Andy Rutledge wrote:
...Actually, these are what I'd call "excellent" bonsai. As I percieve it, there are 2 kinds of bonsai - excellent bonsai and poor bonsai. Efforts at naturalistic, romantic, traditional, modern, etc... bonsai is simply terminology for describing poor or deficient bonsai.
Andy, you are making some excellent points in this thread, but you are also throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Calling a bonsai good or bad is a judgement of their quality. Just like calling a painting good or bad.
On the other hand, calling a bonsai modern, neo-classical, naturalistic, etc. is a matter of comparative analysis. Just like classifying paintings into art movements such as realism, cubism or romanticism. Nothing wrong with that. Classifiying and comparing bonsai based on their looks or their cultural context is not a bad thing. It's what humans do (those interested in art and culture). You say that these efforts are "simply terminology for describing poor or deficient bonsai". How can a painting described as "impressionistic" be bad? How can a bonsai described as "naturalistic" be bad? It only means that it conveys a natural feeling.
Your firs tree is the one that proves you wrong: it is the pinnacle of naturalistic bonsai and
it is an absolutely great tree. But wait! According to your logic, it is either naturalistic, or a great bonsai. It cannot be both in the same time.
Andy Rutledge wrote:
Excellent bonsai are evocative, natural looking, communicative works that are not bound up with artifice (outside of artistry's techniques) and appear to be natural and not overly contrived.
In the above, you've just described the naturalistic style bonsai... without being aware of it.
The good news is that this is just a misunderstanding from your part and it's easy to fix. As Walter said, you misunderstood this "naturalistic" business.
A naturalistic tree has to be wired down to the last twig. Otherwise, it will not
look naturalistic. It think this is very important to understand the naturalistic style and should be repeated over and over again so that people don't misunderstand it : in order to look naturalistic, one needs to wire every single twig into place.
I often see trees that, after creating the basic branch structure, are maintained throughout the years by "giving it a haircut". This will create compact foliage pads and tiny leaves. With a naturalistic tree, you can't do that: you have to pay attention to every little twig and every little detail. That's because the tree needs to look as if human hand didn't touch it, and it also has to contain all the necesarry elements of artistry. As Walter said, maintaining a naturalistic bonsai is not for the lazy. A bonsai that looked natural will quickly loose that natural look after a few "haircuts", and becomes artificial. To maintain the "natural" look, it requires constant "refreshing" and reshaping of the fine details. Therefore, naturalistic bonsai is the one that needs the highest level of detail work.
Getting back to the trees you are showing us, the first and third tree shows that naturalistic bonsai is something that the Japanese highly admire. I've seen countless Japanese masterpieces - see the book Classic Bonsai of Japan - in this naturalistic style.
You just need to adjust your understanding of naturalistic bonsai. As far as you are concerned, think of naturalistic bonsai as nothing else but high quality, artistic bonsai, created to convey the spirit of nature. Just like some of the Japanese masterpices that you so much admire.
You do a great job promoting this style, but I don't think you do enough in clearing up this great misunderstanding that leads people to believe that naturalistic means unkempt. In fact, you are doing a lousy job in this regard. You need to make people understand that paying attention (means: wiring and pruning) to every little detail is paramount in naturalistic bonsai.
Once they understand that, this old and tired argument, associating naturalistic bonsai with bonsai that grows on its own, with the least amount of interference from the artist, will go away. It's a shame that people still don't get it.