First I would like to introduce myself. My name is Michael and I am not an "advanced" bonsai artist as most of the other people on this forum seem to be. In fact I have only been at this for a couple of months. I have a couple of trees started from nursery stock and a few more yamadori added to that in training.
I was directed to this forum by a link posted by Walter Pall in a discussion I was taking part in on another forum. I must admit that I am impressed by the idea and application of this idea. I am very intrigued by the artistic and philosophical aspects of bonsai.
I, myself, am an artist in the music field, I'm studying classical composition and performance currently at the Blair School of Music. One of the things I find most intriguing about this type of discussion on bonsai is that it all seems to be so readily applicable to composing music (but that's another topic all together).
With that little introduction out of the way I wanted to pose a subject for discussion to the assembled group. I have never really tried to write an article of this nature before, so please bear with me as I humbly present some thoughts that I've had while reading this very interesting forum.
Does art exist?
by Michael Thomas
The American Heritage Dictionary defines objectivity as a "judgment based on observable phenomena and uninfluenced by emotions or personal prejudices". Or the "external or material reality."
We are all art critics. As soon as we open our mouths or start typing words about someone else's art, whether to compliment or chastise we become a critic. There are many who will tell you that they are also objective in their observations. I do not believe that is possible.
Let us look again at the definition of objectivity. A Judgement based on observable phenomena, or the material or external reality. So Objective criticism would be criticism that was only influenced by the material reality of the art sitting in front of the viewer. Be it bonsai, a painting, a piece of music, or a sculpture, is it possible to judge a work of art solely on it's material reality?
What does this have to do with someone critiquing a piece of art? There are people who feel they have the authority in their field to decide whether or not something is of artistic value or if it isn't. Some would even go so far as to believe that they have the right to decide what is art, and what is not. I say that this just is not possible. If fact, perhaps art doesn't exist at all.
I would like to offer a hypothetical situation to all of you out there who are wondering what in the world I'm talking about. I want to present to you two characters. One is myself, you can read my introduction above to find out who I am. No one in the world of bonsai knows who I am, nor do they care. I have no vast gallery of work, I have not won any awards and there is no reason for anyone to respect me or play the sycophant in my presence.
The other character in this situation is Walter Pall. I don't believe any introduction is necessary, however if you require one, take a look at the description of myself in the last paragraph, only read the opposite of what is written. I want to propose to you that Walter Pall and I conspired together and we decided that I would pass one of his plants off as my own, then a few weeks later he would introduce one of his other trees to the world. What would the result be if the only people that knew of this was myself and Walter?
Lisa Kanis said:
I have seen lots of examples on the IBC Gallery, where Walter Pall showed some fabulous trees (sometimes a bit too "fantastic"), with the frequent result that people thought that as long as their own bulky tree had a tortuous shape and plenty of jins, it was a work of art comparable to Walter's.
Would Lisa see "my" tree as one of these "Walter Pall knock offs"? A tree that has no artistic merit or skill behind it and is simply a cheap copy of someone else's style? I'm not trying to pick on Lisa here, I don't even know her, just using her as an example because of this quote, I have no intent of malice here. I believe that the majority of people would indeed look at "my" tree this way. I believe that many of the flaws would be pointed out and picked on. If it wasn't said then most people would probably feel in their gut that I was a wanna be with no artistic vision.
At the same time, it's takes no stretch of the imagination to see that Walter's tree would be received with many accolades and congratulations. Of course there would be some of the always present grumbling about his "too fantastic" style, but over all it would still be viewed as a great work of art, or am I wrong?
So, this being the most likely scenario that I can see being played out, what makes Walter's tree art. If "my" tree is not art, but simply ignorant posturing without any knowledge of the classical techniques, when it is really Walter's tree, then what makes the tree Walter presented art. He did them both afterall.
One thing I realized when contemplating this scenario was that after it was revealed that both trees were Walter's, then the ones who had such harsh things to say about my tree would most likely become even more adamant about their position. In fact, perhaps the tree that Walter chooses to let me present as "mine" really is a bad tree. For the moment let's assume that that's not the case. Let's believe that both trees are of the highest "Pallsien" quality. So now, the naysayer is in a tough position isn't he? Had Walter presented this same tree would they have seen it as a viable work of art? If so why?
Let me propose another situation very similar too you. What if I allowed Walter to show one of my trees as his? Would my tree styled by inexperienced and untrained hands be viewed as art if people believed that Walter Pall had created it?
So what then gives anything artistic merit? Some would say that one is only considered an artist or his work only achieves artistic merit after he consistently produces works of the same caliber. But if that's the case then aren't you saying that the first tree, sonata, or sculpture isn't art until he produces x number of other pieces, then collectively they change from pretentious pandering into art. This seems highly illogical to me.
So, anyone who is knowledgeable in their field can not possibly criticize art objectively. They will always be prejudiced by their own egos, their awareness of technique, by their familiarity with the creator of said work and of of course their own ideas as to what constitutes a work of art (which we should all be in agreement is highly subjective).
So, if it is not possible to look at art objectively then the object itself is not the thing that lets you know if it is art. If all opinions on art are subjective and influenced by political and personal variables, then could it, in fact, be argued that in the external and material reality that there is no difference between the Mona Lisa and a single black line painted on white canvas. Could it be argued that since there are no tangible identifiers as to where artistic merit is present that "art" is only a concoction of the human psyche?
Does art exist at all, and can you prove it? Is there a work of art that is because it is? Is there any work of art out there that stands alone as a work of art without any subjective bias. Does art actually exist in the realm of reality? If it doesn't then what is the point of trying to classify it, criticize it, create or not create it and judge it as good, bad or indifferent?
Who has the authority or justification, then, to assign merit to something that doesn't even exist?