Limited by Knowledgeby Enrique CastanoBonsai by Enrique Castano
Illustration by Will Heath*
How can art be limited? We are usually led to believe that art is free and can take any form from our imagination. The truth is, most forms of art are limited by critics and public acceptance. Public acceptance of new art takes time. Of course, one person can create a new sound, a new dance, a new style of painting, a new sculpture etc. However, if people don’t accept it there will be no trace of it in society in years to come. In a way, art can be seen as survival of the fittest. The types of arts that are not accepted will be forgotten soon and new things will be tried. What allows one form of art to be accepted and not another? A lot of it depends on the knowledge of the critics and public. In bonsai, we are still quite limited by not only the public understanding of bonsai but by many bonsai artists. Well known artists are usually the critics that people follow. Their thoughts and acceptances or lack of it, can influence the public and new generations of artists. Bonsai artists should be aware of how their knowledge and passage of knowledge affects the art.
Bonsai artists are often limited by their knowledge of species and their cultivation. For example, some artist regards “tropicals” as a different class apart from conifers and deciduous trees, as can be seen in many bonsai contests. The reason is due to the lack of knowledge as there can be tropical pines, junipers, taxus etc. Some tropicals are also deciduous trees as they lose their leaves during the dry seasons. However, there are some renowned western bonsai artists that do not treat them seriously. This discrimination limits their bonsai students and propagates the prejudiced cycle.
Other places where artist are limited by knowledge is in the choice of containers. Today, most accepted bonsai containers’ are ceramic pots. For many, a bonsai composition can only be accepted if it is in a ceramic pot. People accept them without questioning. Why? Limited in shapes and colors as people feel safer that they will be less criticized. When people are not secure about their knowledge they hardly depart from traditional shapes, reducing the possibilities of expression.
Defining forms (styles for some) as such is quite a useful classification. However, when this knowledge limits the possibilities in shapes or forms it can have terrible effects for new forms to be tried. This is of particular relevance when old collected trees are in question. The full potential of a tree can be lost just to follow a particular shape, because it does not conform to the “rules”. It is interesting to see many artists teach about the “rules” but they themselves do not follow them in many cases. Therefore people are mix with regard to what is the way. Nowadays some stress that this are guidelines however they fail to teach what the reasons are and what can be done. A far more eloquent article on this subject, "The Principles of Good Bonsai Design", by Robert Steven can be found at http://www.artofbonsai.org/feature_arti
There are many places where we are limited by knowledge. From accepted techniques to displays, our taste in bonsai evolves as our experience and knowledge increases. However, this is a slow pioneering process. Critics and public acceptance has to be gained before we can move to something new. As an artist, it is usually hard to get out of the norm and create and an art piece that will move people feelings, allowing them to see a story on their own. It is far safer (not necessarily easier) to create a piece of art that is boring in shape and style.*photograpgh of Sing Sing used is in the public domain as its copyright has expired.