I was steadfastly refusing to participate in this thread until I saw its spawning ground reprinted in all its glory in Bonsai magazine. I couldn't disagree more with the premise, assumptions, tone, and conclusion of this article.
Its premise: that American bonsai are deficient because a lazy breed of do-nothings fail to give proper respect to their elders and betters, and have "dumbed down" the art to the point of ultimate mediocrity. I say American bonsai has never had a better base to work from. Rob Kempinski and others are in a far better position than I to detail the fantastic and artistic work of so many North American artists who are gathering their own communities and promoting truly artistic bonsai. I have not been able to travel extensively and so visit bonsai masters all over the world, or even all over the country. But I have been exposed to great bonsai. I have worked on them and prepared them for display, and participated in what is arguably the best bonsai exhibit in North America. And this has taught me what photos and articles never could: what makes a great bonsai.
A) American bonsai lag far behind European bonsai. No evidence has been offered for this pessimistic, defeatist, and apparently self-loathing view, a view, I might add, that I have heard echoed repeatedly in this bandwidth. Whose bonsai are better? Boon's or Suthin's? Who could possibly care? I don't think Boon or Suthin do. Producers are always thrilled to see another producer. Truly great people recognize greatness in others and are spurred to even greater accomplishment because of it, rejoicing, not trying to overcome.
B) "Several world class masters and gifted amateurs" in Europe "would not exist if it were not for their bonsai communities (sic) desire to excel." Hogwash! Where do those communities come from? Do they spring whole from the mountainside and then elect a master? No, those with exceptional ability and passion naturally draw the like-minded and aspirers to themselves, like moths to the light. The masters make the communities, not the other way around!
C) Arguing that bonsai is not an art is ego driven. Perhaps there is an element of truth there. I would suggest that arguing it is an art has its own share of ego involved. Let him who is without sin...
Its tone: I'm appalled that this article has been held up for reprint in a publication. Its tone is negativity in the extreme, blaming unnamed straw men for all that its writer perceives as wrong with America, bonsai, and his own experience. Americans do everything "half-hearted, half-assed, and lacking commitment." Sir, that is nothing less than an insult. I can't believe you ended your article with it!
I think there is quite a bit that is right with bonsai in North America. Of course I don't think it's all it should be yet, but here are a couple of concrete suggestions that might make it better.
All the so-called "masters," those itinerant bands of nursery stock killers, should get off their high horses and learn some bonsai basics and some bonsai ethics. Quit playing to the mediocrity of "clubs" that want cookie-cutter demos for raffle to members who will kill them. Get into the locals and teach, for goodness' sake!
Every one of you open your eyes to more than one way to enjoy bonsai! If you wish to teach, you should know more than one species. If you want to teach, you should work with more than just collected trees, or just prebonsai stock, or just nursery stock. And if someone prefers to treat their bonsai as a hobby, then, who are you to say that they are wrong? It's their hobby! And as a more pointed aside, the sense of pride that one has never paid more than $XX for a tree is doing as much to spread mediocrity as any whippersnapper who doesn't toe the line.
Move beyond Naka. Teach those you teach to learn better ways to do things, beyond what the local clubs have seen. Learn to wire better. more beautifully, and more effectively. Guy wires only do so much! Encourage your students to use better, more effective soil mixes. And please, please, teach them to feed their trees! In my opinion, horticultural knowledge is truly one of the areas North Americans could improve their bonsai exponentially if they would learn it.
Finally, quit showing all your trees! One real advantage that might be seen from the European point of view, is that Americans seem willing to show almost anything! Compare your trees with the best trees in the world and then you will begin to see how far you may have to go.
The fact is that there are a large and growing number of masters who teach these things on a regular basis, and that's a beautiful thing. I say American bonsai as a culture and art is on the rise.