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 Post subject: The Myth of the Single Front
PostPosted: Mon Apr 17, 2006 3:12 pm 
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This thread is for discussing Will Heaths' article, "The Myth of the Single Front."
http://www.artofbonsai.org/feature_arti ... efront.php


Last edited by Will Heath on Fri Jun 22, 2007 11:56 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Apr 17, 2006 5:12 pm 
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I agree with the article's premise that a bonsai should be carefully designed from all angles, instead of just one, in order to achieve naturalness from all around it.

Many people suggest that there is nothing new here, since a good bonsai needs to have its sides and back carefully designed as well, since it needs depth. But by saying so, they fail to recognize that in the traditional approach, the carefully designed back and side views all have the purpose of serving the front, and they don't necessarily give us a pleasing view from all angles.

I see a merit in the article by giving us the practical side of showing a bonsai, where the viewer will invariably end up in viewing the tree from an angle other than the front. If the artist fails to provide for these alternative views, the main view of the bonsai will be lost amongst the many other "wrong views". A tree with many pleasing views will be much more successful than a one-sided one.

The other virtue of this approach is that it prevents undesirable shortcuts, such as hiding faults and showing trees with deficient branching.
The shortcoming of the multiple view theory is that certain visual effects designed for a certain angle, will be lost. It also takes more skill to make it work.

But, overall, the advantages of this approach can easily outweigh the shortcomings. Even if the artist will not choose to design every tree for multiple viewing angle due to the particulars of the material, or because he simply prefers the single view approach, bonsai in general will be enriched by considering the ideas presented in the article.


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 17, 2006 10:04 pm 
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I have mentioned it before but it needs to be said once more. Though I believe that for one reason or feature or another a tree is likely to be thought to have a front. I know you can show trees, as Will has in his article, where it is difficult to pick the front because all sides of the tree are pretty much as full of merit as the others. But I don't think this is necessarily consistent with every tree you are likely to encounter. There are some trees where one feature is so dominant that it must be show cased or hidden. A good point would be in the case of a Yamadori tree with a striking driftwood feature visible from one point of view.

However where ever this argument ends up it most certainly will improve the quality of bonsai if all those involved attempt to make all sides of the tree balanced and pleasing as much as possible. I have found in the past a tree that doesn't work artistically is usually out of balance with itself somewhere around its form. Once this problem is resolved the front automatically takes on a better form, if indeed this tree happens to have an obviously identifiable front. I can also tell you that if you have a tree you enjoy looking at it from the back and the sides you have accomplished a great deal more than you might have thought possible.


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 17, 2006 11:35 pm 
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Not every piece of stock is suited for bonsai any more than every tree is suited for 360 viewing. The stock that is not suited for bonsai gets tossed, the stock that is not suited for multiple views, ends up as something less.

However, this article is not so much about three-dimensional bonsai as it is about the false assumption that we can force viewers to view at that one single viewing angle that we photograph our bonsai at. We can't and we never will control the angle of viewing, so styling for that single view only, as many do, is pointless for all purposes but photographs and although photography can be an art form in itself, it is not bonsai.

The front we are taught to display, to style for, to look for, is a myth to all but the photographer.

Enjoy,

Will Heath


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 18, 2006 1:42 am 
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That's akin to saying a car has no "front", because it can be viewed from any angle.
Will, There will ALWAYS be a BEST front, whether you like it, or not. A tree can have 50 'fronts', but one will always stand out above the others.


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PostPosted: Tue Apr 18, 2006 7:35 am 
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Hector,
The car analogy was good since they are designed to be visually pleasing from all angles and they do have a front, however, it is a front based on direction of motion and not visual merit. In fact, autos are seldom photographed from this "forced front" instead they are often photographed from such an angel as to show multiple sides. This is easy to see with the box shape of a auto. Let's get back to the round, shall we?

Hector, how do you assure that what you believe to be the best front is also what others will believe it to be? Would you say I would pick the same front as you would? As I've shown in the above article, people will choose the front that pleases them and not the front that the artist says is the front. In the examples given above, I have shown that many bonsaist can not agree on the front of a tree, and I have shown that basically no one views the bonsai in person at the front or the angle the artist intended.

Will


Last edited by Will Heath on Mon Apr 24, 2006 1:54 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Tue Apr 18, 2006 10:34 am 
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Here is a thread at IBC, showing a wonderful Hawthorn by Walter Pal. This is one of those trees that can give you as many views as you want.
http://internetbonsaiclub.org/index.php ... c=10116.30


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Apr 18, 2006 10:45 pm 
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Will,
Your argument is the corollary of telling a painter that since their medium is two dimensional that they should not use forshortening or any other techniques to give the painting any depth. The opposite is true with a bonsai. We must use a three dimensional medium to create a two dimensional image in our viewer's mind. We are taking a small piece of plant material, and through technical tricks and artistry we are creating an 'image' of a tree that evokes feeling and provokes the recollection of the viewer's memories of scenes in nature. This image is diluted by trying to make many viewable fronts. We owe it to the viewer to pick the trunkline view that is most evocative of feeling. We owe it to the viewer to arrange branches in an inviting fashion to bring the viewer into this symbol of a powerful living ingredient of nature (i.e. a tree). We owe it to the viewer to arrange the tertiary branches and the terminals of the branches to reach toward the front, so that they will again, be invited and drawn into our image of nature. The back branches must succumb to the artist's chosen front to most provokatively entice the viewer and summon their mental imagery of a tree. The pot must be chosen to best compliment the front image of the tree, not a secondary compromise choice to accomodate the viewer as he is coming and going, but a decisive choice which will look like the pot was created for the tree. The apex must slightly lean toward the front to provide that illusion of towering height, not be some monotonous dome.

If bonsai enters the 'no front realm', we need get rid of all but round pots, since anything but a round pot would be distracting from nonfront views. Bonsai shows would have to consist of isolated podiums so that no particular view is emphasized. Companion plants, a direct derivation of the Tokonome display will be obsolete. Stands also will need to be round, so as not to bias one possible front over another. Bonsai photographs should be outlawed since they perpetuate the myth of a front. So should sketches, unless of course they are accompanied by at least 3 to 6 other views of the tree. Perhaps we should also require the bonsai be displayed under a balcony, so as to not omit the airplane view which is usually pretty cool.

I am not suggesting that the work done on a tree has any less quality on the backside. All sides need to receive proper attention, but must be designed to look best from the front, so that the viewer will be walking along, and pause at a point, look from different angles, bob their head around some, and then find that one sweet spot that evokes the 'image' (insert the word mental photograph if you wish) that brings out memories, emotion, and the beauty and love of nature that can be done best only with a single front. For me, this is what bonsai is all about, bringing out that one best image that little plant has to offer to evoke the image of its ancient brothers out in nature. And my only tie to that big brother out in nature is the usually two dimensional image tucked away somewhere in my mind, subconsciously waiting for something in my environment to attach to and come forth to my conscious being and then allow me to say, "Wow, that's beautiful" as I squat or bow to the bonsai before me.


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Tue Apr 18, 2006 10:54 pm 
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Will Heath wrote:
Hector,
Hector, how do you assure that what you believe to be the best front is also what others will believe it to be? Would you say I would pick the same front as you would? As I've shown in the above article, people will choose the front that pleases them and not the front that the artist says is the front. In the examples given above, I have shown that many bonsaist can not agree on the front of a tree, and I have shown that basically no one views the bonsai in person at the front or the angle the artist intended.
I'm sorry Hector, you'll have to come up with a better defense than simply posting a message that seems angry and spiteful.

Will

If ten people pick ten different fronts for a tree, this does not prove that there is not one BEST front. I would think that the more succesfful the artist, the more people would agree on the chosen front. I don't think your tactic of choosing people of different skill levels is a fair challenge. I could ask fourth graders who is a better actor - Laurence Olivier or the guy that played Darth Vader?

Even if you have accomplished bonsai artists differ on chosen fronts, they may both be right. HOWEVER, they will arrange the pot placement, the trunkline lean, the branching and the apex to bring out the best of their chosen front and put it all into balance. You can't do this unless the two artists compromise, and when do you create fantastic art through the compromise of two disagreeing artists?
Great stuff Will! Thank you for getting my brain going.


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Tue Apr 18, 2006 11:12 pm 
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Interesting thoughts Howard, thank you. I hope you don't mind if I comment on a few of them.
Howard Smith wrote:
Your argument is the corollary of telling a painter that since their medium is two dimensional that they should not use forshortening or any other techniques to give the painting any depth. The opposite is true with a bonsai. We must use a three dimensional medium to create a two dimensional image in our viewer's mind.

Why? Why are we not using a three dimensional medium to create a three dimensional image in our viewer's mind? Are we not short changing the art by reducing three dimensions to two?

Howard Smith wrote:
We are taking a small piece of plant material, and through technical tricks and artistry we are creating an 'image' of a tree that evokes feeling and provokes the recollection of the viewer's memories of scenes in nature. This image is diluted by trying to make many viewable fronts. We owe it to the viewer to pick the trunkline view that is most evocative of feeling.


My point in the article above is that no matter how carefully we "pick the trunk line view" we can not force the viewer to see it at this precise angle. The front we so carefully pick as the best may very well be only second best to the viewer. Why try to force a view, why force the viewer to see only one interpretation of the tree? Why not just show the bonsai and let the viewer see what they will?

The front as we know it exists only in our minds not the viewers. They see the tree at whatever angle they come upon it and at whatever height they are at. I am sure we have all had someone view one of our bonsai and remark on how beautiful it was only to have us rush over and turn the "front" toward them. For crying out loud, the tree was beautiful to them, is that not the point?

Howard Smith wrote:
We owe it to the viewer to arrange branches in an inviting fashion to bring the viewer into this symbol of a powerful living ingredient of nature (i.e. a tree). We owe it to the viewer to arrange the tertiary branches and the terminals of the branches to reach toward the front, so that they will again, be invited and drawn into our image of nature.


We owe it to the viewer to present a bonsai that they don't need to stand on a big red "X" in front of it in order to view it.

Howard Smith wrote:
The back branches must succumb to the artist's chosen front to most provokatively entice the viewer and summon their mental imagery of a tree. The pot must be chosen to best compliment the front image of the tree, not a secondary compromise choice to accomodate the viewer as he is coming and going, but a decisive choice which will look like the pot was created for the tree. The apex must slightly lean toward the front to provide that illusion of towering height, not be some monotonous dome.


These are "guidelines" followed in some cases, not followed in others, we could all point out a few dozen world class bonsai that b=sway from these guidelines...

Howard Smith wrote:
If bonsai enters the 'no front realm', we need get rid of all but round pots, since anything but a round pot would be distracting from nonfront views.


Now we are getting somewhere...this could be an article in itself.
What happens when your bonsai in a rectangular pot is viewed at at an angle? Does it suddenly become something other than a representation of a tree, does it turn into a beach ball or does it remain a tree?

Why are automobiles photographed mostly showing the corner of the box (the common shape of a car)?

Does the shape of the pot dictate subconsciously to the viewer where to view from? Does the shape move the viewer into the correct viewing position imagined by the artist?

Howard Smith wrote:
Bonsai shows would have to consist of isolated podiums so that no particular view is emphasized. Companion plants, a direct derivation of the Tokonome display will be obsolete.

Recently a bonsai show was held in an art gallery, imagine that. Guess what? They were displayed like sculpture where all sides could be viewed. Where does the two dimensional bonsai fit in here? I feel that venues like this will become more common as the art in bonsai comes of age.
Tokonoma display does not caress the single front either, as I showed in the article above.

Please remember, this article states that the front as we know it is a myth. Why is it a myth? Because it exists in the artists mind only, not the viewers. What you call the front, other artists may very well call the back or the side and the viewers could give a damn less, they just want to see the tree. We can point the tree anyway we want, it will however be viewed from all angles.

Will Heath


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Apr 18, 2006 11:49 pm 
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Will, to respond to your response:
We use three dimensional medium to create a fantastic idealized two dimensional image. To not do this is not bonsai, but a different artform with different artistic principles. Else bonsai will be no better than those Department 56 ceramic Christmas trees you see at the malls after Thanksgiving.

You are right, we cannot force the viewer to look at our front. But we can sure as hell try our best to entice him to. The better the artist performs his job and presents the tree, the more likely the viewer will see the image we are shooting for. And if the job is done correctly, we don't need a big red X, the viewer will be drawn to the front of the tree without thinking.

I will dare say that ALL artistically constructed bonsai follow the basic principles I outlined: "We owe it to the viewer to pick the trunkline view that is most evocative of feeling. We owe it to the viewer to arrange branches in an inviting fashion to bring the viewer into this symbol of a powerful living ingredient of nature (i.e. a tree). We owe it to the viewer to arrange the tertiary branches and the terminals of the branches to reach toward the front, so that they will again, be invited and drawn into our image of nature. The back branches must succumb to the artist's chosen front to most provokatively entice the viewer and summon their mental imagery of a tree. The pot must be chosen to best compliment the front image of the tree, not a secondary compromise choice to accomodate the viewer as he is coming and going, but a decisive choice which will look like the pot was created for the tree. The apex must slightly lean toward the front to provide that illusion of towering height, not be some monotonous dome." These are not mere guidelines like the one, two three branching but rather principles of styling ANY bonsai.

I would say that a rectangular pot does move the viewer to look at the longest side head on.

Bonsai are not sculpture. Sculpture are true 3D art. Bonsai are not.
Tokonoma do caress a single front. You may be teased and enticed by the different angles, but there is one best front that hits the sweet spot.
Finally, you said that the front of a bonsai is a myth that exists in the artist's mind only. The law of gravity existed in Newton's mind only for a while as well, but most people finally caught on. Will, if you win the argument you may send us into the dark ages of bonsai!


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Tue Apr 18, 2006 11:58 pm 
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Howard Smith wrote:
Bonsai are not sculpture. Sculpture are true 3D art. Bonsai are not.

Here is where we differ.
Howard Smith wrote:
Will, if you win the argument you may send us into the dark ages of bonsai!

We may well be already there then if we take your word and if we judge what some world class artists are doing. Follow this link to one of Walter's many multiple front bonsai http://internetbonsaiclub.org/index.php ... c=10116.30
How dare he lead us to the dark ages.

Will


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Apr 19, 2006 12:31 am 
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Howard Smith wrote:
If ten people pick ten different fronts for a tree, this does not prove that there is not one BEST front. I would think that the more succesfful the artist, the more people would agree on the chosen front. I don't think your tactic of choosing people of different skill levels is a fair challenge...


No it proves that to the viewers there are ten BEST fronts.
Fair challenge? Why not? We show them to people of different skill levels, don't we? I am not an experienced sculptor, but I can stand right along side of one and enjoy the same sculpture, why should bonsai be different?

Speaking of challenges, I asked for readers of this article to participate in a minor study by choosing a front from six pictures shown. Now if all participants choose the same front...then there is a single front. But they won't, they never do, because their perception is based on their own personal preferences and experiences. Each person will find their own BEST front. Why limit them to only yours?

We pick a photo front for photographs, this is necessary, but this is not bonsai, it is photography and that's another art form.
Howard, thanks for the thoughts, I appreciate them very much.

Will


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Wed Apr 19, 2006 10:40 am 
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Howard Smith wrote:
Bonsai are not sculpture. Sculpture are true 3D art. Bonsai are not.

This is the essence of disagreement, every difference starts and ends with this concept.

My question is though, what's wrong with trying out the "sculpture" approach?

We all know the principles on which the two-dimensional approach is based. Howard's detailed list of what the traditional approach is about is spot on, we all know it and grew up with it when learning bonsai.
But what happens if we try the sculpture approach and it results in some spectacular trees? And these trees will offer a somewhat different experience? Is anybody going to say that "yes, it looks great, but it has the wrong approach". Isn't the result what matters?

How come we don't hear the critics saying, "I am skeptical about it, but it might just work". After all, it would't be difficult to re-style a failed attempt into the two-dimensional wiew. What's odd to me is that people are so hung up on the fact that the concept goes against the traditional approach, that they don't even want to see the result. It seems to me that to these people the theory of bonsai is more important than the result itself. On the other hand, the wiever couldn't care less about theory. The viewing experience is the only thing that matters to them.


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Wed Apr 19, 2006 11:25 am 
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Howard Smith wrote:
We owe it to the viewer to arrange branches in an inviting fashion

I could have written this myself, since I know the concept behind it. But I can't help thinking how one-sided this view is. It's one way (and a very nice way, I concede) to do it, but not the only way.

When it comes to art, I like diversity. And I would get quickly tired looking at works that constantly remind me of other works.

Yes, I like some trees to gently invite me and bow towards me with their hugging branches. But I also like some trees to remain wild and distant, aloof, or solitary. I like some trees to be in their own world, undomesticated, ignoring me completely, as if I didn't exist. These trees don't have to invite me or hug me, neither literally, nor figuratively.

And I've seen many great bonsai ignoring the "inviting" part, to be convinced that this is not something that every bonsai has to do.


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