Will Heath wrote:
John Dixon wrote:
... in my opinion. No one will - or should - bring Kimura or the like to judge beginner bonsai, but when the unknowing public sees a display of beginner, intermediate, and advanced bonsai, they will get a quick and permanent lesson about the varying quality of bonsai.
Wonderful post John, I must question this one statement of yours however.
Who should judge beginners? Who should judge the intermediate? Who should judge the advance or the master class bonsai? What criteria should we use? Should beginners judge beginners or intermediate judge beginners, maybe advanced bonsaists should judge beginners?
Should not a beginner's effort be judged by the very best so that they can benefit from the experience? Why lower the standard just because someone is a beginner?
This year I am the show chairperson for our club, the first thing I did was arrange for William N. Valavanis to come and judge our show, beginner class, intermediate class, advance class, and master class. Certainly he is quite qualified to judge all of the classes, unlike some judges who certainly were not qualified to judge the master class entries.
This met with much resistance at first, not because of cost because scheduling workshops with Bill covered the cost, but because members thought that our bonsai was not worthy of such a name. My response was that they never would be either until we exposed our egos and made a commitment to improve.
I don't want my work to be judged by someone on the same level as myself, by someone on a lower level, or even someone on a slightly higher level. I want my work to be judged by the best in the business, or at least the best we can get. Anything less is an insult to those who truly want to advance.
American Bonsai needs to be put under the magnifying glass, it needs to be held to high standards, it needs to see the light of day. The old argument that we should lower the judging standards so that people will have a fair chance is nothing but a cop out. We should raise the standards and let those whose feelings might be hurt by an honest critique stay at home.
The public will benefit from such an attitude, after all the end result will be higher quality trees to view.
To qualify my remarks, it's probably best to explain how my club does it.
Our "local" show is a "Member's" show. It is held publicly and free of charge. The members are given three categories to compete in: Beginner, Intermediate, and Advanced. We have varied between having two-three advanced members judge the beginner and intermediate levels, while the President (or non-competing advanced members) judge the Advanced entries. Sometimes we bring in local artists to judge it. One rule that stays constant is that any winner in the beginner or intermediate level is required to compete at the next higher level the following year. So the winner of the beginner level moves up to intermediate the following year. If they happen to win at intermediate, they are bumped to advanced.
Now I mentioned REGIONAL competition because that is the highest level my club competes at. Those entries are brought to the monthly meeting just prior to the event. They are voted on by the membership and the coordinator has final say in what bonsai will be displayed on our sixteen linear feet of space.
Needless to say, ANY bonsai of ANY skill level member can be considered for this display, but it is known that only the BEST will make the cut. No one is trying to hurt anyone's feelings, but the goal is our best. It's not a popularity contest, it's about quality bonsai. If you don't have them, you won't have one in our display....period.
One last show of note is the Southern Spring Show in Charlotte. Our club has displayed in this for many years (I think we started in the early 80's). the coordinator for this show specifically asks members who he can trust to provide quality, presentation-ready, bonsai. We have seven or eight tokonama where each member is expected to set up a display. This includes stand, scroll, accent, etc. This is not really "kept" from the membership, but it is known that you have to "pay your dues" and prove yourself and your bonsai to be considered.
I feel this a natural and proper "pecking order" if you will. Our Board of Directors is trying to incorporate a philosophy where ALL levels of skill are welcomed and nurtured (after all, every one of us was a beginner at one point). All should feel welcome and motivated to attend our functions. At the same time, beginners with beginning skill will be expected to listen, learn, and improve. As they do, they will be asked to share specific knowledge that they have shown as a personal attribute. Our advanced members are being tasked with the responsibility to teach the membership in roles of leadership and mentoring. As a reward for this, the advanced members who are active will get first dibs at workshops with big names who we bring in. They will also bow out of workshops that are better suited for lower skill levels, and in some cases, lead them.
Once again, I think this is a natural ascention in the bonsai community. No one is looking down on beginners, but at the same time beginners will have to understand they are not the highest level on the food chain. That is earned. No one should "give" it to them. Those in higher levels have a responsibility to share with others of lesser skill so they can progress to the limits of their learning. Some will ascend quickly, many others will not progress at all. If they are happy with Home Depot bonsai, then fine, there is room in bonsai for that and it is perfectly acceptable. However, there are those who are striving to take bonsai to the highest level of quality they can. They are the elite. They are the leaders, and like the saying goes:
Lead, follow, or get the hell out of the way.
Privates don't command armies, Generals do.
I hope this helps to illustrate my previous post.