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artofbonsai.org • View topic - What if Traditional Bonsai Style Did Not Exist?
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 02, 2006 5:46 pm 
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I'm about to toss a cat in amongst the pigeons, I fear.
For 12 months my books have been stored away, offsite. I finally managed to unpack them and put them back onto shelves on Dec 29.
One of the first things I did, after that, was to reread Yuji Yoshimura's excellent publication, "The Japanese Art Of Miniature Trees And Landscapes", first printed in 1957.
Apart from the fact that many of the observations made by Yuji now seem a little quaint (especially about chlorine, ants and earthworms) there is a lot of exceptionally good information to be had from revisiting the book.
Back to my point: It struck me as highly significant that there 20 colour plates and almost 120 B&W plates depicting "traditional", even famous, bonsai. Very few of them show trees that would be considered "quality" trees within the understanding of the term quality bonsai today.
In fact, if anything, they look remarkably like slightly unkempt versions of the "Natural Style" currently taught and promoted by Walter Pall and a few other teachers.
Trunk and taper were less important then, it seems to me, than it is now. Foliage placement was a fair bit less contrived. Shape was more intuitive than literal. Pot sizes, in comparison to the tree, were larger. (Though that is still the case in many sections of the bonsai community, if not in the more recent trends in North America). In all, the trees were less stylised, the grooming less aggressive, the art more rustic.

Is "Natural Style" the new "Traditional"? Perhaps it should be said that all wheels turn back to their original starting point... some may be some distance from where they began but they all return to the point from which they started.


Last edited by Hector Johnson on Mon Jan 02, 2006 7:05 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Hector,
"Back to my point: It struck me as highly significant that there 20 colour plates and almost 120 B&W plates depicting "traditional", even famous, bonsai. Very few of them show trees that would be considered "quality" trees within the understanding of the term quality bonsai today."
Yes, bonsai as a developed art form is a recent evolution of our endeavor. For the vast majority of bonsai's history, it was pretty much a matter of bringing elements of nature to the home for enjoyment.
Is "Natural Style" the new "Traditional"? Perhaps it should be said that all wheels turn back to their original starting point... some may be some distance from where they began but they all return to the point from which they started.
Ack! No. "Natural Style" is what photorealism without compositional concerns is to painting. This is my opinion, of course. I adore what Walter can do with bonsai, but disagree with a portion of what he does do with bonsai. ;-) He's a formidable artist, but I'll oppose the tennents of "Natural Style" until the cows come home - as art without the interpretive component is not my bag and I wholly disagree with it.
The old, unrefined efforts of the past and today's unrefined artistic efforts cannot be compared equally and do not relate to one another. The former were not attempts at art and the latter are supposed to be (as I understand it). This is a continuum, not a circle.
Kind regards,
Andy


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PostPosted: Mon Jan 02, 2006 7:31 pm 
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Ack! No. "Natural Style" is what photorealism without compositional concerns is to painting. This is my opinion, of course. I adore what Walter can do with bonsai, but disagree with a portion of what he does do with bonsai. ;-) He's a formidable artist, but I'll oppose the tennents [sic]of "Natural Style" until the cows come home - as art without the interpretive component is not my bag and I wholly disagree with it.
I see. You're saying that the experience of bonsai is a subjective, rather than objective, one? That's likely true. Everyone perceives it slightly differently. This debate is not so much whether there has been a morphological development in the generally understood definition (I can readily point to numerous examples that would reinforce the view there has been) but rather what we would be doing if "traditional" bonsai did not exist (It did, but the understanding means different things to different people).
The old, unrefined efforts of the past and today's unrefined artistic efforts cannot be compared equally and do not relate to one another. The former were not attempts at art and the latter are supposed to be (as I understand it). This is a continuum, not a circle.
Here we diverge, Andy. The old bonsai were just as much, if not more, art than are the unrefined examples of today. They were shown, probably more regularly than now, in the Tokonoma of homes, as examples of art, to mark the passing of the seasons and for the enjoyment of guests and family. (See p 168 0f Yoshimura).
A circle is no less a continuum than is a line or a M?bius figure. Unless you have an identifiable point on a circle it is a continuum, and a very economical one. My contention is that Walter may have, wittingly or otherwise, drifted back to the "traditions" of bonsai, as it was before the intensive primping and preening that came to define "traditional" bonsai in the 1970s and 1980s.
Maybe Walter could clear up whether that shift was intentional, or not?
Thank you for this discussion, Andy. Far more satisfying than explaining to some newbie why $5 black glazed pots are not suitable for the Black Pine seedling they've just bought.


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Would it be prudent to say that maybe the term 'natural style,' was borne as time went on, and has only confused things of late.
Maybe in the beginning the rules were less restrictive than people make them out to be today.
Maybe the first person to quote the term 'natural style' saw a tree that acually abided strongly to the rules, but omitted enough of the right rules in the right way to look more natural, and less rules bound, and that may be why the Japanese came up with the rules for in the first place, to define many different aspects of the 'natural style' without acually naming it the 'natural style.'
Those are just my thoughts, i love what artists like Walter do, i'm not trying to bring it down, those are just some thoughts i've come up with while thinking long on the subject.
crabs><>


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 07, 2006 4:41 am 
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Personally, I think the recent trend towards overly preened trees has been the result of wire being more available, and professional stylists looking after trees for wealthy owners.


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Last edited by Mike Page on Sat Jan 14, 2006 6:03 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Yes, Mike. To me, they look like the horticultural equivalent of breast implants and cosmetic surgery. The package looks fantastic but there's something deeply disquieting about it... the smiles don't involve the right muscles, the bounce is wrong, the teeth glow in the dark...
So it is with bonsai that have been styled within an inch of their lives. They look like they've been through a CGI program, which gives them an ersatz feel, for mine.


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 21, 2006 1:06 pm 
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Very interesting thread with cogent and instructive arguments. Sometimes a phrase will catch my eye and seem to distill the argument very well.
Here is one such phrase by Attila Soos. "The paranoia of conformity."
Very telling, it applies to so many areas of human endeavor, and the practice of bonsai is no exception.
In my mind, Attila's phrase ties in very well with Hector Johnson's phrase, "the recent trend towards overly preened trees."
So, does "the paranoia of conformity" contribute to "the recent trend to overly preened trees"?
Just thought I'd ask.
Mike


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PostPosted: Sat Jan 21, 2006 5:12 pm 
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I would say that "the paranoia of conformity" contributes more to the cookie-cutter styles of most trees we see in photographs (Usually those shown as "great" examples). That includes the bulk of Japanese trees, where almost all White Pines are styled to look like the usual gallery of old, specimen trees that seem to dominate the bonsai experience of that species in Japan.
The"preening" thing, as I meant it, is probably more about the willingness of competition judges to award points for aggressive neatness, despite the fact it flies in the face of the concept of Wabi, if we can appropriately define that word (It doesn't exist in the Daijiten, so the definition is largely subjective).
I am sometimes dismayed at the mechanistic approach to display of some trees, as seen in competition. There seems to be little room left for nature to be nature, in those trees.
Insofar as that level of neatness seems to have become the standard for exhibition then yes, there is a direct correllation to be made between "paranoia" and "preening".
I am unsettled that there seems to have been a conscious effort made to abrogate the Shibu (bittersweet) evocation of emotion that these trees would otherwise possess. Reversing it can be as simple as allowing a few flower petals to fall on the soil or the stand, as if a small child has been told to "clean up under the tree, guests are coming" and has missed a couple.
(I should state that this is my opinion, given what I'm about to say) That aspect of bonsai is being smothered by overzealous exhibitors and anal-retentive judges, who are allowing their limitations to influence their judgment. I'm sure that would upset many of them but I've thought about this for a long time. It's happening, regardless of the inherent "wrongness" that I, (and others, I'm sure), see in it.
I have neither the willingness nor the desire to primp and preen my trees to that level. I do, however, appreciate the skill and patience required to get there. I'm just lamenting the inability of the owners/stylists to relax a little, once they get to that point. The trees lack "soul", for want of a Western word.


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 Post subject: Re: What if 'traditional' bonsai style did not exist?
PostPosted: Sun Jan 29, 2006 1:51 pm 
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PostPosted: Mon Jan 30, 2006 9:51 pm 
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It was the pleasure we take in seeing things a certain way, Vance.
It's much like the evolution of painting, however. Sometimes there are "periods", through which all artists in a community must pass, if they are to be regarded seriously.
I believe a similar thing is happening with bonsai, perhaps because it is easier to disseminate information and styles via the internet than it has ever been in the past.


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