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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Thu Mar 03, 2005 10:59 am 
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Will Heath wrote:
Technique, history, application can all be taught, but as we well know, it takes something more to create art, something deeper, it takes talent. However, talent without knowledge and understanding what has come before can be a hard beast to tame.
Reading this thread reminded me of a book I have and what a strange thing it is that our home here, the Art of Bonsai project" so closely resembles the title of Colin's book, "The Art Of Bonsai Design."
Will Heath

Hello all,
I've always felt that any type of training hones existing skills; loosely referred to as "chipping away the rough edges". We do it to bonsai material, it is only consistent to believe the same applies to the artist. More training, fewer rough edges.
In an analogy, a statue is sculpted by removing the material that doesn't apply to the overall goal. If the critical material is discovered to have fatal flaws, the design has to be changed or accepted as is. This may preclude it from ever being a significant work of art. When it comes to the artist, the critical material is already there. The training/experience will determine what flaws can be overcome, and which can't.
Best regards,
John


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 09, 2005 1:10 am 
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We seem to have digressed from the issue raised in Andy's article - is combining bonsai with other art in a display a good idea? I'd say so far it has not proven to be with perhaps the exception of the display of Udo Claasen's painting with some nice bonsai in Germany. Most attempts of mixing bonsai with sculpture, and rocks, and classical Greek statues try too hard to be different. Claassen's paintings combined with bonsai seemed to have worked because even though they typically sell for more than the bonsai in the display, their abstract nature made the paintings more of a backdrop. The bonsai remained the focal point.

I'd actually extend Andy's argument and say that most three-point displays with scrolls, suiseki and other Asian artifacts also do not work. They distract from the tree and are typically used to remind people that bonsai is an Asian art. I have read the analysis that says these artifacts make the tree feel more at home in its natural environment but I don't buy it. If we want bonsai to be considered an art, then the bonsai have to be the art. I'd much rather see the trees displayed as at the Weyerhaeuser exhibit where the focus is solely the tree than in a dark tokonoma with some quaint antiques. Put moss on the soil and place the tree at eye level on a well-lit stand, on the work will speak for itself.


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Wed Mar 09, 2005 10:40 am 
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Colin Lewis wrote:
You mention six, one of whom (like me) is a fairly recent immigrant. You could have also mentioned Nick Lenz, Guy Guidry and three or four others. Even if you had named a dozen, it would still not equal the number of artists of as high or higher ability in Italy alone.

And "more than a match"? Why not ask Bill, Marty, et al what they think of that statement?

I'll issue a challenge to you, Reiner: join the trip to see the Ginkgo Awards exhibition in Belgium next September and, if that doesn't change your mind, I'll give you my next tax refund. Although the USA is larger than Europe, and has a longer history of bonsai, you couldn't stage an exhibition displaying so many excellent home-produced bonsai in America - well, excluding California anyway.
Colin


Hey Colin,
There is no doubt there are quality of the bonsai in Europe, but making comments that it is better than the US strikes me as good debate material. While the concept is certainly unverifiable, it is fun to consider. You cited the names of some American artists but you barely scratched the surface of the bonsai art in the US. For instance, you didn't even mention any Florida bonsai artists and only mentioned two California artists. I made a list for myself and off the top of my head named 30 top notch artists in Florida alone, people like Jim Smith, Jim VanLandingham, Mary Madison, Joe Samuels, etc. The Bonsai Society of Florida has 900 members and a decent percentage of those are good bonsai artists. Walter Pall recently posted a travelogue of his adventures through California. He posted photos of 24 different artists, yet he didn't post work from many other California artists I that know of and I know only some of them.

I recently received a catalogue of Italian bonsai teachers. There were maybe 30 listed in the book and each had photos of some nice trees. Germany might have a similar number as does England. Double it to consider other countries such as France and Spain. So there are what about 180 top notch artists. I feel the US could easily match that number.
Sure we don't yet have an America Ginko show where the top artists can display their trees, but we might some day. But we do have several nice bonsai gardens where these artists display their work. The US Arboretum, the Weyerhaeuser, the Morikami, Huntington Gardens, Golden State exhibit and Eldan Gardens offer a good examples of American bonsai art.
But as good as Europe and American trees are, they pale in comparison to the trees I have seen in Taiwan. I would contend that the Taiwan trees I have seen are even better than the Japanese trees. I suppose due to many years of Japanese occupation, the Taiwanese have learned the refined techniques of the Japanese and applied them to fast growing tropical trees. The trees are fully developed, have presence and awesome beauty. And amazingly many of the Taiwanese trees are nursery grown and don't rely on the vagaries of nature but the hand of skilled bonsai artists. Every bonsai artist needs to visit Taiwan - be prepared to be blown away.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Mar 15, 2005 5:45 pm 
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?As in music, architecture, painting and other arts, classical signifies a piece that is composed according to established and traditional formulae. Miles Davis, Paul Andreu or Pablo Picasso are/were anything but classical, but would you deny that they reached the pinnacle?
To limit artistic aspirations to the classical is to stifle creativity and innovation - it is anti-art? -said Collin.

It is interesting yet commonplace to find opinionated anathema to rules /guideline/norms of bonsai designing and clamor for artistic freedom . All sorts of limp arguments are juxtaposed in favor of artistic freedom vs.traditional norms!

I INVITE all the artistic freedom fighters to consider an art form called Calligraphy- is it not rooted in the basic and fundamental knowledge of alphabet?s structural form yet the truly creative calligrapher do not feel constricted to give vent to his creative urge thru his chosen medium of calligraphy .

It is about time to halt the democratic long march of mediocre artisans to save the thousand + year and still going strong art of bonsai from trifling.


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Tue Mar 15, 2005 8:34 pm 
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Soumya Mitra wrote:
It is about time to halt the democratic long march of mediocre artisans to save the thousand + year and still going strong art of bonsai from trifling.


(I love the above sentence for its tone of urgency and concern)
Theoretically, we could divide bonsai practitioners into two categories.
The first one would have artists who represent the pinnacle of bonsai artistry. These individuals should not be bound by any tradition (since they mastered the traditional forms long ago), and could push the boundaries without compromising the achievements of the old.

The second category would contain the rest of us. Here, there is a lot to learn and explore from the classics before becoming self-proclaimed innovators.
If the above is correct, each of us just has to decide which group he/she belongs to. Simple enough?


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Wed Mar 16, 2005 9:56 am 
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Soumya Mitra wrote:
?
It is about time to halt the democratic long march of mediocre artisans to save the thousand + year and still going strong art of bonsai from trifling.


If you look back at the old paintings and scrolls depicting Chinese and Japanese bonsai from a century ago and earlier, you'll see they have little resemblance to the refined trees now offered as top notch bonsai. It seems that the advent of wire (mostly post WWII) changed bonsai. So why can't globalization change it even more without referring to mediocrity?

There is a continuum of ability in bonsai as there is in all art, and that's a good thing. Instead of causing the art to trifle, these mediocre artists actually benefit the art - they buy books, attend classes, buy trees and pots and make it economically feasible for the superb artists to work on their art full time.


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Wed Mar 16, 2005 12:51 pm 
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Rob Kempinski wrote:
Instead of causing the art to trifle, these mediocre artists actually benefit the art - they buy books, attend classes, buy trees and pots and make it economically feasible for the superb artists to work on their art full time.


Now that's an astute observation worth a lot of consideration. I remember Walter Pall in the Fresno convention talking about this. When someone in the audience asked "where is the bonsai market?" he answered "you are the market right here, this audience".

Without this large number of "wannabe artists" (should have said "aspiring artists", including myself), bonsai students and backyard hobbyists, all of them being considered mediocre, there would be no bonsai market whatsoever.

It's like the much viled speculator on the stock market percieved to add nothing; when in fact there would be no efficient market without them since they provide precious liquidity.

Without the millions of mediocre trees produced, bought and sold, there would be no bonsai industry, toolmakers, magazines, books, etc. Heck, I would probably not do bonsai today since I would have never been exposed to it.

Although praising mediocrity is against the grain of what most of us are saying here, I have to agree with Rob that the top artist need these masses to be able to make a living.

So, I might have to change my stance on this. When seing mediocre or substandard bonsai, instead of frowning I should be thankful for their existence. If nothing else, they make me feel so much better about myself believing that I can create something far superior.
(funny that when talking about art, we always forget that there is an economy around it)


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Mar 16, 2005 2:29 pm 
Attila, the trick is not to praise mediocrity, but to assist in its improvement. Most may never rise above the level of the mundane but we must remember every attempt at art is important to someone. By learning more about their hobby (as opposed to a profession, as similar distinction is made in most fields of art) these people grow to appreciate the works of others. The more they appreciate the more they become involved, striving to produce better works or possibly buying a better piece. But like a tender piece of stock they must be nurtured carefully. There is a difference between praise and kind encouragement. Why frown at less than perfect bonsai? There is nothing that can be done to change them, unless the tree is your own. The economy of an art determines how rapidly it will expand, and in the west bonsai is a fairly new art. It needs to be well tended by kind and gentle hands. Over pruning will only slow down its growth.


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Wed Mar 16, 2005 3:46 pm 
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James L. Doggett wrote:
Over pruning will only slow down its growth.

That's a great analogy.
I grow hundreds of trees in the ground, training them to become good material. The most important skill in doing that is to find the perfect balance between overpruning (in order to stimulate new growth and induce taper) and letting them grow free for gaining size and preserving maximum vigour.
As you've said, overpruning would impair development, but giving them too much freedom will affect their quality and refinement.
Finding the perfect balance in the business of bonsai, between quality and quantity...


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Wed Mar 16, 2005 4:25 pm 
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Rob Kempinski wrote:
If you look back at the old paintings and scrolls depicting Chinese and Japanese bonsai from a century ago and earlier, you'll see they have little resemblance to the refined trees now offered as top notch bonsai.

Here is another example that we can look at and stand in awe: Italian bonsai.
Just read that the IBS (the national Italian club for instructors of bonsai) is celebrating its glorious history of 20 (yes, twenty) years.
A few decades ago there was no Italian bonsai. They have no tradition, and had no masters to learn from. Today, they are considered by many the best in the world, outside Japan.
Maybe we should ask them how the heck they did it.
It may have to do with their culture: there is no other nation on earth that can match their artistic tradition in quality and richness. They were at the leading edge for almost 2000 years. That might have helped.


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Thu Sep 15, 2005 5:44 am 
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Andy Rutledge wrote:
BUT, I also hold with the idea that we don't put forth every ridiculous and unartistic effort as examples of artistry. And this is precisely what is happening with these silly exhibits.

Knowing what is NOT working is maybe as much as valuable as knowing what IS working.


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 Post subject: Back to the subject
PostPosted: Fri Dec 16, 2005 10:25 am 
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Quote:
BUT, I also hold with the idea that we don't put forth every ridiculous and unartistic effort as examples of artistry. And this is precisely what is happening with these silly exhibits.


Hear, hear. There are fundamental differences between the art of Ando Hiroshige and the art of JMW Turner (I choose those two for comparison as they are contemporaries and because I collect Japanese woodblock prints and my wife collects English landscape artworks), that demonstrate ably the gap between the two cultures. One is regarded as the peak of Ukiyo-e, in an artistic direction that values quietude, introspection and minimalist representation. The other represents the heights of achievement in Europe, well ahead of the French Impressionist school, of the Western fascination with meticulous, mechanical representation of perspective, form and light.

One is allegorical and spiritualist; the other is explicit and rationalist.
An exhibition where those two were displayed side by side would be disappointing, to my mind. To do so would highlight for me the issue at hand: We are trying to meld very dissimilar styles of artistry together. They are too different to warrant comparison.

Taking that concept further, with more modernistic work, is even more likely to disappoint. The juxtaposition is not only shocking, but discordant, as we have seen recently, in the experiment with abstract work that the Weyerhauser display dabbled in. Simply unworkable.

I guess I may be a little more traditionalist than some but my assessment of whether something is art is not whether it evokes emotion but whether it evokes pleasant emotion. In short, the repeated attempts to combine bonsai with Western, often abstract, paintings is stillborn because it flies counter to each art's propensity to instil emotion in the viewer. The conflict of emotions unsettles, rather than informs, the audience. There may be a school to whom that appeals, but it is always going to elicit disagreement from a large proportion of the informed public.

Attempting to legitimise poor art, whether bonsai or painting, by attempting to capitalise on the cachet of the other, merely cheapens both.
On the other hand, displaying bonsai with scrolls and artwork in a tokonoma is legitimate, as the tokonoma is also used to display suiseki, ikebana, ukiyo-e, pottery, carvings and calligraphy, at different times of the year. It is a gallery space that relies on context and balance to evoke the appropriate response from the viewer. For most, if not all, of us it works... perhaps because we associate the contextual references immediately with each other; perhaps because a thousand years of experimentation uncovered and refined what works best.


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 Post subject: Re: Back to the subject
PostPosted: Fri Dec 16, 2005 6:04 pm 
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Hector Johnson wrote:
One is regarded as the peak of Ukiyo-e, in an artistic direction that values quietude, introspection and minimalist representation.

Very good insight as to why bonsai and western art often clash: because they resonate at different scales of our emotional spectrum.
Still, isn't it posible that we find examples of Western art that are also characterized by "quietude, introspection and minimalist representation", and use them with bonsai displays? Does Western art in any form exclude those attributes entirely?


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Dec 16, 2005 6:08 pm 
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Quote:
In short, the repeated attempts to combine bonsai with Western, often abstract, paintings is stillborn because it flies counter to each art's propensity to instil emotion in the viewer. The conflict of emotions unsettles, rather than informs, the audience.


Hector,
Your argument is persuasive and well-expressed -- but still I take issue with one aspect.

I agree that most such exhibits thus far have suffered from this sort of clash between two artistic styles. As you rightly point out, conflict may be much more likely to arise where we have a pre-established western style joining the pre-established mode of bonsai art.

But I don't agree that this conflict is inevitable. If we were to start afresh and bring to our efforts to create companion objects a true understanding of the aesthetic inherent in bonsai, I believe that we could successfully create new modes of display that are not steeped in the Japanese formal display tradition. The key will be that bonsai and the other art form collaborate, not conflict. We see this collaboration regularly in tokonoma display, but I refuse to believe that tokonoma display is the only solution to this problem.

Back to agreement, though, we will not find this solution by haphazardly placing artistic bonsai into an environments designed by artists who do not have the deep understanding of the aesthetic that pervades bonsai.
Best regards,
Carl


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 Post subject: When Good Art goes Bad
PostPosted: Sun Mar 12, 2006 3:05 am 
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Andy,
Nice to know somebody else thinks this way. I am familiar with Udo Claussen's work and have also taken a workshop with him. While he is a fine aritist in his own right, I keep wondering how we can possibly try and change another cultures art to fit our own standards. I also put Nik Lenz in this same category. It really seems like globalization on an artistic scale. What we need to as ourselves is what drove us in the first place to the art of bonsai. For centeries the Asian culture has practiced what we keep preaching.....K.I.S.S. Keep it simple stupid.
Thanks again,
Gil Marriner
N?rnberg, Germany


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