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 Post subject: Against The Wind
PostPosted: Thu Jun 09, 2005 10:48 pm 
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Against The Wind
by Will Heath

"Against the wind
we were running against the wind
we were young and strong we were running against the wind"

- Bob Segar "Against The Wind"


Image
Photogragh by Colin Lewis

On top of a rocky crag in a hollow worn out by the winds and rains of time, a collection of organic matter and sand forms a bed for a wandering seed brushed off of a birds wing and deposited by blind chance in the one place in this barren spot that it could germinate.

In this hollow the seedling grows, sending its roots first into the mix of organic and sand particles and then down into the cracks and fissures of the rock itself, constantly searching, exploring for nutrients, for water, for life.

When its height reaches beyond the rim of the hollow in search of more sun, it encounters a never-dying wind. A wind that howls and angrily pushes its might against all that is within its reach. A wind that has wore down mountains greater than the one it now does battle with. A wind that knows the true meaning of patience, that all things will fall before it in time.

The seedling's growth is directed by the wind; it has a distinct slant away from the force. Its branches are whipped around and pushed away also, and in time they give up even trying to go against the wind.

The sapling grows into a tree, beat and scarred from its battle against the wind. It has a heavy lean away from the force of the wind, it's branches are twisted back, also showing the direction and shear force of the wind, some have snapped long ago, leaving jagged reminders of battles lost.

The story's ending is known, it has always been known. Throughout the ages the same battle has happened over and over, the wind always wins, the tree always loses. But it's not the victory we celebrate, indeed it is the struggle, the battle, the persistence against certain doom that we admire and seek to capture in the confines of a bonsai pot.

Yet, I notice that a lot of bonsai are styled with the trunk facing, leaning into the wind, a seemingly contradiction to all that is natural. When I see a trunk leaning into the wind and the branches forced back by it, my mind notices and rebels against the contradiction.

Maybe, I ask myself, the branches are merely reaching for the light? But then why would the trunk have grown away from it? In the example above the windswept tree had all the light in the world; it was shaped solely by the wind. I think we can all agree that a windswept branch and one that is simply reaching for light have different characters and appearances.

Could it be that the artist bypassed having the tree work together in harmony with all its parts in order to achieve visual balance? Let's imagine a windswept tree with its trunk leaning into the wind and all its branches moving the opposite way, with the wind. Now let's switch all the branches to the other side, have we lost visual balance? Can this simply be corrected by planting the tree on the opposite side of the pot, on the upwind side? Are there other ways to achieve visual balance without creating a contradiction?

Is this tendency of contradicting imagery common? Is there a reason we ignore the obvious? Are we in fact losing sense of nature's own balance?


Last edited by Will Heath on Thu Jan 24, 2008 10:53 am, edited 4 times in total.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Jun 10, 2005 8:13 pm 
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Location: Vero Beach, FL
Will,

One of the first things that Jim VanLandingham taught me when I started studying under him was that every bonsai should have a believable story. few weeks after he said this, I came across one of his trees that had a trunk leaning one way and the branches sweeping back the other. When I asked Jim the believeable story behind the tree, he said the tree had fought the wind for many years with the trunk leaning in the direction of the branches, but one day the wind decided to blow the other direction. This was too much for the tree to handle, and it was easily blown the other direction. The tree, held its ground after this, but the branches were swept back with the wind, creating the reversed windswept effect. Is the story too farfetched? Maybe, but it is an attempt.

If bonsai is truly an art, is there a necessity to follow the laws of nature when styling a tree? Wouldn't artistic balance be far more important than the laws of nature?


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Jun 11, 2005 1:35 pm 
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I see two separate questions here, with possibly contradicting answers:

1. Should bonsai follow the laws of nature?
2. Should art follow the laws of nature?

First I will answer the second question: Art doesn't have to folow the laws of nature. There are are endless examples of great art that apparently have nothing to do with the laws of nature. Take the cubist paintings of Picasso, the surrealist paintings of Dali, or many others. The artist selects certain aspects of the world surrounding us and constructs a whole new reality. Laws of physics don't apply anymore.

The answer to the first question can be derived from the first one: if bonsai is art, fully and unquestionably, then the laws of nature should not be a limiting factor either.

However, here is the challenge that the bonsai artist has to face:
If he creates a tree, being conscious of the fact that this tree defies the laws of nature, what is it that he is trying to express? What is the purpose of his picture? What is it that he is trying to evoke in the viewer? If he creates his piece of work, having the answer to all the above questions, then there is a chance that he created something meaningful.

If he breaks the laws of nature by being ignorant of them, I see that as a serious fault. Also, to break the laws of nature and justify it by saying that he is trying to "balance the tree", I see that as a worthless idea, and does nothing for me to value his bonsai. I need more than that from a tree.

I want to add though that I see as being more important for the tree to make the impression that the laws of nature are followed then strictly following nature.

Personally, I see bonsai as being much more powerful and evocative when designed keeping an eye on nature. My goal is to evoke natural landscapes, so natural laws are an important consideration. But I can imagine that I would be impressed by an unnatural bonsai as well if the artist is good enough to stir my imagination.

And I also want to mention here that Colin's windswept literati bonsai shown on the picture is hauntingly beautiful. It causes me great pleasure every time I look at it.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Jun 13, 2005 10:20 am 
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Great subject bonsai for discussion.

Colin discusses his efforts with the tree to great extent in his publication. I would suffice it to say, he had his share of difficulties with these trunks and trying to maintain the proper strength of the lesser one. His creation is wonderful, and I admire his resolve to make it "work". Nevertheless, this bonsai CAN be explained by natural influences in the matter of styling. I do not view it as strictly abstract.

Yes, bonsai is art, and as such it is not RESTRICTED by the laws of nature. However, we can impose that rule ourselves. The question is...should we?

It's a personal choice. Some will agree with it, others won't. The most important aspect of bonsai is that the tree "speaks". If it does not convey a message to the viewer, it has failed. Philosophy is unimportant when that occurs.

It MOST cases, nature will tell this story in full-sized trees. Artistic expression can IMPROVE the underlying general style of this in bonsai. The number of bonsai I have seen that cannot be an emulation of nature are decidely rare, but the number of bonsai that have been improved by artistic expression - in ADDITION to that aspect - are decidedly immense.

Always remember that Mother Nature sees our LIFETIME efforts are a mere blink of her eye. We cannot ever hope to truly equal her. We are well-advised to remember that when we tout our artistic ability. She can humble us on a whim. What we do have in our favor is the ability to make changes in a short period of time with techniques and materials that "she" cannot. If we didn't, we wouldn't even be having a discussion. A balance of emulation of nature and artistic expression is what we need to master. Both are necessary, albeit in different ratios based on the subject.

Who doesn't prefer yamadori material to regular nursery stock? Just my opinion.

John


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Jun 20, 2005 11:43 am 
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While the laws of nature are staid, nature itself isn't. Boulders (windbreaks) are struck by lightning without mercy and roll down mountains to rest elsewhere. Great junipers and cedars are twisted by torrential winds during tornadoes that go undetected in unpopulated wilderness.

My story for this tree was that its landscape changed. In its formative years a huge boulder protected it from the wind, but was damaged and lost in a tempest. The little tree, being flexible, weathered the storm and remained, a little battered, but survived.

While I have a problem with the idea that wind just suddenly started blowing the other way, I do believe that windbreaks and protective flora can be eliminated by natural forces...

What is the tree telling us? Is it saying that nature is a hard and unhospitable thing, or does it say that nature is warm and nurturing? Is God an omnicient but aloof and capricious presence or merciful and curative? Might a discussion of the spiritual be included here? I think that many oak-styled trees say that nature and creation itself is lush and benevolent, while the junipers with bared jins and sharis are styled with a more unforgiving view.

Maybe it depends on whether you subscribe to Blake or Frost's world view...


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Jun 20, 2005 1:23 pm 
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To bring it back to Seger:

"Well those drifters days are past me now
I've got so much more to think about
Deadlines and commitments
What to leave in, what to leave out"

The last line in this verse in "Against the Wind" is pretty much what bonsai is--what to leave in and what to leave out. I would have left one of the lower trunks, but that's me.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Sep 03, 2005 1:10 am 
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I remember a cigarette add from the sixties:

"Are you smoking more and enjoying it less?"

I have to ask: are you guys asking too many questions and enjoying it less?

I thought the joy of bonsai was about the simple aspect of reveling in the view. Asking too many questions somehow spoils it for me. Slow down and just look at the trees man..

Regards,

Al Keppler


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 Post subject: Art and nature works together
PostPosted: Mon Oct 10, 2005 4:35 am 
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Charles Bevan wrote:
.... I came across one of his trees that had a trunk leaning one way and the branches sweeping back the other. When I asked Jim the believeable story behind the tree, he said the tree had fought the wind for many years with the trunk leaning in the direction of the branches, but one day the wind decided to blow the other direction. This was too much for the tree to handle, and it was easily blown the other direction. The tree, held its ground after this, but the branches were swept back with the wind, creating the reversed windswept effect. Is the story too farfetched? ....


I am working on a tree with exactly these quoted features, and was met with the same resistance by a fellow bonsai enthusiast that told me it was an impossible image. No it isn't.

My explanation for the story of the tree, (which I find is a fundamental need in bonsai) was that the tree has been damaged by heavy snowfalls and thereby has been tipped and broken in snow storms. The strength of the tree though manages it to stay alive, regaining new vigour. New growth fills in the areas that were damaged earlier.

The important thing is that you are able to make a explanation for the behaviour of the tree that is plausible, and related to the forces of nature. I find that bonsai is art reflecting the life of nature. In nature many contradictions is seen, but there always is an explanation possible.

Kind regards

Morten Albek


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 Post subject: Re: Art and nature works together
PostPosted: Mon Oct 10, 2005 10:22 am 
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Morten Albek wrote:
The important thing is that you are able to make a explanation for the behaviour of the tree that is plausible, and related to the forces of nature.

Morten,

I have to disagree on this point as I feel the important thing is that the viewer is able to make a explanation for the behaviour of the tree that is plausible, and related to the forces of nature.

Respectfully,

Will Heath


Last edited by Will Heath on Tue Jan 29, 2008 10:27 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Art and nature works together
PostPosted: Mon Oct 10, 2005 11:04 am 
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Quote:
I have to disagree on this point as I feel the important thing is that the viewer is able to make a explanation for the behaviour of the tree that is plausible, and related to the forces of nature.

Then we don't disagree Will.

Both the artist and the viewer must understand what she or he sees, and they must be able to translate the story of the tree.

Kind regards

Morte Albek


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 Post subject: Re: Art and nature works together
PostPosted: Mon Oct 10, 2005 11:30 am 
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Will Heath wrote:
I have to disagree on this point as I feel the important thing is that the viewer is able to make a explanation for the behaviour of the tree that is plausible, and related to the forces of nature.

In an ideal world, that's what should happen. I wish the viewer would always understand the story. But I am afraid that's too much to ask from them, so I don't think the artist should be concerned too much about the viewer's level of understanding.

Some viewers can't tell the difference between a conifer and a broad-leaved tree, and the way they grow. They have no idea that the conifers are mostly apically dominant, and a shrub often sends out suckers and multiple tunks. They may not know that the wind is much less punishing close to the ground.

Natural phenomena are sometimes very complex, and only the well educated will have a reasonable understanding.

As a bonsai artist, do you have to worry about that? I don't think so. As long as you, the creator, have a good story, and your tree is an expression of that story, that's all you can do.


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 Post subject: Re: Art and nature works together
PostPosted: Tue Oct 11, 2005 12:35 am 
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Morten Albek wrote:
Then we don't disagree Will. Both the artist and the viewer must understand what she or he sees, and they must be able to translate the story of the tree.

Yes, I agree!

Thanks,

Will


Last edited by Will Heath on Tue Jan 29, 2008 10:29 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Art and nature works together
PostPosted: Fri Oct 14, 2005 1:35 pm 
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Will Heath wrote:
Morten,
I have to disagree on this point as I feel the important thing is that the viewer is able to make a explanation for the behaviour of the tree that is plausible, and related to the forces of nature.

Respectfully,

Will Heath

Ahhh.. but now you're designing to the Lowest Common Demonenator.

What if the view isn't aware of the biological forces at work on a tree leaning *toward* salt water when the wind has obviously swept the branches *away* from the shore? The biological function is easy to explain - the salt water shrinks the cells slightly on the windward side of the tree, causing the apparent lean into the wind. Perfectly plausible.

I fear that if we are to design for the viewer, rather than within plausible reality, we are limiting our options by quite a sizable factor. If the viewer doesn't appreciate or understand the tree, so be it. The tree wasn't designed for them, it was created for the artist. Provided the artist understands the biological mechanics at work and the image created is plausible, I'm good with it.

Regards,

-d


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Jan 12, 2006 5:30 pm 
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The answer?

Go to a beach, where it is windy most of the time. Look at the trees on the foreshore. Observe the differences in habit and shape. Go back to your studio and see whether your windswept trees look remotely like the trees you saw on the beachfront.

Works for me. The same applies to mountain passes, hilltops, cliffs and anywhere else that wind plays a role in shaping trees.

The other one to consider is the shape of trees in riverbeds, where water does the styling work.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Feb 03, 2006 2:28 pm 
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There is a believable scenario where the form you have described could have happened. Wind blows one way, right to left and if the tree is high enough on the mountain on the western slope the branches could be blown uphill. Then one day heavy snow falls and there is an avalanche partially uprooting the tree causing the tree to lean down hill against the direction of the wind. In essence this could cause the trunk to go one way but the branches to be blown in the other. This is likely to happen near the top of a mountain where it is vulnerable to avalanche or wind fall.


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