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 Post subject: Bonsai and the Ancient Art of Rhetoric
PostPosted: Tue Mar 22, 2005 11:15 am 
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This thread is for discussing Attila Soos' article, "Bonsai And the Ancient Art of Rhetoric."
http://www.artofbonsai.org/feature_articles/rhetoric.php


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 22, 2005 1:01 pm 
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Attila, beautiful essay and very thought provoking. You have hit on a theory well worth pursuing. For if bonsai is to have a 'western expression' it has to coexist within the western aesthetic. Most bonsai practitioners have been (knowingly or unknowingly) adopting the Asian aesthetic. Plato and other ancient European scholars ingrained in us an aesthetic based on physical beauty, per their definition - youth, voluptuousness and athleticism. The Asian aesthetic, especially the Japanese takes a different world view and uses what they call wabi-sabi - simple and aged beauty or less is more. I really look forward to the serious effort to explore bonsai using this different aesthetic framework. I hope it leads us away from someone patently saying 'It is not a bonsai' to 'It is art!'


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 22, 2005 1:58 pm 
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Attila,

Thanks for the excellent article, I just finished reading it and I hope to have more to say as I continue to reflect on it. I agree with you, Rob that highlighting the Western tradition is important in itself.

Walter Scott


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PostPosted: Tue Mar 22, 2005 5:41 pm 
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I may not agree with every conclusion you have drawn, but on the whole I find this a beautifully researched, interesting article. Thank you!

Lisa


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 24, 2005 2:07 pm 
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Thank you for the kind and encouraging words from everybody.
But enough of the niceties.

I am very curious about what do you think of some of the ideas mentioned in the article. Some of them are proven to be true time and time again, but others have remained to be controversial.

I hope you don't agree with every interpretation that I made. I would be very disappointed if you did. Rather boring.

Here are some issues that are controversial at best:
Keeping in mind the audience when you create your bonsai. Do you care who will see it? Or you say: This is the way I want this bonsai to look and I don't care what you think about it. I am doing it to please myself and not you.

My take: I do care how people interprets my work. I would like to please them as much as myself.

The critic - Do you think that anybody's opinion is equally important, or only the expert's opinion counts?

My take: only the knowledgeable opinion counts. The rest of them need to be educated.

Truthfulness - should we represent nature objectively, the way it is, or it's more important to show nature according to our beliefs, in a subjective way?

My take: showing nature in a subjective way is the purpose of art. Reality doesn't count. I just hope that my subjective reality is close to the truth.
Original or traditional? - Are traditional themes boring? Should we try to find new subjects, or believe that the traditions are so rich and diverse that there is no need to try to reinvent the wheel?

My take: Seing the traditional themes in a new light is very cool. Once in a while it's nice to try something original, but don't hold your breath.
I don't care if I'm dead wrong. The most important thing is that the issues are addressed and hopefully the truth comes out.
Would you please disagree with me?


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PostPosted: Thu Mar 24, 2005 8:04 pm 
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Quote:
Keeping in mind the audience when you create your bonsai. Do you care who will see it?

Let's say, that doesn't influence me while I work.
Quote:
Or you say: This is the way I want this bonsai to look and I don't care what you think about it. I am doing it to please myself and not you.

No, I only think something like that when I get criticism from people whose opinion I don't respect. Generally, I am too busy finding out what the tree has to offer, and working out the techniques to achieve it. In a sense, it's impersonal.
Quote:
The critic - Do you think that anybody's opinion is equally important, or only the expert's opinion counts?

The expert I'll always listen to, but I have had proof of remarkable insight from others, so I think one has to keep an open mind.
Quote:
Truthfulness - should we represent nature objectively, the way it is, or it's more important to show nature according to our beliefs, in a subjective way?

I never think about those questions, except when I visit a forum where they are being debated. Sorry!
Bonsai create themselves, on the basis of the material available, the way it inspires us, the extent of our knowledge and skills, and the need for them to survive and develop. All I aim for is to bring out the best in the tree, the best way I can. -- Mind you, I'm quite choosey about the material I use! ;-))
Quote:
Original or traditional? - Are traditional themes boring? Should we try to find new subjects, or believe that the traditions are so rich and diverse that there is no need to try to reinvent the wheel?

Originality is not something that can be aimed at, i.m.h.o. Either the bonsai material and the bonsai-ist have it in them to achieve it, or they don't . You need both; with only one of these factors, it's impossible.
Whether or not original and "traditional" (very relative term!) bonsai are great trees that suscite admiration and retain our attention, does not depend on either style, but rather on the quality of the work that has gone into them, and the artistry achieved. I just said, "does not depend", but I should have said should not depend. Regrettably, the rather forced search for renewal tends to narrow some spectators' views.
Quote:
Would you please disagree with me?

I don't think I disagreed all that much, or did I? I just wrote what I honestly think.
By the way, Attila, I couldn't access this forum for 2 days. I sent you a message via the Interactive Gallery mail service. Finally I got back here by typing "Attila Soos" in Google and changing my bookmark.
Lisa


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Fri Mar 25, 2005 1:01 am 
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Lisa Kanis wrote:
Generally, I am too busy finding out what the tree has to offer, and working out the techniques to achieve it. In a sense, it's impersonal.


Yes, that's how it really works. I may think about the audience after the work is done. Never during the work. I am always curious what they think or like, but all this analysis may come as an afterthought. I guess this issue becomes more important when one shows a lot of trees in exhibits and contests.

Lisa Kanis wrote:
I never think about those questions, except when I visit a forum where they are being debated. Sorry!
Bonsai create themselves


I think this intuitive process works to a certain point, but it is good if there is also some conscious analysis involved. The material may have a lot of character, in which case these elements will guide you and show you the way. But one may want to incorporate elements in the design that are entirely missing from the material. If I want to create a stately redwood, I need to know how an old redwood looks like. Or I need to imagine how it looks like. So there is a little more than just "bringing out the best of the material". The material may have a great nebari but nothing else. In this case you need to make up the rest using some kind of thought process.
(I am not sure what exactly happened to the data host, I was also locked out for over a day)

Regards,
Attila


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 26, 2005 10:32 pm 
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Quote:
Lisa: Generally, I am too busy finding out what the tree has to offer, and working out the techniques to achieve it. In a sense, it's impersonal.


To me it's intensely personal: it's jousting, playing poker, seducing - knowing how far your game mate will go before it will succumb to your will and do precisely what you have decided for it. Both artist and tree play this game. Very personal- for both players!

Quote:
Attila: I guess this issue becomes more important when one shows a lot of trees in exhibits and contests.


Yes it does. That is one of the driving forces that incites artists to do better. You ask whose opinion is more important, the expert or the lay person: both are important, but the really important opinions are those of fellow artists whom one admires and respects. One learns from other artists and one is inevitably influenced by them and their work. You can see their influence reflected in your work, and they see yours in theirs. In that sense, one does imagine their reaction to your current project.
Quote:
If I want to create a stately redwood, I need to know how an old redwood looks like. Or I need to imagine how it looks like.

The second of the two options would be art. If successful at the first (knowing what an old redwood looks like), you would be communicating to the audience very little more than they already probably know. Plus great skill, perhaps; dedication and a good sense of design. If successful at the second, you would be communicating something that did not exist before. Something from within you, from the landscape of your imagination. That is creating; that is art.

Quote:
Once in a while it's nice to try something original, but don't hold your breath.


Might as well hold your breath, because once in a while isn't enough. An artist should constantly strive to find new means of expression. Let me ask you this: I prefer to work on yamadori material, since they are all unique and present new challenges - how would you apply the term "traditional" in this case?

Not that I disagree with you.....

Colin


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PostPosted: Sun Mar 27, 2005 8:50 am 
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Attila,

Yours is an excellent article filled with excellent advice and observations. Any aspiring artist would do well to read it, and do poorly to ignore the lessons you cite. Bravo!

Kind regards,
Andy


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Sun Mar 27, 2005 8:51 am 
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Lisa Kanis wrote:
By the way, Attila, I couldn't access this forum for 2 days. I sent you a message via the Interactive Gallery mail service. Finally I got back here by typing "Attila Soos" in Google and changing my bookmark.


Lisa,

There was a slight problem with the server/phb which was resolved by Andy. We have recently started this forum and are still working out a few bugs. I apoligize for your inconvinence.

Colin,

Good insights, thanks, I may have just learned something from your comments.

Will


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PostPosted: Sun Mar 27, 2005 2:04 pm 
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Attila,

what an article! I don't rmemeber having read something about bonsai philosophy that impressed me more.

I will go into detail as soon as I have some time.

Walter


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PostPosted: Sun Mar 27, 2005 7:09 pm 
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Colin and Attila:
Quote:
I think this intuitive process works to a certain point, but it is good if there is also some conscious analysis involved. (...) one may want to incorporate elements in the design that are entirely missing from the material.


Quote:
To me it's intensely personal: it's jousting, playing poker, seducing - knowing how far your game mate will go before it will succumb to your will and do precisely what you have decided for it. Both artist and tree play this game. Very personal- for both players!


OK. Your points are well taken. I love the dynamic spirit in your description, Colin!

Obviously, I gave the impression of intuition and near-passivity as main operators in the creation of bonsai, which wasn't at all what I intended. My apologies! Let me try again.

Questions:
Can you repress the excitement you feel at the discovery of great bonsai material?
Can you stop yourself from immediately beginning to work out the possibilities?
Can you stop yourself from turning the tree this way and that, to see all its facets?
Can you stop thinking about the species, its characteristics, potential and problems?
Can you repress your pleasure as you mentally begin to design with structure, mass and negative space, in one way after the other?
Can you stop yourself from bypassing the obvious solutions, looking for something special?
Can you stop yourself from mentally working out technical ways of achieving the most appealing result, or of solving problems?
.... and lots more "can you?".

The answer must clearly be a big NO. That is what I meant by "a bonsai designs itself". I should have added: "because you are you, and so is the tree". (Elliptic, I know.)

It's impersonal in the sense that what we do is unavoidable. It's personal in the sense that the unavoidable includes everything that one is, and that one is capable of, at the time.

Workshops and interaction with true artists are the best way to extend the scope, and then, when we are working on our own again, we do what is unavoidable once more... but hopefully a bit better.
Lisa


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Mon Mar 28, 2005 12:58 am 
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Colin Lewis wrote:
Might as well hold your breath, because once in a while isn't enough. An artist should constantly strive to find new means of expression. Let me ask you this: I prefer to work on yamadori material, since they are all unique and present new challenges - how would you apply the term "traditional" in this case?
Not that I disagree with you.....
Colin


Colin,
Point well taken. I am glad that you are not afraid to say that striving for new forms of expression is a good thing. Most of us are secretly dreaming about it, but publicly rather say that the traditional forms are rich enough to stay within their limits.

Yamadori is a great way to go since one can always blame on the material any "blasphemy" that one may attempt.

Hopefully your encouraging words will stimulate the rest of us not to hold back any original idea for fear of being called ignorant or of poor taste. Being original contains a higher risk of failure. It's the law of nature: higher reward calls for higher risk. Only the bold and self-confident will take that path. Failure is fine as long as we recognize it and learn from it. It is very sad to see when the artist doesn't recognize it.

Lisa,
After expanding on your initial thought, it looks like a much more intense personal involvement. It is intuitive, nevertheless. A great side of that approach is the honesty and spontaneity resulting from it. The downside that I see is that one always see things from the same perspective. When doing that, we get so accustomed to our own shortcomings that we may have a hard time noticing them. This could be an impediment to growth and learning.

As you and Colin said, interacting with other artists helps to work on those shortcomings and expand the scope of our vison of the world around us. Without that feedback from others we would be very slow to learn.

Walter and Andy,
Thanks for the great compliments. I am flattered and humbled for these words coming from people whom I highly admire and respect.


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PostPosted: Mon Mar 28, 2005 9:49 am 
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Attila,
Quote:
After expanding on your initial thought, it looks like a much more intense personal involvement. It is intuitive, nevertheless.

;-) I knew I shouldn't have given in to the temptation of using rhetoric!
Oh well, at least it was fun.
Quote:
A great side of that approach is the honesty and spontaneity resulting from it. The downside that I see is that one always see things from the same perspective.

Not seeing any other perspective, I am unable to judge.
Quote:
When doing that, we get so accustomed to our own shortcomings that we may have a hard time noticing them. This could be an impediment to growth and learning.

That is why I'm so dumb, and why I have to rely on intuition to get me through life.
Lisa


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PostPosted: Sun Apr 03, 2005 2:15 am 
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Wow.
It's a good thing I never knew about all this when I started 'doing' bonsai. Now that I am sort of well down the road, I take solace in the fact that all this pseudo-intellectual stuff is totally irrelevant to doing bonsai. Or appreciating it.

Bonsai is about pruning and wiring, and maybe the odd other thing. It is not about Plato, Kant, Kierkegaard or Nietzsche.
Well, Nietzsche maybe.

De Sade, more likely. ;-)
However, if Plato, Kant, Kierkegaard or Nietzsche have influenced anyone's styling of bonsai, I would much like to see the results, with an elaborate dissertation (not exceeding 50,000 words) of how, for example, a bonsai influenced by the thoughts of Kant is different from a bonsai styled while under the influence of De Sade.

Come down to earth, you bonsai 'artistes'!
I am much impressed by all the learned talk. However, the learned talk counts for nothing if it isn't backed up by 'learned' accomplishments. For me, at least, the bonsai done counts for more than the bonsai talked.


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