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 Post subject: The Origins Of Literati Style
PostPosted: Tue Dec 27, 2005 9:24 am 
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Location: Brisbane, Australia
Literati style (Bunjin), love it or hate it, is part of the art. The origins are attributed to bonsai artists attempting to emulate the style of painted trees depicted in the artworks of those exiled senior civil servants of the various government agencies of the Song Dynasty (960-1279), roughly the period we call the Middle Ages, in Europe.
I have often heard this stated as fact and wondered whether there is not another reason behind the style. I was fortunate enough to visit China a few years ago, during summer. In some of the more rural areas I saw trees that were almost perfect exemplars of the literati style. Not necessarily transformed by hardship and repeated snows, these thin, weakened, graceful trees nonetheless possessed small, almost insignificant crowns and the great numbers of jins and areas of stripped bark that we associate with the style.
The reason, according to my Chinese-born Australian Guide, when she asked the locals? Firewood gathering, by peasants who had torn branches from the trees, often stripping long skeins of bark from the trees as they did so.
Perhaps the "learned scholars" were merely painting what they saw?
Yes, there is a minimalist tradition in the painted art of both Japan and China, but surely that doesn't preclude the power of surroundings to influence artistic rendition of landscapes.


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 27, 2005 2:40 pm 
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This is very interesting: Literati tree shaped by local villagers in search of firewood.
If you made a unusually shaped literati bonsai and quoted the above as the force that shaped the tree, people would have laughed at you - "yeah, right" they would have said. And yet, it's a "natural" process, at least in the life of a chinese village. It also shows the wisdom of the villagers, who instead of cutting the whole tree they just harvest its branches and leave the source of their wood alive.


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PostPosted: Tue Dec 27, 2005 7:19 pm 
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That's why I posted the thread. I figure there must be others who have noted the phenomenon, but I don't recall ever seeing any mention of it made.
It was an "Aha!" moment when I heard the explanation. I had been submerged in the world and lore of bonsai for about 10 years at the time. The revelation was quite exciting, as it added greatly to my understanding of the style, once I heard it.


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 28, 2005 1:07 am 
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Hector,
about ten years ago I had the pleasure to drive Ernie Kuo through Germany. On that trip he spoke about exactly this phenomenon. Being Chinese himself, originally ccoming from mainland China he had seen these trees right there.


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PostPosted: Wed Dec 28, 2005 2:15 am 
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Thank you for that, Walter. I have kept pretty much to myself about it, for years, because I figured I was flying in the face of conventional wisdom. Now, it seems, I am an observer of art imitating life, rather than art imitating art. Wow...
I would not have mentioned it, were it not for the fact this forum is about the practising of the art of bonsai, where this sort of thing can be discussed rationally rather than eliciting little but kneejerk reactions from the greater public.


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PostPosted: Fri Jan 27, 2006 12:18 pm 
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For probably twenty-five years now anything that is done by man has not been considered as a natural event happening within the environment. We don't have any problem assigning as a natural event trees browsed by deer or grazed by cattle. Why is that any more natural than those altered by villagers looking for firewood? We in our vast knowledge and unending arrogance have learned to hate ourselves and consider our presence and activities as a scourge on the planet.
I think your conclusions are probably correct. It makes more sense than claiming this form is a sort of surrealistic concoction from a bunch of disgruntled, disillusioned holier than thou Medieval drop outs from the upper class.
However do these forms exist in Japan "naturally" as they did in China? If so then they to are/were copying a local recognizable form. If not, the Japanese travels down this artistic road is more from wishing to emulate the Chinese Paintings depicting these trees. In this case the literati would be a surrealistic and plausible form, from their point of view, and not based on a recognizable model.
I think you have made a very astute observation and I am glad you posted it.


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PostPosted: Tue Nov 28, 2006 11:14 am 
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To my mind literati style representing scolars or poets who have very high knowledge, but weak bodies. That is why the shapes are so thin and tall in proportion with simple but very expressive. It seemed that they will fall by the wind.
It is on the contrary with normal bonsai that represents warriors, generals or martial art masters that are very strong.
Budi


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Tue Nov 28, 2006 11:27 am 
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Budi Sulistyo wrote:
To my mind literati style representing scolars or poets who have very high knowledge, but weak bodies. That is why the shapes are so thin and tall in proportion with simple but very expressive.

So, it emphasizes the importance of intellect and character over physical strenght. It tells us that a strong body is only temporary, but knowledge and wisdom are lasting virtues.
This is why, making a very good literati bonsai takes more creativity than growing a strong trunk with large nebari.


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 Post subject: Re: Re:
PostPosted: Wed Oct 26, 2011 12:49 pm 
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Attila Soos wrote:
Budi Sulistyo wrote:
To my mind literati style representing scolars or poets who have very high knowledge, but weak bodies. That is why the shapes are so thin and tall in proportion with simple but very expressive.

So, it emphasizes the importance of intellect and character over physical strenght. It tells us that a strong body is only temporary, but knowledge and wisdom are lasting virtues.
This is why, making a very good literati bonsai takes more creativity than growing a strong trunk with large nebari.


Literati some times could be very simple. Good or bad is depending on your own perception.


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