'Bonsai - The Art of Living Sculpture'
by Jack Douthitt
Rizzoli International Publications, Inc. Hardcover 144 pp., 16.99 (Varies)
Reviewed by Will Heath*
Having long been a proponent of bonsai being viewed as living three dimensional sculptures and having just met Jack Douthitt at the Michigan All State Show, I didn't hesitate to purchase this book when I seen it the next day on a shelf at a local bonsai shop. My schedule, being as full as it is, assured that the book would rest in my library unopened until recently, when I was looking for something to read and rediscovered it.
The book starts out with a forward by Warren A. Hill, the Supervisory Museum Curator of the National Bonsai and Penjing Museum at the U.S. National Arboretum in Washington D.C. who states in reference to this book, "The sensitive text uniquely approaches bonsai as true art, sharing most of the same principles and concepts as other fine arts."
He goes on to say, "The broad background information, in-depth exploration, and analysis of the many attributes found in bonsai is rich reading indeed!"
The book contains dozens of color photographs of bonsai from some of the most respected and admired artists in the world including Pius Notter, Luis Vallejo, Michael Periano, Walter Pall, Qingquan Zhao, Budi Sulistyo, Colin Lewis, Bill Valavanis, Amy Liang Chang, Sue Aziz, as well as Jack Douthitt himself and many others. I was very pleased to see that the work of some leading female artists was featured in this book, as they have often been underrepresented in bonsai literature.
The pictures make this a respectable coffee table book but unfortunately little else. Although Jack touches on subjects such as line, color, light, dark, static and dynamic balance, tone, composition, harmony, warm and cool colors, rhythm, space, and other terms that one usually hears in conjunction with the fine arts, he only narrowly touches upon the subjects and hence, paints a thin layer that only barely covers these critical issues. His grasp of bonsai as an art form is obvious in his words such as, "The fundamental goal of the sculptor is to produce a piece of three-dimensional art that is composed of solid masses that are in static or sometimes dynamic balance, which will transform a familiar object into a work of art that expands our understanding of the object."
Yet, I was left wanting more, wanting my personal understanding of the art to be expanded.
He explores every aspect of bonsai from growing and collecting to aging, struggle, and death, but he explores them from a distant viewpoint that only teases the artist inside of me. He also comments on each bonsai presented in his book, giving commentary that often is generic which misses the opportunity to critique the artistic merits of some of the finest bonsai in the world. His words do however speak loudly of his love for bonsai and his beliefs pertaining to bonsai as an art.
I was also disappointed in the way in which the artists who created the trees shown were given credit in the back of the book instead of with the picture. Although some may feel that this method of giving credit left the picture stand alone without preconceived opinions of the artist or prejudices affecting the viewing, I found it frustrating to continually flip to the back pages to see who created the bonsai.
This is not a book that belongs in the gardening section of the book store; it contains no cultivation or how-to design information for those who seek such. It is a book that embraces the artistic aspects of bonsai as sculpture, although not in depth, it is still a welcome addition to the shelves of cultivation books that make up the majority of the published works.
As a whole, the book is well laid out, well presented and does an excellent job of showcasing the art of bonsai as well as some of the world's leading artists. It will stay on my shelf and deserves a place on the shelf of any person who wishes to examine, explore, or enjoy artistically created bonsai. I have given an extra copy I recieved as a gift to my daughter, it is her first bonsai book and she spends a lot of time just flipping though it and looking at the pictures. The pictures are an inspiration to her as well as me.
* About Will Heath
**Photographs used with permission by Jack Douthitt.