Hector Johnson wrote:
Penjing has diverged sufficiently to be another art, altogether, in my view.
There has been a distinct schism between the two, in artistic terms, over the past century.
Likewise, the practice of "bonsai" in the west is slowly but assuringly evolving into another "art form". So is there a point in comparing what the West do with what the East agrees?
The discussion can be brought up to another more semantically and perhaps metaphysical stage. The word "art" in English itself can be interpreted in at least two manner: 1) as a form of expression by means of painting, music, writing, gardening, etc; and 2) as a refined skill, eg "artisan" of bakery: baker.
Has anyone wonder if the English term "art" can be truly translated into Japanese (芸術), or Chinese (藝術)?
All these talks and debates about how do we perceive bonsais as "art" appears to be pertinent in the western practice and habit of (over)intellectualizing a certain practice.
The way East-Asians perceive this world is rather different from the way Europeans and North Americans view the world. The former abides by a more "lateral" concept, whilst the latter a more "vertical" point of view. This verticality is very judeo-christian in essence, where there must be a good and an evil, a tall and a short, a big and a small, etc. The lateral view would be, there will not be a good if there wasn't an evil around. The subtleness must be correctly understood before one can make a jump to compare how each camp perceive the same subject.
From my observation of my home-continent, "bonsai" and "penjing" are rarely spoken of as high "art". If you study the provenance and etymology of the characters 藝術 and 芸術, and then bring it into the context of "artistic sphere" in Asia, you would see the weak relevance of the points touched in this thread.
Not wanting to sound patronising in any way, I sometimes think that the West over-complicate everything by the burning desire to "define" things. A venture into the first chapter of Tao de ching may help:
道 可 道 ，非 常 道 。 名 可 名 ， 非 常 名 。
無 名 天 地 之 始 ﹔ 有 名 萬 物 之 母 。
故 常 無 ， 欲 以 觀 其 妙 ﹔ 常 有 ， 欲 以 觀 其 徼。
此 兩 者 ， 同 出 而 異 名 ， 同 謂 之 玄 。
玄 之 又 玄， 眾 妙 之 門 。
(translation into various languages can be found here I think http://www.religiousworlds.com/taoism/ttc-list.html