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 Post subject: The Tokonoma Window
PostPosted: Sat Apr 23, 2005 2:07 pm 
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The thread is for discussion of Carl Bergstrom's article, "The Tokonoma Window."
http://www.artofbonsai.org/feature_articles/tokowindow.php


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PostPosted: Sun Apr 24, 2005 12:04 pm 
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Carl, nice discourse about a topic almost entirely overlooked by all of us.
To me the, window has less to do with visual flow and more to do with the need to connect with the outside world, with open space, if you will.

All the examples shown are depicting small, confined, closed spaces, including the Tokonoma itself. This to me creates a claustrophobic feeling, a natural need to resist confinement. Pointing to a passageway leading to the open space outside relieves that tension.

So, in my opinion the window seems to fulfill a basic human psychological need rather than an aesthetic one. But, then again, our aesthetic concepts often originate from our practical world, so a distiction between aesthetic and psychological needs may be just an artificial one.

Regards,

Attila


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PostPosted: Mon Apr 25, 2005 12:25 am 
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Attila,

You make a very good point, and I agree entirely. My article should have given more attention to the psychological reasons for a window.

I do think that we are saying closer to the same thing than it would appear at first glance. When I talk about visual flow, I am not talking about the explicit path that your eyes trace as you look at the image as would be recorded by some sort of eye-movement scanner. Rather, I'm talking about something more similar to what you feel to be the important elements in an image, the order in which you perceive them as being arranged, and the relations that you observe among them. I believe that this usage is the convention when people talk about visual flow or the eye's movement through an artistic composition.

Thus my comments about visual flow and about the eye "buzzing back and forth like a trapped wasp" have less to do with ocular movements than with the mental search for relations among objects depicted and the psychological impressions engendered by these relations.

With my best regards,

Carl


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PostPosted: Wed Apr 27, 2005 12:49 pm 
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I'd agree with Atilla. I appreciate Carl's use of western art to illustrate the positioning of a window in a tokonoma. Very creative. I hadn't thought of such a connection. The psychological factor as Atilla mentions is right on target too. In a confined space the eye wants to go somewhere, and a window provides that outlet. I suspect that is one of the things that makes Vermeer's paintings so engaging. The characters are not cut off from the rest of society.

Craig Cowing


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Wed Apr 27, 2005 5:02 pm 
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Attila Soos wrote:
So, in my opinion the window seems to fulfill a basic human psychological need rather than an aesthetic one.

Nice analysis -- but is aesthetic per se is not a psychological need ?
Could it be the need for self actualisation?
Craig Cowing wrote:
In a confined space the eye wants to go somewhere, and a window provides that outlet.

Is it the reality always, or is it dependent on the subject of the composition ?


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Thu Apr 28, 2005 11:12 am 
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Soumya Mitra wrote:
Is it the reality always, or is it dependent on the subject of the composition ?

If I was 20 years old and there was a young naked lady lying in that confined space, chances are I would NOT be looking for an exit way.


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Thu Apr 28, 2005 11:23 am 
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Soumya Mitra wrote:
Nice analysis -- but is aesthetic per se is not a psychological need ?

I by pshychological need I was thinking about the need for physical self-preservation, or survival, if you will. A reaction similar to fear, I would say.
I see the aesthetic need more along the lines of maximizing our pleasure when viewing a work of art. It has less to do with our basic survival instincts.
But, as I said, the distiction may just be an artificial one, little to do with what really goes on in our minds.


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PostPosted: Sat Apr 30, 2005 9:29 pm 
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Thanks for the interesting topic, Carl.

My initial response echoed that of Atilla, that is, the window provides not an escape from the inside, but serves as a vehicle to unite the interior and exterior. Rather than a claustrophobic response, I experience a calmness that is in part related to the warmth of the diffused, incoming light, bathing the scene with subtlely changing hues, each moment different from before. The windows and doors in the wonderfully illuminated scenes posted by Carl serve to bring my ultimate attention not to the window, but to the faces bathed by the revealing light.

In fact, whether the tokonoma should really even be considered as part of the interior world was addressed by Professor Isamu Kurita in his treatise entitled "SETSUGEKKA- Japanese Art and the Japanese View of Nature":
"The tokonoma is not regarded as part of the interior space; rather, like a sacred mihrab, as a place where communion occurs between the people on the inside and the grand forces of nature on the outside. Here, even a single flower serves as a symbol of universal truth, providing the medium through which humans can become one with nature."

http://www.moa-inter.or.jp/english/setsugekka/setsu-kurita.html
"A work of art is not fashioned by a person; rather it is the work of art that fashions one's life."


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Sun May 01, 2005 12:03 pm 
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John Quinn wrote:
I experience a calmness [/i]

I guess that explains my feelings as well. I agree with everything said, but my real feeling comes from the freshness assosiated with having the windows there. Folks say you should be able to see birds between the branches, in a tokanoma i feel the spring breeze or winter wind and feel livened like spring time.
crabs><>


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue May 03, 2005 8:42 am 
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I do certainly not want to spoil your pleasure, but some of your arguments seem too detailled to me. You have written about the aesthetical function of a window and too, that aesthetics are to maximize pleasure.

I wonder if one really can split things to that degree. I mean - not only here but in real life. The Lascaux drawings today are being understood as some kind of hunting magic. They are aesthetical, but have definitely something to do with survival. Same thing with decorated weapons. Yes, from a biological point of view, staring at Attila's naked woman just as well is pleasure and connected to survival (of man kind) in a a way.

Perharps we have to find another way of putting things together and set life as it is in the beginning. Back to the window as an example: You have this place, you want to show a plant there - so you need a window anyway. There is no question of leaving it away, it is simply about where to place it. The back wall? Too impertinent and light behind the tree is not good, too. A window in the roof? Would create a dungeon. So it has to be a sidewall.

So you have a basic problem (I need light) and an aesthetical impact on the solution (how much light from what direction). The same it is with the quoted examples of paintings: Do not only look at the composition in an intellectual way, please. No painter at that time would have dared to fill a canvas with abstract forms. It had to be possible and believable what he painted. The light had to come from somewhere and it had to be 'natural'. Well - that given you have not much of a choice. A window behind the persons would lead to light in your eyes, candles are not that bright and an outdoor situation does not show the wealth of the persons as probably desired by the client. So this window, that intellectually seems a very clever choice and almost philosophical, is in fact almost the only possibility to bring natural light into an indoor-composition!

An indirect proof for that you find in paintings from Georges de la Tour: This very carefully working painter found another way. On some of his paintings you see a person in the foreground, covering a candle which is the main light source. Like this, de la Tour could create very dramatic but still 'natural' scenes. The only problem is - a Tokonoma would not really look good like that. It would rather look like a campingfire under a big tree. All this does absolutely not exclude to see more behind it. Sure you can say: 'This window brings light and it also is a vehicle to unite interior and exterior'. But here again we are back in the caves of Lascaux, or not?


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Tue May 03, 2005 11:40 am 
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Andrew Loosli wrote:
Do not only look at the composition in an intellectual way, please.... The light had to come from somewhere

Hi Andrew,

I like your common sense approach to the window. A zen master couldn't have said better. He would probably say something like this: "A window is a window. Nothing more, nothing less. It doesn't need to be anything else."

When we analize art, there is a tendency to attribute hidden meanings to everything. Everyday objects take on epic proportions.
It's good to step back once in a while and say: "It's just a door knob, for God's sake!"

Thanks for making me chuckle!


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Tue May 03, 2005 12:18 pm 
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Andrew Loosli wrote:
So you have a basic problem (I need light) and an aesthetical impact on the solution (how much light from what direction). The same it is with the quoted examples of paintings: Do not only look at the composition in an intellectual way, please. No painter at that time would have dared to fill a canvas with abstract forms. It had to be possible and believable what he painted. The light had to come from somewhere and it had to be 'natural'. Well - that given you have not much of a choice. A window behind the persons would lead to light in your eyes, candles are not that bright and an outdoor situation does not show the wealth of the persons as probably desired by the client. So this window, that intellectually seems a very clever choice and almost philosophical, is in fact almost the only possibility to bring natural light into an indoor-composition!
...
Sure you can say: 'This window brings light and it also is a vehicle to unite interior and exterior'.


Andrew,

Your point is very well taken, and I also appreciate the common-sense approach. The final sentence quoted above could quite aptly replace much of the article.

Still, I see one aspect of the article that the common-sense perspective does not address. I wrote the article largely in response to certain tokonoma that I had seen in the US, with windows on both sides. My understanding is that this is not the convention in Japan, and indeed I found it somewhat unsatisfying. A pair of windows also bring light and unite interior and exterior - but we don't like them. Why? The article was an attempt to suggest an aesthetic reason based in visual flow.

(An aside: Never worry about "spoiling my fun". I'll be delighted to revise any of my opinions or explanations stated in the articles, because then I will have learned something, as I already have in this discussion.)

With my best regards,

Carl


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PostPosted: Wed May 04, 2005 1:29 am 
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Carl,

Part of my common sense approach arises from my professional background. This includes illustration as well. Sometimes I was allowed to work freely on splendid and phantastic illustrations, but most of the time I was just sketching so called 'scribbles' for the advertising business.

Scribbles are quickly drawn illustrations that never appear in the public. They serve to illustrate (literally) a situation that will later be one of these beautiful photographies we all know. Making scribbles brings you down to earth. Nobody wants art there. You have to be quick and ? most important ? the illustration has to remain 'general'. Both art director and photographer want to realise themselves and both do not want to discuss details with the client at that level.

This non-bonsai introduction is to show you, how I sometimes look at things and where part of my ideas come from. But now to the question of one or two windows: In fact I would never even have thought about two windows. Because of the years of scribbling that lay behind me. There you have a simple rule concerning 'outdoor-situations': light comes from one direction only. This is not because the sun shines from one point. When you go outside, you will find very complicated situations, light being reflected by bright walls or water surfaces. It could be 'natural' to have light from several sides. But when you scribble, it will hardly ever look good. Maybe this is because we KNOW the sun shines from one point only. Knowledge is a very strict censor to our comprehension sometimes. Too, we are not able to 'see' too much at a time. In a Tokonoma there is a tree, a little plant and a picture in the background. Three points ? another of my 'scribbler's rules' says: Three points are perfect. When I speak of 'points', this has a double meaning indeed: Either it can be a point in the sense of a location or a point in the sense of a 'value unit'. So a point can be a thing or an effect!.

Light in a Tokonoma is such an 'effect point', it is background, surrounding, but has a 'value'. But it should help the 'things' and not rival. So it must not be too complicated in itself. Looking at trees alone I find something similar: Some trees are unattractive, because every single design aspect has been styled up to the same importance. Thus moss, trunk, foliage, pot and jins speak to you at the same time in the same loudness like a bunch of kids reporting what went wrong. Right now, such a problem is being discussed ? the Dancing Crane's pot.

I like the idea of examinig the visual flow in a Tokonoma very much. Since I personally (or rather visually) always end up somewhere in the middle of the picture and do not search for an outlet (might be zen?), I started to think about other possible ways to understand the window.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Sep 14, 2005 5:06 am 
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Never thought that a window could raise such good article and thread. For that part, bravo!
To me, the window's primairy function is to allow light come in from one direction so that the art object, whether it's a bonsai, a statue, a suiseki or an ikebana, will be nicely lightened up. Just like a photographer choose a light source coming from aside.

Against the argument of psychological needs for escape, or the need let our sights freely go outside, I will give you the opposite example: the Roanji garden, where the nature is truly captured inside the garden walls in order for the Zen monks to be able to meditate better; that is not disturbed by external objects outside the garden. There is no need for windows here, in the opposite! If you want to capture one's attention, then a window is the least you need. Is that not what you want with the objects in de Tokonoma ? So, that reason must be baloney.


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Wed Sep 14, 2005 11:19 am 
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Ron Sudiono wrote:
There is no need for windows here, in the opposite! If you want to capture one's attention, then a window is the least you need. Is that not what you want with the objects in de Tokonoma ? So, that reason must be baloney.

Therein lies the mistake in your reasoning. The aim of a tokonoma display is not merely to capture and contain the attention. Rather, it is to focus the attention by capturing a microcosm of the natural world in a trio of objects; once the mind is focused, it is free to sail on beyond the tokonoma. The window provides an egress.

Best regards,
Carl


Last edited by Carl Bergstrom on Thu Sep 15, 2005 12:48 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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