware of it.
The good news is that this is just a misunderstanding from your part and it's easy to fix. As Walter said, you misunderstood this "naturalistic" business.
A naturalistic tree has to be wired down to the last twig. Otherwise, it will not look naturalistic. It think this is very important to understand the naturalistic style and should be repeated over and over again so that people don't misunderstand it : in order to look naturalistic, one needs to wire every single twig into place.
I often see trees that, after creating the basic branch structure, are maintained throughout the years by "giving it a haircut". This will create compact foliage pads and tiny leaves. With a naturalistic tree, you can't do that: you have to pay attention to every little twig and every little detail. That's because the tree needs to look as if human hand didn't touch it, and it also has to contain all the necesarry elements of artistry. As Walter said, maintaining a naturalistic bonsai is not for the lazy. A bonsai that looked natural will quickly loose that natural look after a few "haircuts", and becomes artificial. To maintain the "natural" look, it requires constant "refreshing" and reshaping of the fine details. Therefore, naturalistic bonsai is the one that needs the highest level of detail work.
Getting back to the trees you are showing us, the first and third tree shows that naturalistic bonsai is something that the Japanese highly admire. I've seen countless Japanese masterpieces - see the book Classic Bonsai of Japan - in this naturalistic style.
You just need to adjust your understanding of naturalistic bonsai. As far as you are concerned, think of naturalistic bonsai as nothing else but high quality, artistic bonsai, created to convey the spirit of nature. Just like some of the Japanese masterpices that you so much admire.
Walter,
You do a great job promoting this style, but I don't think you do enough in clearing up this great misunderstanding that leads people to believe that naturalistic means unkempt. In fact, you are doing a lousy job in this regard. You need to make people understand that paying attention (means: wiring and pruning) to every little detail is paramount in naturalistic bonsai.
Once they understand that, this old and tired argument, associating naturalistic bonsai with bonsai that grows on its own, with the least amount of interference from the artist, will go away. It's a shame that people still don't get it.


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2006 3:30 pm 
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Walter Pall wrote:
Number 2 is a maple in the neoclassical style which is made to look more like a pine tree than a maple. It has the typical faults of a stumped tree,namely some of the lower branches are much too thin and tjhose that are not thin have too radical a change in taper. This may be corrrected over many years. The fact that it looks like a slightyl untidy pine tree does not make it naturalistic. I still would want to have it though.
...
The first and the third trees qualify very well for naturalistic, the second one not really, it clearly looks 'created', 'made'. This could change in another ten years though.
Walter

Tree number two appears to me to be a naturalistic tree as well with a few faults that the owner may choose to correct with time. By no means is it a pine styled tree, or even a pine styled tree gone sloppy. It is very much a deciduous style with a dramatic taper. Can a dramatic taper tree not be naturalistic?
This tree is more developed than any deciduous tree I own, but I dare say it still has some development that needs to be done over time. The back, right of the tree in the middle needs further development, and some of the larger primary branches may be reconfigured in time to give a completely balanced picture.
So, is a neoclassically styled tree simply an unfinished naturalistic tree? And based on what has been said so far, would a Japanese trained bonsai artist and Walter agree with this?
Sincerely,
Howard


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2006 4:19 pm 
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Howard,
You and I see #2 differently. I do not see a textbook style, a certain species, or even a certain size. I see a bonsai that reminds me of a full sized tree ALTHOUGH I don't think I've ever seen a "full-sized" tree that even comes close to looking like that. Yet a similarity is there. It is exciting and stimulating to my senses. The differing aspects of branch thickness do not bother me in the least. This bonsai speaks to me, and I like what it has to say.
If it were mine, it would only be trimmed to maintain the present silhouette. Styling virtues be damned, I still love it. I would be very hard to persuade that a better bonsai exists in that material. While I respect the opinions of Austrians, Japanese, and many other region's experts, what really matters is how it speaks to me here in North Carolina. This bonsai broadcasts its message....loud and clear.
John


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 03, 2006 5:02 pm 
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I would suggest that a tree cannot be deemed to be completely in naturalistic style if it does not conform to the habits of the species to which it belongs.
As maples are not native to where I live, or even common, I can't be sure whether the second tree shown conforms to the normal growth patterns of maples.
I'm not suggesting messy young trees but trees that depict how an ancient (maple, for instance) looks in nature.
As I said on the parent thread to this one: There would be an enormous amount of work in maintaining a tree in this style, largely for the reasons elucidated earlier in this thread by John.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Jan 04, 2006 7:51 am 
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Hi Attila,
Quote:
On the other hand, calling a bonsai modern, neo-classical, naturalistic, etc. is a matter of comparative analysis. Just like classifying paintings into art movements such as realism, cubism or romanticism. Nothing wrong with that. Classifiying and comparing bonsai based on their looks or their cultural context is not a bad thing. It's what humans do (those interested in art and culture). You say that these efforts are "simply terminology for describing poor or deficient bonsai". How can a painting described as "impressionistic" be bad? How can a bonsai described as "naturalistic" be bad? It only means that it conveys a natural feeling.

Sorry for the confusion. When I refer to those descriptions, I'm referring to how I see them used by others to describe deficient bonsai. It usually happens this way: I or someone else notes that a certain bonsai is poorly done and someone else responds to that criticism by saying that the tree is not bad - just different, as it is "natural style" or "romantic style" or some such descriptor. The suggestion being that it is only tastes that differ, not bonsai quality.
That's utter bunk. Truly, varying tastes impact artistic perception, but I rarely if ever reference that issue in bonsai evaluation. When I say that a bonsai is poorly done or is deficient in some way, I'm referring to the fundamentals of artistry or of horticulture (or merely technique). Taste doesn't enter into it.
Taste variations cannot account for the fact that a distracting and incongruous branch should have been trimmed back years ago, or that the apex sits on the wrong side of the structure, or that the branch lines are inconsistent with the trunk line, or that the tree is planted on the wrong side of the pot (or that the pot is ill-positioned on the stand!).
These are all matters of artistry and composition fundamentals, not taste. And no amount of style description bastardization will amend their offense to the viewer's eye.
As for the basis of naturalistic bonsai, you say that every branch must be wired into place - and I agree that this must happen at some point in every bonsai's life. But never have I seen a bonsai described as naturalistic that wire has touched more than 1 or 2 branches. In every case, these trees are chaotic, ill-composed trees that look as if they were collected last year and left to grow, but for a cut branch or two.
At the root of my posit is that all bonsai should be naturalistic, in that they should not be unnatural and should not look contrived - no matter their "style." It just pains me to see meaninful terminology abused to the detriment of art.
Kind regards,
Andy


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Jan 04, 2006 9:10 am 
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Hector,
Quote:
I would suggest that a tree cannot be deemed to be completely in naturalistic style if it does not conform to the habits of the species to which it belongs.

I would have to disagree with you on this point. As bonsai is an exercise at interpretation and suggestion, species need not a factor in the message. Certainly species traits often suggest advisable styling and form ideals and some species almost demand them, but this is not always true.
An important reason for not strictly adhering to species characteristics is that nature sometimes plays interesting tricks with individual specimens. It is not uncommon to find a maple in nature that has an uncharacteristic structure or to find junipers that grow in broom forms.
Oaks, for instance, have a natural structure and growth habit that is not consistent with our creating "oak style" bonsai from them with much success - unless we make a 2-meter tall bonsai. Elms and boxwoods are excellent fodder for making natural-looking oak-style bonsai. Azaleas can be very evocative and gorgeous in pine forms. A gnarly Pemphis can remind the viewer of a trip to the Sierra Mts. and the junipers seen there.
There is plenty of room in our art for these purposes for varieties of material. How boring would bonsai be if all maples looked like maples, all azaleas looked like azalea bushes, all yew looked like yew-brooms, etc...
Kind regards,
Andy


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