Self-expression through bonsai artistry?
In another discussion
, Lisa and Colin brought us into the interesting territory of self-expression through bonsai. Rather than interrupt the primary discussion occuring there, I would like to revisit here the issue of self-expression through bonsai art.
Though it is second nature for 21st century Western artists and audiences to consider art as a vehicle for self-expression, my sense is that this perspective is a relatively new development in the history of art.
For example, Orhan Pamuk's novel My Name is Red
describes a remarkably different view of art and of mastery that prevailed among the 16th century Ottoman illustrators of illuminated manuscripts. These artists believed that an illustrator would reach the pinnacle of artistic perfection only when he could so completely copy the essence of the historical masters that his miniatures would carry no trace
of his own personal style.
While the aim of eliminating every trace of personal style is perhaps an extreme example, Pamuk's descriptions remind me of a passage in Gombrich's classic text The Story of Art
Everyone can see that Fra Angelico was a different type of man from Masaccio, or that Rembrandt was a different character from Vermeer van Delft. Yet none of these artists was deliberately making his choice in order to express his personality. He did it only incidentally, as we express ourselves in everything we do - whether we light a pipe or run after a bus. [In the nineteenth century,] the idea that the true purpose of art was to express personality could only gain ground when the art had lost every other purpose.
--- E.M. Gombrich, The Story of Art
Elsewhere on this forum I proposed that "I want to thoroughly master the fundamentals of neoclassical bonsai before I venture into the development of my own unique and personal style." But perhaps there is no need to aggressively develop a unique style at all! Perhaps I should aim not to develop a personal style that I can wear as a badge, but instead to simply practice the art of bonsai, and let my personality emerge subtly, the way it does through hundreds of trivial and unselfconscious actions throughout each ordinary day.
Perhaps for an artform that stands where bonsai does today in the West, the former road simply leads to affectation, while the latter road leads to a more genuine art. I would eagerly welcome any comments, especially from those of you who have crossed this bridge already.
With my best regards,