I took a yew in a landscape pot to our last club meeting and asked Vance for advice. What he told me didn?t suit my tastes, so I said I would grow-it-on because I didn?t like the style that he said it would need to be arranged in now (the sizes and proportions being what they are, now).
I don?t know enough about bonsai to recognize ?styles? as being Japanese, or Chinese, or European, but I know they exist. I?m only at a level where I can see that Japanese favor austere pots, and Chinese pots are often very decorative, and Europeans favor the kinds of very old trees you can collect in the mountains. We might all favor those kinds of trees if we all lived near mountains.
I?ve seen comments from those who favor what they think are Japanese-like qualities in selecting pots, in which they condescending pass judgements on cobalt blue pots, as though Il Cognoscenti would NEVER use a pretty pot. They believe that the pot should never compete with the tree. And, they believe that?s the way the Japanese think. Maybe some of the Japanese think that way, but if you peruse the Japanese pot competitions, you won?t find any austere, plain-Jane, square-ish rectangles pots there- they are all very avant garde. So, whatever else is true, I see some real differences between the tastes of the Japanese-American Masters who teach Americans, and the Japanese-Japanese who judge pots in Japan. The two could not be further apart.
I like Chinese-style pots and I consider it a waste of time and opportunity to put a beautiful tree in a plain pot. The first rule of Penjing is, ?Enjoy your planting?, and I do. I describe myself as being into Chinese bonsai for that reason (rightly or wrongly).
The Japanese have a national characteristic widely recognized as being very self-restrained. Americans are widely reputed to free-thinkers and very unrestrained. These two characteristics are, in my humble opinion, not mutable. They are not imitate-able either. Japanese who come to live in the US do not suddenly- or even after a life-time of living in the US, become as loose and undisciplined as typical Americans, much less artsy Americans. I don?t know, but speculate that Americans who live in Japan for a long time don?t really become ?Japanese-like? in their thinking. I think both sets of immigrants adapt, and adopt local customs, but continue to think of themselves as ?different-thinking?. Neither way of thinking, Japanese or American is superior, or inferior, they are the result of the cultures and both have good points and bad points.
What I?m leading up to is that when Americans practice ?Japanese? bonsai, they are, in my humble opinion, only able to imitate the Japanese, they can?t think like them because in Japan bonsai is practiced as a discipline, not just an artform. Discipline, really self-discipline, is foremost, and the art portion is secondary. It is just another part of the Japanese lifestyle in which religion, and personal interaction, and everything else is governed by moderation and adherence to fairly rigid rules.
American bonsai begins where I don?t take the Master?s advice because I don?t want the tree to look like what he says it ?is?, now. I?m not rejecting his advice. I?m not arguing with his wisdom. I am going to grow-it-on to obtain what I want. And that?s American. What?s it gonna look like? Too early to tell! Have I learned anything? Too early to tell.