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 Post subject: Living Sculpture not Living Painting - by Soos & Heath
PostPosted: Wed Mar 01, 2006 1:01 am 
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This thread is for discussing the article "Living Sculpture, not Living Painting" by Attila Soos and Will Heath.
http://artofbonsai.org/feature_articles ... lpture.php


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PostPosted: Wed Mar 01, 2006 1:58 am 
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Hello everyone,
This is certainly an ambitious effort to establish relations between
the art of bonsai and the art of sculpture, and for that I commend the
authors highly. They've captured something that each of us knows
first hand as a delight of viewing world-class bonsai in person: the
importance of that all-critical third dimension:

[Sculpture] needs to be explored like a terrain in order to be
fully appreciated....As you look at it from different angles, the
shapes rise, fall, and flow into each other. There is a special kind
of interaction between you and the object: the constant discovery of
its infinitely varied parts. It invites you to move around and
explore. It changes every time you move. And there is another treat:
the element of surprise. There is always some mystery on the other
side. It doesn't give you everything from one angle.


These are welcome words, and ones that I'll reflect upon the next time
I stroll through an art museum. (I'd reflect them at a bonsai
collection as well, but when viewing bonsai, moving and peering low
and craning for another angle's view and watching what the tree
reveals is so totally second-nature that I hardly need to

Unfortunately, the rest of the article fails at exactly the task which
the authors assign us: moving around and viewing matters from all
angles. The authors have written an article so singlemindedly
literalist that they somehow manage to confuse the structure of
an art piece with its purpose and its effects. The authors
view art from only one perspective --- that of its physical structure
and the interaction of that structure with the viewer --- and in doing
so, they fail to see even greater mysteries hidden on the other
side. Those mysteries, of course, are the emotive power of art, the
expressive function of art, the symbolic represention of art, the
human communion of art.

As a result, the authors are led into a set of absurdly absolutist
claims about the total absence of relation between bonsai and any
number of other art forms, including painting:
  • In this article we will...show why bonsai should not only be
    accepted as true, living sculpture but why we would be wise to put the
    painting comparison to rest, once and for all.
  • I see no correlation with the definition of painting and bonsai. In
    fact what many people fail to grasp is that painting is an effort to
    represent three-dimensional objects on a two-dimensional surface,
    which differs greatly from bonsai in which we attempt to portray a
    three-dimensional object using a three-dimensional surface....Bonsai
    should be weighed against and compared to sculpture, though I would
    suggest never with painting.
  • Comparing bonsai to painting; using painting to justify styling a
    bonsai; displaying bonsai as a painting; or trying to ascribe
    techniques of painting to the art of bonsai is not only futile, but
    could well be harmful to the art form.


Without going in to tedious detail on every reaction that I have to
the piece, I can roughly categorize my disagreements into two main
objections. First, I find deeply questionable any claim that one art
has nothing to gain from comparison with another. All of the arts
evoke emotion and convey deeper meaning through the aesthetic sense
rather than through the rigid medium of cold verbal logic. This links
all of the arts together in such a fashion that comparisons among them
are never futile, for each taps into the living essence of our
humanity in ways that remain mysterious to philosophers, artists, and
scientists alike. Exploring and uncoverign and above all experiencing
these connections and interconnections will always be a valuable
course of inquiry. Thus if someone claimed that painting had nothing
to gain from comparison with music, because they use different media,
I would agree only in the narrowest of technical senses. Both can be
formal and classical, lyrical and romantic, dissonant and
discomfiting.

Second, bonsai, sculpture, and painting each create a represention of
reality, fantasy, or even sheer conceptual ideals by laying down
photons upon the most reactive of two-dimensional canvases, the
human retina. These visual arts deal in a currency of human
perception, and the critical lessons of balance and perspective and
line and form and visual flow that function so well in one of these
arts most often carry over cleanly and beautifully to the others, in
that their effectiveness stems from the underlying universals of human
perception, not from any material-specific quirk of construction.
Rather than seeing only the material differences among art forms and
leaping quickly from there to the extreme position that bonsai
is sculpture (I disagree; it is bonsai, which is a very
different thing), I would suggest that the authors --- and their
readers --- look into each art form in turn, in their efforts to
understand and improve and experience bonsai. Indeed, I strongly
suspect least one of the two authors of this very piece would agree
with me. Attila Soos has argued eloquently in favor the comparison
between Bonsai and the Ancient Art of Rhetoric , an art which bridges a
greater dimensional gulf than the two-to-three gap between painting
and sculpture.

Disclaimer: I am not without vested interest in this debate. I
have written several pieces (1) (2) on what painting can teach us

about bonsai, and I have additional such articles in preparation. I have
found the lessons therein to be valuable to my work as
a bonsai artist. Before I can accept the sort of assertions above, I
consider it incumbant upon the authors to explain precisely why these
articles of mine are "not only futile, but could well be harmful to
art form
" of bonsai.


Last edited by Carl Bergstrom on Wed Mar 01, 2006 2:10 am, edited 4 times in total.

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PostPosted: Wed Mar 01, 2006 2:06 am 
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I feel the piece is far too literal in its approach to what is fundamental to the enjoyment of art.

The removal of emotion from the experience of art is akin to the inability of acutely autistic people to appreciate the breadth and depth of human emotions.

I can understand the sentiments set out in the article, but they are too logical, too bloody-minded, for the physiological effect that art has on the viewer. If that means there is a "best angle" from which to view the art then I'm fine with that. It's not a shortcoming... it's a virtue.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Mar 01, 2006 6:37 am 
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Location: Upstate New York
All the Paintings and Sculpture I have seen and enjoyed, have not had as powerful an impact or connection for me as Stones and Trees. Bonsai and Suiseki are at the top of what "Fine Art" is or can be, to me. The issue I have is not the comparision of Bonsai to Sculpture or Painting, but how Bonsai measures up to them. The fact is both mediums fall short when they are compared to Bonsai as the "standard". It seems the approach is to justify the legitamacy of a lesser step child to Royal siblings. I believe that this widely held belief is wrong. When Bonsai Artists take this approach, it reinforces that belief.
Mark


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Wed Mar 01, 2006 9:39 am 
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Hi Carl,
Thank you for your brilliant rebuttal, it is obvious that you took the time and effort needed to present an intelligent counterpoint to the article and as such, it is greatly appreciated.

You brought up some very valid points, which I will address one by one as time permits. First, I would like to clarify what you called a vested interest in your quote below:

Carl Bergstrom wrote:
Disclaimer: I am not without vested interest in this debate. I
have written several pieces (1) (2) on what painting can teach us
about bonsai, and I have additional such articles in preparation. I have
found the lessons therein to be valuable to my work as
a bonsai artist. Before I can accept the sort of assertions above, I
consider it incumbant upon the authors to explain precisely why these
articles of mine are "not only futile, but could well be harmful to
art form
" of bonsai.


Correct me if I am mistaken, but I see both these articles that you have wrote as pertaining exclusively to the display of bonsai and not with bonsai itself. I do not see the correlation between your articles on displaying bonsai with any of the points from the article you quoted above

Comparing bonsai to painting; using painting to justify styling a bonsai; displaying bonsai as a painting; or trying to ascribe techniques of painting to the art of bonsai is not only futile, but could well be harmful to the art form.

In the article we plainly state, "Creating a sculpture-like bonsai has another benefit. It doesn't need a special exhibition space and elaborate setting." other than that, the article addresses the actual bonsai and not the area where such are displayed.

You articles on the display of bonsai are not only excellent, but pertinent in the sense that bonsai displays have always been traditionally set up for a single view as in a picture or a painting (I feel this is a fallacy, but that will be addressed in a upcoming article). Therefore, by using paintings to understand the concept behind the traditional display you have captured the essence of display.

Carl Bergstrom wrote:
Second, bonsai, sculpture, and painting each create a represention of reality, fantasy, or even sheer conceptual ideals by laying down photons upon the most reactive of two-dimensional canvases, the human retina.


I would have to disagree with your statement that a human retina is a two-dimensional canvass as it is actually far from it. The interior of our spherically shaped eyeballs are lined with a layer of photosensitive cells known collectively as the retina. The retina consists of three layers, the third, which contains rods and cones, is just part of a remarkable feat of three-dimensional engineering.

I noticed that you said "the human retina" and not the human retinas, humans have two which are placed close together, giving us an advantage over other creatures such as the horse with eyes widely separated. This advantage is stereo vision, each eye takes a view of the same area from a slightly different angle, this is what allows us to see in three-dimensions. Without this binocular depth perception every sculpture, every bonsai would in fact be viewed by humans just as a painting is, in two-dimensions.

The two retinas are what allows us to separate two-dimensional art such as paintings from three-dimensional art forms such as sculpture and bonsai.
Carl Bergstrom wrote:
These visual arts deal in a currency of human
perception, and the critical lessons of balance and perspective and
line and form and visual flow that function so well in one of these
arts most often carry over cleanly and beautifully to the others, in
that their effectiveness stems from the underlying universals of human
perception, not from any material-specific quirk of construction.

While I agree with most of these statements, it must be said that while in painting, it is necessary to use techniques that give the illusion of depth, the techniques to do the same with an actual three-dimensional medium are quite different. While there indeed are same qualities to consider in each form, such as color, balance, visual flow, etc, the means of achieving these differ greatly from one form to another. To learn scupture, one does not go to a school of painting.

Hector,
Yes, I did dissect the principle down to the bare bones, which some may feel misses the artistic mystery, or that may be too logical, yet by looking through a magnifying glass at the parts, maybe we can better understand the whole.

Will Heath


Last edited by Will Heath on Wed Mar 01, 2006 1:50 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Mar 01, 2006 1:17 pm 
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Comparing bonsai to other art forms adds new dimensions to the enjoyment of these trees. Every art form adds a new perspective, never takes anything away.

There is nothing wrong with comparing bonsai to painting, sculpture, music, or poetry. Each adds a new insight to the nature of arts. Of course, no comparison is literal, due to the unique nature of the particular medium.
I think the bonsai artist has the freedom to make a choice as to how he wants his work to be enjoyed, and he controls this aspect through the way the bonsai is exhibited. No particular choice is superior to other. They are just different.

What I like about this article is that it offers the possibility of looking at bonsai as sculpture. I think there is a lot of truth in that.
What I don't like about it is that it discounts the merits of painting-bonsai relationship. Painting also has a lot of things to offer.

Ultimately, bonsai can stand on its own, without the need to compare it to anything. Sometimes it feels like comparing bonsai with other art forms is a way of proving to ourselves that it indeed belongs to the world of arts. This shouldn't be the case. It's always exciting to discover a new connection, since this can enrich our understanding of both arts. But I see no merit in arguing over which connection is the strongest one. That one is subjective, depending on how each of us sees bonsai.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Mar 01, 2006 4:17 pm 
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Quote:
Yes, I did dissect the principle down to the bare bones, which some may feel misses the artistic mystery, or that may be too logical, yet by looking through a magnifying glass at the parts, maybe we can better understand the whole.

Or, equally, using a microscope prevents us seeing the trees, for wood.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Mar 01, 2006 8:52 pm 
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Posts: 244
Location: South San Francisco, CA
I think it's time for bonsai people to get over their seeming "inferiority complex" involving bonsai vs. "art". Bonsai is a dynamic and living art. Painting, sculpture. etc. is static and dead. No matter how many times you see it, it's still the same. You may view it differently at different times, but thats you, not the art. Your vision may change, but the art you view is still the same shape, form, colors, style, etc.

I'll admit to personal prejudice when I say that music may be closer to bonsai than any of the other art forms. Over many, many years, understanding, performance and interpretation has, in many cases, improved and grown. My favorite music is from the baroque period, especially J.S. Bach. Over the 50 years I have been a fan, performance and interpretation is light years ahead of what is was.

However, I will stand fast in my belief that bonsai can stand alone as an art form and not worry about comparisons with the static arts.
Just my 2 cents worth.
Mike


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Mar 01, 2006 11:43 pm 
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That 2 cents must surely be a couple of dollars these days, what with inflation and such?


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Mar 02, 2006 12:56 am 
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I enjoyed reading this article and the thougthful responses above. Thank you all for that.
The article seeks to open a new door to approach to art of bonsi, but also shuts another door at the same time. I say, open them all!
Let's compare bonsai to dance.
Let's compare bonsai to music.
Let's compare bonsai to live theatre, to film, to performance art.
To poetry and short stories.
To stand-up comedy.
To the art of debate.
And by all means, let's compare it to sculpture and painting.
I'm still dancing about architecture.
pootsie


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 02, 2006 1:02 am 
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After re-reading my own stunningly brilliant post, I've just found myself really caught up in the idea of short stories.

Bonsai is a short story. I used to think bonsai was just a very slow dance, but now I know that's wrong. Bonsai is a short story, written in wood and leaves.

It speaks of character, and struggle, and resolution. It has a simple plot, simply told. It has few characters, and only one whose point of view matters. It takes few words. It has only one chapter. And it seeks to forge a connection between your soul and the world arround you.
I'm going to chew on that one for some time.
pootsie


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Thu Mar 02, 2006 2:36 am 
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Chris pootsie Conomy wrote:
. Bonsai is a short story, written in wood and leaves.
It speaks of character, and struggle, and resolution. It has a simple plot, simply told. It has few characters, and only one whose point of view matters. It takes few words. It has only one chapter. And it seeks to forge a connection between your soul and the world arround you.

And if bonsai is a short story, some of the best bonsai - the most universal and at once the saddest and most inevitable - must have been written by Chekhov. I like that.
Best regards,
Carl


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 02, 2006 11:37 am 
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Interesting switch from debate to flippancy. In the light of the above posts, I submit that maybe one day we can all get together to create a few bonsai.
We can acquire four pieces of decent stock and Mike can bring a piano, Carl can bring paint brushes, Chris can bring a word processor, and I will bring my sculptor tools.

I am afraid however, when it is all said and done, we will end up with some music, a painting, a book, three raw pieces of stock, and a bonsai.
Sculptor tools? Yes, think about it. The cutters, pliers, chisels, gouges, torches, wire, and such we use in bonsai resemble the tools of a sculptor more than the tools of any other art form. Surely, the similarities do not end there.

Will Heath


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Thu Mar 02, 2006 12:21 pm 
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Will Heath wrote:
Sculptor tools? Yes, think about it. The cutters, pliers, chisels, gouges, torches, wire, and such we use in bonsai resemble the tools of a sculptor more than the tools of any other art form. Surely, the similarities do not end there.

That's a great point.
And if we raise the question "from which art form could the artist transfer his skills with the least difficulty to bonsai (all the other conditions being equal)", I would have to say, from sculpture.

A sculptor defines space and creates an illusion. So does a bonsai artist.
A painter creates an illusion without having to deal with the particularities of 3-dimensional space. That's a big difference.
Using a term from tennis: advantage Will, here.


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 02, 2006 12:26 pm 
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And, btw, a sculptor often has to use his drawing skills in the process. Michelangelo is a great example. I can hardly imagine a great sculptor who can't draw. On the other hand, a painter doesn't necessarily have to sculpt to be great.

To elaborate even further the similarities, the art of sculpture itself uses the painter's perspective as a tool or device....in addition to solving puzzles dealing with space. Just like bonsai.

....which (surprisingly) leads me to the conclusion that by adopting the sculptor's perspective on bonsai, we don't have to abandon the painter or drawer's perspective. That's because sculpture already incorporates those.
Wow, the power of logic..


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