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 Post subject: Blind In One Eye
PostPosted: Mon Jan 29, 2007 5:09 pm 
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Blind In One Eye
by Walter Pall

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Bonsai by Walter Pall
Illustration by Will Heath



It is to be expected that a mother would always defend her son and she would always think that he is better in every respect than he is seen with more objective eyes. This is human nature and we forgive her.

It is to be expected that in general bonsai folks think somewhat higher of their own trees than they really should. This is human nature and we forgive them.

It is to be expected that most people feel somewhat higher about the bonsai of their nation in general than is really called for if looked at objectively. This is human nature and we forgive them.

What really strikes me is when I meet otherwise reasonable, intelligent, cultivated and learned people who are utterly unreasonable about judging their own trees. Well again it is human nature to be unable to judge yourself, but one should still expect that the gap between reality and the personal perception of reality should not be all too wide. Well with some people this is the way they are, but they are a minority in the general population. Why do there seem to be more in the bonsai world who are blind in one eye?

In Germany we are having judged shows since more than twenty years. The big German convention always was a judged show and the results were printed in the club magazine and recently are shown on the internet. On my travels I met more people than I would have liked who went at length to explain to me how terrible this all was and how some of their trees or the better ones of their local club would win awards all over the place. If they only wanted to show them, of course.

When I have a look at the trees that they were speaking about I invariably am cringing. How do I explain to this otherwise reasonable person that he is wrong here - not a bit wrong, but TOTALLY wrong. As a rule the trees that are shown to me should not at all enter the show because there are minimal standards for entering and winning an award is totally out of the question.

I have come to the conclusion that there is more than general human nature to this. This phenomenon usually occurs when people had very little or no exposure to the real bonsai world other than with pictures. We all have had this experience that a certain tree that was overwhelming in reality but did not look very good in a picture, it even looked very mediocre. This is due to several reasons:

Reasons that lie in the photographs:
  • It is very difficult to make a good picture of a bonsai, just as it is to make a good portrait picture of a person.
  • Even very experienced general photographers come up with lousy bonsai pictures quite often.
  • Bonsai is a three dimensional sculpture and very often looks so good because of transparency and depth of the composition. A photograph is two dimensional by nature and thus the impact of three-dimensionality and depth gets lost.
  • Quite often trees look good on pictures which are not really so good in reality. These usually are trees that are built two-dimensionally. The picture looks just as the tree is built. What in reality is a fault is not so on the photograph.
  • Because of lack of real good bonsai pictures, often rather lousy photographs have to be shown to show at least something.
Reasons that lie in the viewer:
  • Now if a person is not aware of these phenomena he will usually way underestimate bonsai that he has only seen on pictures. I have this deja-vu so often when people who think they "know" certain trees from pictures and see them first in an exhibit are amazed at how much more impact they have in reality.
  • Now they certainly have seen their own trees and those of their friends in reality. As said before it is human nature to see your own trees in a rosy light and value them higher than they really deserve. And it is human nature and to be expected. A bonsai designer must have a vision of the future of the tree. The vision is often so strong that the reality is overseen.

Now combine these two:

Trees that appear worse or much worse than they really are, are compared to trees that in the mind of the enthusiast are better than they really are. The discrepancy can be enormous.

The result is that quite often trees are compared that should not really be compared without giving this a lot of thought. People compare the trees that they know in reality with pictures of trees. If exactly the same trees were set side by side it should be visible to most where the difference is. But it does not happen. There are many reasons why it does not happen and most are respectable. But the comparison does happen. And thus otherwise reasonable people come to outlandish judgments. But this is even true of people who do really have exposure to exhibits and have somewhat of an overview of what is going on in the bonsai world - well, what is the bonsai world for them, which is regional of even national, but still limited. Then still the same phenomenon applies. They look at magazines, at books and compare the pictures about trees from all over the world with bonsai that they have seen in reality. The result is often uncalled for complacency. Even with otherwise modest and sharp folks.

The internet has brought the world together. It certainly has brought the bonsai world together. It has opened the eyes of people considerably. But often it has not done so enough. This is due to the phenomena that I have pointed out.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Jan 30, 2007 12:49 am 
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Walter,
There is a lot of truth in your words, thank you for posting them.
After reading this, I have come to the conclusion that I may well be blind in both eyes at times.
I am in the unenviable position of seeing photographs of world-class trees on a daily basis and am expected to judge which are suitable for this forum (thankfully there are more experienced editors here than myself to help) as well as communicating with and interviewing the artists who created them. I have also attended many shows here in the U.S. but never an overseas show, although I have seen bonsai overseas, and I have visited a few collections here in the U.S.
I am quite aware, and am reminded of the fact every day, that I am sorely outclassed in talent at this time. Each day, after viewing all these excellent bonsai, I tend to my own, it is hard for one to uphold illusions in this situation.
The words you spoke about seeing the future in one's bonsai hit home, unfortunately that future does not photograph well at all.
I take it you are suggesting that we spend more time viewing quality trees in person, comparing them to pictures, and by doing so, heal our eye?
How do you judge your own trees Walter, against what is being created by others, against your previous work, or against your own expectations based on your inspirations?

Will


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Tue Jan 30, 2007 2:10 am 
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Will Heath wrote:
How do you judge your own trees Walter, against what is being created by others, against your previous work, or against your own expectations based on your inspirations?


Will,
I judge them every day by looking at them in reality or on pictures. I try to analyze them just as I would analyze any tree in a tree critique. I try to see the future and find out whether the tree is on track.
Of course, I am blind on one eye concerning my own trees just like everybody else is. But I think I have learned some professional discipline to be able to overcome this at least partially.
I am NOT totally happy with almost all my trees. All of them have something that I try very hard to fix. Too many will never get as far as I had wished originally. With quite a lot of them I would never start again if I got the material now. With some I am embarrased. Some of these even win awards and I think it is for the wrong tree.
My logo tree should be well known by many who read here. It won second runner up at the WBFF world contest a few months ago. Am I happy abbot this tree? No, not at all. I am right now in the process of seriously redesigning this tree and will show pictures of the redesign very soon here.


Attachments:
File comment: the logo tree as of fall 2006. I am quite unhappy about it and will radically redesign it.
Dsc_5350v_filtered.jpg
Dsc_5350v_filtered.jpg [ 139.83 KiB | Viewed 18646 times ]
File comment: this was the picture that I submitted for the WBFF world contest. at that time I already did NOT lik
Dsc_3985v.jpg
Dsc_3985v.jpg [ 166.04 KiB | Viewed 18646 times ]


Last edited by Walter Pall on Tue Jan 30, 2007 9:03 am, edited 2 times in total.
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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Jan 30, 2007 8:41 am 
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Walter,
Quite frankly, this reminds me of my dream bonsai contest. Bonsai from "world-class" and "lesser-known" artists are placed in a room where the identity of the artist (and the bonsai) is/are kept anonymous. NO "known" trees are entered (meaning published photography) Each bonsai has a covering on the soil that only allows the nebari to be visible. This is important because pot quality would be a dead giveaway. The pot, stand, etc., of a formal display is eliminated from consideration. Only the styling and quality of the tree are considered. The judges will all be "big-names" (your terminology).
I'm quite sure that the results would be very interesting. It would prove if the "elite" are living on reputation or actual skill. I would also like to see a contest between a "big-name" and a "lesser-known" with similar rough material. Both are given similar material, efforts documented, and then five years later the bonsai are compared. This kind of contest excites me. It has the dual purpose of shutting up braggards and allowing the truth to be revealed. It's a fair contest, almost like a placebo testing of medication. Whether the "real thing" has a quality will be proven. It is an even playing field and the best should win. Of course in bonsai, BOTH could be winners. It's just a matter of which is the best.
I'm not saying that the "big-names" are not worthy of praise - in most cases the opposite is true - but true champions do not shy away from competition. That, to me, makes our endeavor even more profound.
Good thread.
Warmest regards to all,
John


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Tue Jan 30, 2007 12:09 pm 
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John Dixon wrote:
I'm quite sure that the results would be very interesting. It would prove if the "elite" are living on reputation or actual skill. I would also like to see a contest between a "big-name" and a "lesser-known" with similar rough material.

The "elite" vs. "no name" issue is the same in any endeavor that require superior skills. Any art form or sports competition.
Remember. that the "elite" did not become "elite" overnight. One has to produce consistently, year after year, and at a very high quality, to become one. Any "no name" can be a "one hit wonder". Remember those pop bands that had a huge hit on the music charts and then dissapeared. Or, in sports, one can always stage an upset, where a weak team beats the elite one. This happens all the time.
But when you ar part of the elite, people can count on you on a consistent basis. Your reputation is based not on one or two works, but on your whole portfolio.
There is a lot of starving talent out there, and the reason is that they don't have the grit and stamina to work their butt off every day. They are brilliant for one day, and then they do nothing for the rest of the year. Whereas, a "big name" gets up every day with the same drive, to be the best he can.


Last edited by Attila Soos on Tue Jan 30, 2007 12:16 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Tue Jan 30, 2007 12:14 pm 
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Walter Pall wrote:
I am NOT totally happy with almost all my trees. All of them have something that I try very hard to fix. Too many will never get as far as I had wished originally. With quite a lot of them I would never start again if I got the material now. With some I am embarrased. Some of these even win awards and I think it is for the wrong tree.

I admire your honesty and I find assurance in the fact that I am not alone in consistently reevaluating my trees. To hear that this is still done at your level, not only brings ease to my mind, but inspires me to be even harsher in my own appraisals.

Will


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Tue Jan 30, 2007 12:48 pm 
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Attila Soos wrote:
John Dixon wrote:
I'm quite sure that the results would be very interesting. It would prove if the "elite" are living on reputation or actual skill. I would also like to see a contest between a "big-name" and a "lesser-known" with similar rough material.

The "elite" vs. "no name" issue is the same in any endeavor that require superior skills. Any art form or sports competition.
Remember. that the "elite" did not become "elite" overnight. One has to produce consistently, year after year, and at a very high quality, to become one. Any "no name" can be a "one hit wonder". Remember those pop bands that had a huge hit on the music charts and then dissapeared. Or, in sports, one can always stage an upset, where a weak team beats the elite one. This happens all the time.
But when you ar part of the elite, people can count on you on a consistent basis. Your reputation is based not on one or two works, but on your whole portfolio.
There is a lot of starving talent out there, and the reason is that they don't have the grit and stamina to work their butt off every day. They are brilliant for one day, and then they do nothing for the rest of the year. Whereas, a "big name" gets up every day with the same drive, to be the best he can.

I like your post Attila, but I am not in agreement that those who are called the elite and necessarily such. Here we come around again to the fact there is no standardized way to grade the "elite". Word of mouth, personal choices abound, but no standardized way of proving/disproving such claims.
I do agree with your comment: "a "big name" gets up every day with the same drive, to be the best he can." That seems to be true. However, it does apply to some mediocre talents as well. They don't want for heart, they fall short in talent. It's when you combine both - and a healthy dose of exposure - that causes the cream rises to the top. I just don't think we are consistent in what constitutes the "elite".


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Tue Jan 30, 2007 1:08 pm 
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John Dixon wrote:
I just don't think we are consistent in what constitutes the "elite".

Which is a good thing. Every shortcoming is also an opportunity.
Since there is no clear definition of what elite is, this gives us a golden opportunity to become one ourselves, if we have the motivation.
This is the way it works: first you become elite in your own mind. Then you follow up with action, namely, what would the elite professional do if he was in your shoes. If you play this role long enough, people will start to perceive you as part of the elite soon enough. And this will show on the quality of your work as well. :)


Last edited by Attila Soos on Tue Jan 30, 2007 1:24 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Tue Jan 30, 2007 1:23 pm 
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Attila Soos wrote:
John Dixon wrote:
I just don't think we are consistent in what constitutes the "elite".

Which is a good thing. Every shortcoming is also an opportunity.
Since there is no clear definition of what elite is, this gives us a golden opportunity to become one ourselves, if we have the motivation.
This is the way it works: first you become elite in your own mind. Then you follow up with action, namely, what would the elite professional do if he was in your shoes. If you play this role long enough, people will start to perceive you as part of the elite soon enough. And this will show on the quality of your work as well. :)

Wow Attila. Bottle that up and we have a sure winner!!! We'll make millions.


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Tue Jan 30, 2007 1:26 pm 
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John Dixon wrote:
Wow Attila. Bottle that up and we have a sure winner!!! We'll make millions.

Believe it or not, I am trying to make this into a Twelve-step Program as we speak.
:), :), :)


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Jan 30, 2007 1:29 pm 
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I think "elite" is the wrong word to describe the top artists in bonsai.
Elite (also spelled ?lite) is taken from the Latin, eligere, "to elect". In sociology as in general usage, the ?lite (the "elect," from French) is a relatively small dominant group within a larger society, which enjoys a privileged status which is upheld by individuals of lower social status within the structure of a group. - From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The top artists may hold a privileged status in the bonsai community, but they are not "upheld" by the lower status, instead they are upheld by the quality of their work, an artist is only as good as their creations. In fact, it is common that their privileged status is often attacked by those of lower status.
The term elite is often used in regards to education, financial institutions, and the military, but seldom with the artistic crowd. Avant-grade comes closer, but still misses the mark.
I could be wrong, but maybe a better term to describe the world-class bonsai creating artists is needed.
This does sway from the subject and I apologize. On the subject, Walter made it clear that being blind in one eye is not a fault inclusive to beginners, it is a flaw shared by many of all levels of skills.

Will


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 30, 2007 1:33 pm 
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I always liked the mindset that you have truly reached a high level when you don't have to be introduced.
The same could apply to bonsai. Goshin doesn't have to be named. It just is. The viewer will know that.


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 30, 2007 1:47 pm 
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I believe that becoming successful in any field, including bonsai is a matter of decision, more than anything else. If your decision is "Yes", then all you have to do is to make the sacrifice that comes with it. And here is the problem: 99% of us do not want to make the sacrifice. There is no free ride here.
There is a paradox in the title of this article: "Blind in one eye". The paradox is that in order to make it big and become successful in this field, you actually have to be blind at the beginning. What I mean is that you need to use your imagination and visualize in your trees the future. You can't just look at the present. When you look at your trees, you must be able to see what other people don't see in them.
Walter mentioned this himself.
So, this blindness is a double-edged sword: it helps you see the future, but it also prevents you from realistically see the present. It's like the tale of the magic key in the buddhist mythology: If you manage to get hold of the key to heaven, the same key will also be the one for hell. You must know how to use it to your favor.


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PostPosted: Tue Jan 30, 2007 9:09 pm 
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Regarding the original premise of the article I agree seeing a tree in person truly reveals the artistry. The ability to move ones head to take slightly different perspectives can offer much insight into the true success of a tree?s design and its execution. Even the best photographs can?t capture that. Regarding self evaluation, all artists have to be able to critically evaluate their own work. It's a popular topic in painting circles to discuss how does the artist know when a painting is finished - it takes a critical eye and vision for the piece.
As for the role of photographs in self evaluation, photographs can help, for just as an artist can be blinded by the future vision of a tree, the ability to move ones head while looking at a tree can allow the mind to overcome certain flaws. A 2D photo of a tree can make these flaws stand out.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Jan 31, 2007 10:30 pm 
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Quote:
This is the way it works: first you become elite in your own mind. Then you follow up with action, namely, what would the elite professional do if he was in your shoes. If you play this role long enough, people will start to perceive you as part of the elite soon enough. And this will show on the quality of your work as well. :)

Attila, I have no idea if your tongue was planted firmly in your cheek or not. From the way it starts out it almost sound like a comical parody. If that was the case then you made me laugh. If on the other hand it was not then I would disagree. Many "think" they are elite and may have thought this way for many years and still probably continue to think this way. Yet, without talent, no amount of wishfull thinking is going to produce better bonsai by simply thinking one is elite. If that was all there was to it, bonsaiTALK would be a forum of super elite's!
Best regards, Al


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