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 Post subject: When Good Art Goes Bad
PostPosted: Thu Feb 17, 2005 8:23 pm 
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This thread is for discussing the article by Andy Rutledge: When Good Art Goes Bad
http://www.artofbonsai.org/feature_articles/goodartgoesbad.php


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 Post subject: bonsai and 'Art'
PostPosted: Sat Feb 19, 2005 1:07 pm 
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Andy,
If we understand the nature of Western civilization we have a grasp of the intent of Art. As you well know, at one time the 'church' controlled all visible images including 'art'. For better or worse. (for worse).

In the Asian culture there is little difference between the definitions of art. In fact they are seamless.

As the world has grown to discover bonsai mostly in Western and more economically viable societies, the tendency to define and then combine is a cultural convenience albeit the price of the 'haves'.

In Western art, there is only drawing and painting as two dimensional art. We move to sculpture and find that that is the third accepted element of Western art. Certainly I've seen for many years this concept of environmental, situational, video, virtual, and the list grows. At one time the cultures of metal smiths, (jewelers) and potters had and continue to clamor for entrance into this elite society.

Now enter bonsai. An art form very well established in Asian society. What is happening is the logical progression of the media encroaching into this art form. Whether we agree or disagree, it is happening. (personally I take your stand).

However better poorly designed bonsai are discovered by the mall art shows, then none at all. I believe bonsai clubs and societies have a fundamental cognitive process that should bear witness to traditional bonsai. Of course a club is free to examine all forms of this art, yet I do not personally believe it a viable platform. Classical bonsai is the Pinnacle.
There will be a time when this begins to happen here in the USA...


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Mar 01, 2005 4:14 am 
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Quote:
Classical bonsai is the Pinnacle.

Vance,

That sounds like a definitive statement to me, and one with which I do not agree. It may be a pinnacle but cetainly not the pinnacle.
As in music, architecture, painting and other arts, classical signifies a piece that is composed according to established and traditional formulae. Miles Davis, Paul Andreu or Pablo Picasso are/were anything but classical, but would you deny that they reached the pinnacle?

To limit artistic aspirations to the classical is to stifle creativity and innovation - it is anti-art.

Quote:
There will be a time when this begins to happen here in the USA...


People have been trying to follow the classical bonsai formulae here for decades and some (few) have succeeded to a greater or lesser extent. In Europe, too, this was the fashion for a long time. But ten or fifteen years ago they woke up; they realized that that, if bonsai is an art, then freedom of expression is their true goal, not a long-dead master's concept of beauty. Since then the quality of bonsai produced at all levels in Europe has outstripped that of the USA by a very long way.
There will be a time when this begins to happen here in the USA...

Colin


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Mar 01, 2005 2:42 pm 
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Quote:
To limit artistic aspirations to the classical is to stifle creativity and innovation - it is anti-art.

My feet are pretty firmly rooted in Colin's camp on this issue. Whilst I do not have a formal art education, I must have some outlet for my artistic energy that involves asking questions and attempting to see elements of bonsai through my own set of peculiarly distorted glasses. Given that my time in bonsai has been so short in relative terms, I am still learning with my teacher to design and maintain bonsai in a very classical style, while I ever so slightly try to nudge against the envelope, where I can see opportunities for slightly different opportunities for expression.

This classical instruction is causing some conflict, as I am tempted to attempt to push some boundaries too quickly, which I am keen to try to avoid, before I have grasped the complexities art more fully. However, if I thought that I would end up pigeon-holeing myself within a particular style, without the ability to expand my horizons, I think that I would become very disillusioned.

Regards,
Richard.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Mar 01, 2005 2:46 pm 
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I do hold with the belief that art is a process intimately married to experimentation and exploration. BUT, I also hold with the idea that we don't put forth every ridiculous and unartistic effort as examples of artistry. And this is precisely what is happening with these silly exhibits.
Yes, lets experiment. Yes, let's explore and ask, "why not this?" And let's leave all of the silly artistic failures in the studio and only publish/exhibit the ones that are not bereft of artistry.

Kind regards,
Andy


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Mar 01, 2005 6:51 pm 
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Andy,

I can't argue with that statement at all! Does this mean we agree on something at last?

My only question would be who is the arbiter of what is condmened as a silly failure and what qualifies as an innovative masterpiece? It's tough when there are no precedents, as indeed there can't be when dealing with innovation.

Colin


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Tue Mar 01, 2005 7:25 pm 
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Hi Colin,
Colin Lewis wrote:
My only question would be who is the arbiter of what is condmened as a silly failure and what qualifies as an innovative masterpiece? It's tough when there are no precedents, as indeed there can't be when dealing with innovation.


Yes, surely each of us can only get somewhere close in this assessment - not usually will we be able to arrive at THE answer. However, every artist worth his/her salt should be able to tell where the fundamentals of artistry are being ignored or ineffectively applied. Outside of the fundamentals there is a vast wilderness for exploration. But it is when the very fundamentals are not appropriately used or addressed that things simply fall flat. Every artist should be able to apply such discrimination to their work (or to the work of others).

Here is where we could all save ourselves embarrassment and save the world from having to look at "pigs with lipstick" misrepresented as art.

Kind regards,
Andy


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Mar 01, 2005 11:23 pm 
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Andy,

If each artist is to be the judge of whether their experimental piece is successful (for want of a better word) or not, then it is the artist's judgement that is being offered up for criticism as well as the work. The more confident an artist becomes in such work, and the more experimental their work becomes, the more the judgement of their peers and critics is challenged. I can live with that.

Colin


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Thu Mar 03, 2005 12:06 am 
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Colin Lewis wrote:
People have been trying to follow the classical bonsai formulae here for decades and some (few) have succeeded to a greater or lesser extent. In Europe, too, this was the fashion for a long time. But ten or fifteen years ago they woke up; they realized that that, if bonsai is an art, then freedom of expression is their true goal, not a long-dead master's concept of beauty.


OK, so instead of following a long-dead master they follow Kimura.
I do not detect in European bonsai anything other than classical Japanese forms, with the possible exception of the attempts of Wolf Schudde and Farrand Bloch. And even their _trees_ do not veer much if any from the classical, it's just that they combine them with a variety of props. I think they have proofed that that is not the way.
Quote:
Since then the quality of bonsai produced at all levels in Europe has outstripped that of the USA by a very long way.


It may have outstripped it by some, but not by very much. If I discount the goodly number of trees passed off as European but imported from Japan, the field gets pretty level. When I compare the recent exhibits I saw in Cincinnati and Saint Louis with the gallery featuring exhibit trees from the 2004 convention of the German Bonsai Club, there is, except for quantity, not that much to choose between them.

OK, Germany isn't Europe. But neither is Saint Louis the USA.
Most importantly, though, the trees in that exhibit were all thoroughly Japanese classical. Most of them nowhere near as refined, but as we all know, that takes not only knowledge but also time.

So give them time.
American bonsai artists like Marty Schmalenberg, Suthin S., Ernie Kuo, Boon M., David DeGroot, Bill Valavanis and a few I forgot ... they are more than a match for anything Europe has to offer.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Mar 03, 2005 1:16 am 
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Hi, Colin,
Quote:
.......if bonsai is an art, then freedom of expression is their true goal, not a long-dead master's concept of beauty.


Ggggggrrrrr...iiiiiiiiinnnnnnnnnnnnnnn!!
The Japanese seem to think the same, as one can see when comparing their bonsai of 50 years ago with those created today. And they have one great quality: they don't throw out the baby with the bath water, as happens too often with enthusiastic European experiments.

Quote:
People have been trying to follow the classical bonsai formulae here (in N. America) for decades and some (few) have succeeded to a greater or lesser extent.


So, instead of wishing for more experimentation and innovation, would it not be a good idea to accentuate the need of first acquiring the skills that go with the growing and styling of classical bonsai, before venturing into "freedom of expression" (read "self-expression")? This in order to really know what one can do, and what one shouldn't. America might even get some quite good bonsai out of it. ;-)

Just a reminder to anyone who forgot: e.g. Pablo Picasso and Vincent van Gogh both learned the techniques of their "mitier", i.e. the skills of their art, very, very thoroughly before flying free. And compare the early and late Turners, Mondrianis etc! The youth work of those artists, quite traditional, also has great merit.

A good friend and very eperienced bonsai-ist here, whose styling nowadays tends towards the naturalisric and unconventional, always says, "No matter which direction you take in bonsai, you have to start with the traditional, and to grow the classical alongside your experiments".

Nick Lenz's tree (called "Maleficent" - see article by Carl Bergstrom), is way out of the ordinary, but it bears witness in every detail to its creator's knowledge of bonsai techniques and -skills. Without them, there would be no culmination into an artistic creation.

So, those "few" who have succeeded in following traditional lines successfully. and thereby have created beauty, let them increase in numbers a thousandfold, before "freedom of (self-)expression" ruins bonsai in N. America!

"Self" can be a dangerous word.
Lisa


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Mar 03, 2005 1:49 am 
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Reiner,
Come out from under that snow! ;o)
Quote:
OK, so instead of following a long-dead master they follow Kimura.


Not at all. The European flirtation with Mr Kimura was somewhat shorter than that in the USA. Let us not forget that he was first introduced to the western bonsai community in the long running series in Bill Valavanis's International Bonsai.

You mention Farrand Bloch and Wolf Schudde as being the only non-classical bonsaiists in Europe. You've been reading those old magazines again. ;o) I think you mean avant garde. Non-classical means anything that is not one of the five classical styles (formal upright, informal upright, slanting, semi-cascade and cascade) OK, we can add broom in as well if you like.

There is no classical precedent for, say driftwood style. Indeed, how can there be since every piece of yamadori (the prime source of driftwood bonsai) is entirely unique and cannot be hammered into a pre-concieved form. Neither is there classical precedent for windswept, root over rock, etc. Most of the bonsai produced in Europe (and here, for that matter) are reactive rather than proactive - meaning they are designed in response to what the plant has to offer and not to a classical blueprint. It's just that the Europeans currently do it better.

If you recall, the best in show at Cincinnati was a classical imported tree (white pine) professionally refined and maintained by Boon. In fact most of the awards went to imported trees. Sure, in Germany the club exhibition includes many imported trees, but that is only the club exhibition; and as you astutely point out, it is only Germany.

In Europe clubs play only a minor role in the higher levels of bonsai achievement. The real action takes place with individual artists and teachers with a dedicated folowing of students (sometimes, often, students will be dedicated to more than one teacher). These artists seldom exhibit in club shows, and some hardly ever exhibit at all. It is simply not accurate to use a club sponsored show as an example of the quality of European bonsai.

Quote:
American bonsai artists like Marty Schmalenberg, Suthin S., Ernie Kuo, Boon M., David DeGroot, Bill Valavanis and a few I forgot ... they are more than a match for anything Europe has to offer.


You mention six, one of whom (like me) is a fairly recent immigrant. You could have also mentioned Nick Lenz, Guy Guidry and three or four others. Even if you had named a dozen, it would still not equal the number of artists of as high or higher ability in Italy alone.

And "more than a match"? Why not ask Bill, Marty, et al what they think of that statement?

I'll issue a challenge to you, Reiner: join the trip to see the Ginkgo Awards exhibition in Belgium next September and, if that doesn't change your mind, I'll give you my next tax refund. Although the USA is larger than Europe, and has a longer history of bonsai, you couldn't stage an exhibition displaying so many excellent home-produced bonsai in America - well, excluding California anyway.
Colin


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Mar 03, 2005 2:09 am 
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Lisa,
Grrrr back to you!
Quote:
enthusiastic European experiments

I speak not of experimentss but of extremely fine bonsai, even by Japanese non-classical standards.
Quote:
So, instead of wishing for more experimentation and innovation, would it not be a good idea to accentuate the need of first acquiring the skills that go with the growing and styling of classical bonsai, before venturing into "freedom of expression" (read "self-expression")?

Yes, of course. And this is precisely what the Europeans have done - and they have now progressed beyond that, just like Picasso. The original point made by Carl was that classical bonsai is the pinnacle, and it was that statement that I took issue with. And it is that tendency, peculiar to America, that has retarded bonsai as an art here. Art, Lisa, involves creativity, imagination, vision and, yes, self-expression.
Quote:
before "freedom of (self-)expression" ruins bonsai in N. America!

You mean in the same way that freedom of (self-)expression ruined painting, music, literature in N. America? I know you know better than that.
Colin


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Thu Mar 03, 2005 3:41 am 
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Colin Lewis wrote:
The original point made by Carl was that classical bonsai is the pinnacle, and it was that statement that I took issue with.

A minor correction; that was Vance's claim, not mine.
My own perspective is very close that which Lisa has laid out. I want to thoroughly master the fundamentals of neoclassical bonsai before I venture into the development of my own unique and personal style.

For that matter, while innovation certainly benefits the art, I am wary of the impulse to value self-expression above all other aspects of the artform. Should the development of a unique personal style be actively pursued, or passively accepted once it occurs? To avoid interrupting the discussion here, I've split these thoughts off into a separate topic.

With my best regards,
Carl


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Thu Mar 03, 2005 6:38 am 
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Colin - hi again!

The grrr.. was a grrrin, not a grrr-owl. ;)

Quote:
Art, Lisa, involves creativity, imagination, vision and, yes, self-expression.


Doesn't it ever!

But it also - and even firstly - involves knowing how to.
I thought that my example of Nick Lenz's "Maleficent tree" had illustrated that? While the "knowing how to" is being acquired, self-expression should take a back seat. Which doesn't mean that it is not allowed to rise, now and then, and make a choice of its own.

My difficulty with what you wrote stemmed from the fact that you find the accomplishments where traditional bonsai is concerned rather poor, in N. America, and at the same time you think that much greater initiative (is that right?) is needed in order for American bonsai to become artistic in the way Europe has discovered. How do you bridge the gap between an evident lack of the fundamentals and the striking out into individualistic bonsai art?

It seems moreover to me that everyone who is of the opinion that "creativity. imagination, vision and self-expression" should be encouraged, forgets one thing: these capabilities are not necessarily included in everyone's gift packet. In fact, those people who are capable of them to a sufficient degree are most probably in the minority. So what is open to the others, the majority? Individualistic art cannot be taught.

I have seen lots of examples on the IBC Gallery, where Walter Pall showed some fabulous trees (sometimes a bit too "fantastic"), with the frequent result that people thought that as long as their own bulky tree had a tortuous shape and plenty of jins, it was a work of art comparable to Walter's.

I am not at all against innovation. (As a matter of fact, I couldn't be, since here in Australia we are trying to bonsai native tree species, which often does not allow traditional styling, assuming we thought it suitable.) But let us watch out, before we change too many things too much, lest we do more harm than good, lest progress becomes regress.

Glad to meet you here, Colin.

Lisa


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Thu Mar 03, 2005 8:04 am 
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Lisa Kanis wrote:
Individualistic art cannot be taught.

Technique, history, application can all be taught, but as we well know, it takes something more to create art, something deeper, it takes talent. However, talent without knowledge and understanding what has come before can be a hard beast to tame.

Reading this thread reminded me of a book I have and what a strange thing it is that our home here, the Art of Bonsai project" so closely resembles the title of Colin's book, "The Art Of Bonsai Design."

Will Heath


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