Will Heath wrote:
Does art need a story? Does a tree need a story to be art? Why?
The key word here is need. The tree may tell a story but it does not need to tell a story. All a tree needs is to touch something inside the viewer that is at some sort of spiritual level. Because of a discussion on another forum, I have been doing a lot of thought on this issue/problem over the last couple of days. I have come to the conclusion that we are trying to understand this from the wrong direction.
To me the concept of what we call art is as old as man kind. It is a given that man has always been a social animal needing companionship and mutual cooperation to survive. A single man by himself cannot hope to survive long beyond the limits of finding food, and avoiding predators. Community allowed the rise of thought beyond food and survival. It was that point in time where man advanced beyond survival basics and found himself with time to think about his environment, his life, and his mortality, but not necessarily in that order that abstract thoughts of the unseen and ways to control it entered into his life.
From these thoughts came religion, ritual, and an understanding of the cycles of life. Questions that could not be answered were thought about, debated and honored through ritual and representations of a world beyond natural sight and not directly controllable. Man began to see himself as a direct recipient of the blessings and curses of this unseen realm and sought ways to gain it's favor or at least not to incur its wrath.
From this way of thinking came the practice of art, representing thoughts, ideas, ideals, fears, reverence, joy, and grief. In short the birth of art coincides with man's first awareness of a spiritual existence. Art is both the reaching out to unseen forces and the reaching in for unseen power.
I believe it is part of the human legacy to imagine the unimaginable to contemplate things that no one has seen or conceived of, it is the manifestation of the creative force withing our species that is capable of astounding accomplishments of progress and abominable acts of horror. I don't think it can be or ever shall be totally definable in terms that we can all agree on but anything that comes from this place or takes us to that place is part of what makes us human.
In order (in my opinion) for bonsai to be art it has to come from that place inside where those thoughts come from and take us to that place inside where those thoughts are processed. It is an exchange of spirits for lack of a better term. Does the bonsai tell a story? Maybe yes maybe no, but it should go beyond a tree in a pot, it should go beyond a critical analysis of its parts; what it has become is an expression of those things we cannot describe, analyze or compartmentalize as much as we desire to do so. Again we come to the concept of Kami.
To make the judgement that a bonsai must tell a story is to diminish it down to the level of a bill board, though the bill board my be visually pleasing.