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 Post subject: Bonsai Is Not Always Art
PostPosted: Thu Mar 03, 2005 12:26 am 
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Bonsai is not always Art
Charles Bevan
Saying that bonsai is not always art is certainly a bold statement, but it is undoubtedly true. Without a doubt, bonsai artists will endeavor for artistic achievement in their trees, but what about the back-yard bonsaiist*? Yes, we have all heard this term coined up before. A back-yard bonsaiist is one who claims to grow bonsai simply for fun of it and at times does not let those pesky Japanese rules get in the way of their styling. Back-yard bonsaiists often deny that bonsai have any artistic value. We have all seen trees from a back-yard bonsaiist, but have any of us evaluated them artistically? If one is to examine just a few trees of this quality, he or she will quickly realize that every single one of these trees is artistically unacceptable. The pots are often too large, of the wrong design, and of the wrong color. The branch placement is incorrect, and the lines of the branches typically tell a contradictory story to that told by the line of the trunk.
So are a back-yard bonsaiist?s trees bad art, or are they even art at all? In an earlier thread, Andy Rutledge noted Christo?s ?art? work ( http://christojeanneclaude.net/ ). He mentioned that this is not art, but simply decoration. Could this not be the same for a back-yard bonsaiist?s trees? If one were to compare a back-yard bonsaiist?s trees with hedges (which a few people have done on occasion), would they not simply be considered to be house decorations just as hedges are? If a person who grows bonsai does not consider bonsai to be an art, they will not be creating bad art; they will be creating a decoration.
Now, do not get me wrong, I am not criticizing the back-yard bonsaiists. In fact, I have a high level of respect for them, primarily because this is the typical way that bonsai artists start out. But until these back-yard bonsaiists accept the fact that bonsai is an art, they will never produce a tree worthy of show.

*Note: Some may know the term back-yard bonsaiist as one who grows bonsai in their backyard. This, however, would include many bonsai atists who have accepted the fact that bonsai is an art. In this article, the term back-yard bonsaiist used in opposition to the term bonsai artist.


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 03, 2005 9:02 pm 
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Charles ,
To me all, that do bonsai do it in their backyards. There are many who keep trees alive in their back yards, a big difference from those who work on trees in their back yards. There are those that have trees but never work on them to get them to a level of art. They just work at keeping them alive. To me, they are not even considered as artists. As Andy has said they are bonsai gardeners. They, for instance, know that a root system is terrible,or the branching is bad but do they try and fix it. They just repot it and keep it alive and all the things that keep it from becoming visually artistic is ignored. But in their eyes they may consider themselves as artists. So I guess bonsai is not always art.
John Hill


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Thu Mar 03, 2005 11:21 pm 
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John Hill wrote:
They, for instance, know that a root system is terrible,or the branching is bad but do they try and fix it. They just repot it and keep it alive and all the things that keep it from becoming visually artistic is ignored. But in their eyes they may consider themselves as artists. So I guess bonsai is not always art.

I have to respectfully disagree; bonsai is always art, some great art, some good art, and some just plain bad art.
The term "backyarders" originally was coined to describe the person who claims they only do bonsai for relaxation and art wasn't in the picture. (Usually muttered by someone who just had a harsh critique) and those who claimed the end results were not important.
The flaw in their logic was that the mere act of wiring, trimming, pruning, etc betrayed them. After all, if the end result wasn't important, if there were no goal, then why shape our trees at all, could not relaxation and enjoyment come from simply watching them grow?
Will


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Thu Mar 03, 2005 11:33 pm 
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Will Heath wrote:
I have to respectfully disagree; bonsai is always art, some great art, some good art, and some just plain bad art.
Will

Will,
This point is rational in theory, but one must wonder, if a back-yard bonsaiist refuses to admit that they are creating art, can their trees truly be called art? If there is no attempt to add artistic value into their trees, then it cannot be called art.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Mar 04, 2005 12:21 am 
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Charles,
this is an eternal issue in arts.
While I know of many definitions what exactly is an a artist and what not I am not decided here.
Serious painters call dilletants 'Sunday painters' in German and that seems to be the same as backyard bonsaiists.
But one can still argue that these Sunday painters are artists, maybe on a lower level of qulaity but neverthe less artists. And they probably see themselves as atitsts or at least aspiring artists.
In bonsai we have this history to be so close to horticulture. Where do you find bonsai books in a library? Why is there a bonsai part on many horticultural websites ans why not on arts websites?
So it is only natural that the overwhelming number of people who pracitce bonsai come from the horticultural side first. They usually have no clue that they should be practising art.
We can now try to intimidate them or we can try to educate them. I choose the latter.
We all know that running is a sport. For some very serious, for most not so serious, but still sport. So where does running become a non-sport? Are people who find it difficult to run more than half a mile in a row and take brakes in between practising sport? Or is is sport on a rather marginal level? Or is it rude to call them 'backyard runners'?
Anyway it is interesting that most painters would know that they are doing something that somehow is art, most runners know that they are doing something that is somehow sport but the vast majority of bonsaiists would think that they are practicing horticulture.
I hope to grow old enough to see a change there.
BTW: there is something like naive art and it can be pretty good sometimes.
Walter


Last edited by Walter Pall on Fri Mar 04, 2005 10:18 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Fri Mar 04, 2005 12:26 am 
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Charles Bevan wrote:
This point is rational in theory, but one must wonder, if a back-yard bonsaiist refuses to admit that they are creating art, can their trees truly be called art? If there is no attempt to add artistic value into their trees, then it cannot be called art.

Charles,
If a falling man refuses to admit that he is falling, is it any less so? I think you will find that many masters in all art forms do not intentionally create art, in fact, trying to do so may be very counter productive.
Walter,
The running analogy was the best I have seen put forth!
Will Heath


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Mar 04, 2005 7:51 am 
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I do agree with you, Will - I just put the name of the post at the end.
I think what Charles is saying is that some people are just growing trees in pots and are not worried about creating art.
Do you think that taking pictures of your trees with the right backgrounds and the things needed for a good display is considered a part of bonsai art? I didn't before, but over the years I have realized that these images themselves are art, not just pictures of trees in pots.
Art to some is not art to others. In other words, some are not at the same level of art as others. If beginners pays attention to more experienced bonsai artists and try to bring themselves up to that level and continuously work on their trees they will eventually see the art. I know many people that have been growing bonsai for years, but still are afraid to cut branches and style their trees. I can remember when I too was like this - but I paid attention to those with more experience styling trees, and I studied their trees, and over the years I have brought myself up a level and without really paying attention to the art.
I know now that it is art - not just the tree but also the things around it. It is people like Walter and Colin (and the list goes on) who get enjoyment out of teaching those who want to bring themselves up a level. My respect for them is high. I consider them as mentors. I have met Colin a couple of times and would love to meet Walter as I consider them as my mentors on the internet. Walter has given me some great advice on the internet and I took this advice and put it into action and it has made for a better tree. By going out and working on my trees and not just growing them I have opened my eyes to the art, thanks to the mentors.
A Friend in bonsai
John


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Mar 04, 2005 7:59 am 
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Thank you John, excellent points.
Will


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Fri Mar 04, 2005 12:26 pm 
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Walter Pall wrote:
BTW: there is something like naive art and it can be pretty good sometimes.

Yes, and by the time it becomes good, it's not naive anymore, it's just a style disguised as naive, but in fact with a very high degree of sophistication (Rousseau, or even Gauguin?).


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Mar 04, 2005 7:48 pm 
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I have to hold with the idea that bonsai is an art, but only a few bonsai are works of art. Furthermore, the bonsai - the tree in its pot - is only a portion of a bonsai work of art. The rest involves the stand, the companions and the setting. All are important in bonsai art.
Growing a tree, even a magnificent one, in a pot is gardening. Applying technique to that tree is craft. It is in the presentation of the tree, the pot, the stand, the setting and the compainion(s) that bonsai becomes art. This is just the same as the fact that a woman in a dimly lit room, exposign her bare shoulder to a faint light source is just a woman in a room. A photograph of that woman exposing her bare shoulder to a faint light source can be art. As can a painting of same. There's a difference between the pices of the composition and the properly prepared and presented composition.
Artistry and artistic principles are necessary in each step, in each component, but the fullness of bonsai art is in display. The display has to be an artistic display, else it's just so much "stuff."
So bonsai is an art. Not all bonsai represent that art, however. My take, anyway.
Kind regards,
Andy


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Mar 04, 2005 11:10 pm 
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Andy Rutledge wrote:
It is in the presentation of the tree, ... that bonsai becomes art.

Bravo! (Touches on an old post on BonsaiTALK by Carl concerning kusamono~ photography).
Regards,
Richard.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sat Mar 05, 2005 12:01 am 
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Quote:
Furthermore, the bonsai - the tree in its pot - is only a portion of a bonsai work of art. The rest involves the stand, the companions and the setting. All are important in bonsai art.

In a sense, this statement reinforces my origininal argument. Since it is so uncommon to see back-yard bonsaiists' trees on display, there are very few times when they could even be considered good or bad art.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Mar 15, 2005 6:15 am 
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Lots of good stuff to read, here!
I should like to have a few nuances added, though. The first concerns these statements by Charles Bevan:
Quote:
If a person who grows bonsai does not consider bonsai to be an
art, they will not be creating bad art; they will be creating a decoration.
-----------------------
......one must wonder, if a back-yard bonsaiist refuses to admit that they are creating art, can their trees truly be called art? If there is no attempt to add artistic value into their trees, then it cannot be called art.

I know two people who do not consider bonsai to be an art, but rather the product of artisan work. Yet both produce very beautiful bonsai, that far exceed the standard of decoration. The label of "art" or "artist" just does not sit easy with them. It happens.
The next lines are by Andy Rutledge:
Quote:
Growing a tree, even a magnificent one, in a pot is gardening. Applying technique to that tree is craft. It is in the presentation of the tree, the pot, the stand, the setting and the compainion(s) that bonsai becomes art.
---------------------------------------------
Artistry and artistic principles are necessary in each step, in each component, but the fullness of bonsai art is in display. The display has to be an artistic display, else it's just so much "stuff."

I think that that is putting things too strongly, Andy. Only a few days ago, at a club workshop, one of the most accomplished members arrived with a spruce in a black plastic nursery pot. That tree had a beautiful trunk line and was styled to perfection. The owner had worked on it for 7 years, and he told us that it was due to be bonsai-potted next Spring. There was no doubt in anyone's mind, that day, that here was one of the best works of bonsai art they had seen in a while.
Of course, there is no doubt that when that tree is displayed the way it ultimately has to be, it will look even better. But right now, in its plastic pot, it is a work of art.
Too often, the bonsai pot and the stand become a crutch for those who exhibit mediocre trees.....
But no doubt you'll consider that beside the point.
Lisa


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2005 5:16 am 
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Quote:
"We all know that running is a sport. For some very serious, for most not so serious, but still sport. So where does running become a non-sport? Are people who find it difficult to run more than half a mile in a row and take brakes in between practising sport? Or is is sport on a rather marginal level? Or is it rude to call them 'backyard runners?-WALTER.
'When one runs for life it is not sport,
When one run in war it is not sport,
When one runs to evade tax/ repayment it is not ??
ART HAS A PURPOSE?positive purpose of effective communication .
-


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Fri Mar 18, 2005 9:18 am 
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Here's an analogy for bonsai as art--don't know if it's accurate, don't know it it's not. Just throwing up against the wall to see if some of it sticks...
A diamond ring is the product of many people--beginning with an ugly lump of stone and ending with a piece of jewlery, which if designed and executed well, transcends craftmanship and enters the world of artistry.
I think there are more than a few parallels here for bonsai.
Starting from raw stones pulled from the earth, a diamond is selected as a worthwhile gemstone. The selected diamond is sent on to a diamond cutter, who knows precisely how and where to cut the stone to make it shine. The cut stone is then sent on to someone who polishes its, and designs and crafts a setting and a ring, or pendant, or whatever, for it. The final product, if everyone has done their job, can be a beautiful work or art. The vast majority of diamond rings aren't really art, merely pretty. There are some jewelry makers that produce artistry, though. TAre all these workers artists, artisans, worker bees?
I think they are mostly artists, but only at times, when the material, progression of work and execution are all in tune with each other. Doesn't happen as often as they'd like, but it does happen.


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