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 Post subject: Age Discrimination
PostPosted: Fri Mar 11, 2005 6:54 pm 
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Age Discrimination
by Will Heath

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Photograph by Walter Pall


In our wonderful art of bonsai there seems to be a heavy prevalence toward older, scarred, rougher looking trees that contain an overabundance of character. From forum to forum and book to book the same question is asked: "How do I make my tree appear older?" The same philosophy is ingrained into every newcomers head, "To create a successful bonsai, you must give it the appearance of great age."

Whatever happened to youth? The pure freshness, vigor, innocence, unmarred beauty of youth has escaped us as bonsai artists. Is there no beauty in a sapling reaching up in perfect health towards the life giving sun? Is there no merit in unscarred bark, thinly laced roots, leaves fresh and green with new birth? Is there no tales to tell of seedlings exploding with energy, of saplings being whipped by the wind, of the blank slate that youth so well represents?


Image
Photograph by Walter Pall


With the few exceptions of the "Towering Tree" style of penjing and a few odds and ends here and there, youth is almost completely ignored in the art of bonsai. For years we have gazed with envy at the ancient Japanese bonsai, in awe at the seemingly eternal trees, having these images of age impressed upon our very being. Have we been conditioned to only see the beauty in age and to forever ignore youth?


Last edited by Will Heath on Fri Jan 25, 2008 12:14 am, edited 3 times in total.

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PostPosted: Sat Mar 12, 2005 10:22 am 
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Will,

Interesting article.

I believe that a fundamental reason why young tree images are not more widespread could be the difficulty in actually performing the trick of fooling the mind. Young trees have different growth habits to old trees, yet if we incorporate these growth habits in our work, favouring long straight sections of growth without taper, over short interesting growth, then we end up with the image of a stick in a pot.

Pulling off the trick of "youth" successfully, without falling into this trap, is probably much harder than we might imagine.

Regards,

Richard.


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PostPosted: Sat Mar 12, 2005 2:44 pm 
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My response is along the lines of what Richard is saying. Creating the image of an old tree using a young tree as material is a great technical achievement. It involves technical knowledge and great craft, all of which take time to develop but achievable. The image of an old tree also has the highest "shock value", the viewer gets the biggest bang for the buck. If we aim to impress, massive trees and lots of deadwood is the way to go (something like car chases in big-budget Hollywood movies).

Creating the image of youth does not lead to the above spectacular results. Freshness, playfulness, innocence, grace, these are qualities requiring a more subtle, less formualic approach from the artist. A greater artistic challenge.

Walter's first tree is an amazing example of the subtle artistry required to create such an image. It has grace and lightness to the extent I rarely see in bonsai. It amazes me every time I look at it.


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PostPosted: Sun Mar 13, 2005 6:18 pm 
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Very interesting and original point raised - youthful bonsai or celebration of youthfullness in bonsai.

Nothing uncommon in the demand, but isn't it a cardinal criteria of bonsai to create an illusion of aged, ancient, weathered battered. struggling yet living image of a tree?

Use of young material to convey the aged image is the most sought after skill of a bonsai artist in my humble opinion.

The attached photos in this thread denied me that illusion.

To view a lush greenary I might as well look to pot garden, why bonsai!


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Sun Mar 13, 2005 7:17 pm 
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Soumya Mitra wrote:
is'nt it a cardinal criteria of bonsai to create an illusion of aged, ancient, weathered battered. struggling yet living image of a tree?

To view a lush greenary I might as well look to pot garden, why bonsai!


I am afraid that the preconceived expectation that a bonsai HAS to represent nothing but the illusion of aged struggling tree is a serious hindrance towards achieving equal status amongst other fine arts. It is a very one-sided view.

If we percieve it as a craft, limited to one subject (namely the image of an old tree), so be it. In that case, we can create one old tree after the other, one straight, the next one crooked or slanted, and the third one twisted.

If we perceive it as art, the above restriction doesn't fly. As a form of visual art, it should be able to express anything that has to do with our perception of nature. We can't limit the creativity of artist to one (group of) subject.

Don't get me wrong. I enjoy the illusion of an ancient tree every bit as much as you do. But if I see bonsai as art, I see a serious conflict in expecting how a bonsai should look.

So, the artist may or may not be succesful in conveying the beauty of youth. The worst thing that can happen is when the artist creates a great piece expressing just that, but the viewer rejects it because of his prejudice or narrow-minded expectation.

This may sound like a rambling of rebel, but let me mention a name that may command some respect : Kyuzo Murata.

He was the official gardener of Japanese imperial bonsai collection since he was 30. In his book "Four Seasons of Bonsai" (I just looked at it again right before writing this post) a large number of trees shown there are young-ish looking. Maybe the majority of them, if would take the time to count.

Doesn't he know what a bonsai is about? Or did he deliberately choose bad bonsai in this wonderful book?

Best regards,

Attila


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Sun Mar 13, 2005 11:27 pm 
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Can youth be successfully represented in bonsai? If one were to say no, then Andy Rutledge's online book, Artistic Foundations of Bonsai Design, was a complete failure. Lets take a look at a couple of the images Andy has provided in the chapter "The Language of Artistry" which can be incorporated into the design of a young tree:

"Natural, sprouting, spontanious, happy"
http://www.andyrutledge.com/book/assets ... rved3a.gif

"Reaching, natural, youth"
http://www.andyrutledge.com/book/assets ... upward.gif

Also, one must note that smooth textures are typical of a young tree, while rough textures are typical of an old tree.

It may be difficult to convey the image of an young tree, but if one follows the guidelines that Andy has graciously provided, it will not be impossible.


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 Post subject: Re:
PostPosted: Mon Mar 14, 2005 1:56 am 
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Attila Soos wrote:
This may sound like a rambling of rebel, but let me mention a name that may command some respect : Kyuzo Murata. He was the official gardener of Japanese imperial bonsai collection since he was 30. In his book "Four Seasons of Bonsai" (I just looked at it again right before writing this post) a large number of trees shown there are young-ish looking. Maybe the majority of them, if would take the time to count.

Interesting - when I read Will's commentary, I too thought immediately of Kyuzo Murata's book. There is a whole langauge of artistry that one can use to convey the beauty and optimism of youth - and Four seasons offers plentiful illustration that this language can be used to brilliant effect in bonsai.

Best wishes,

Carl


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Mar 14, 2005 3:25 am 
Let us not forget the ?mature? trees. Strong, virile, spreading branches, offering shade to lovers or sturdy limbs for children to climb. That thing the average person thinks of when someone says "TREE"

It is, indeed, possible that those longest into bonsai become so imbued in the specifics that forgotten are the vivid examples all around. Naka in his books chose very bonsai-like trees to portray and illustrate for convertion. Many modern artists prefer to aim for the showiest techniques, masses of deadwood, old and gnarled trunks barely clinging to life. Few today work their trees to look true to the cultivar's habit.

Instead we have maples and elms styled similar to pines. This is perfectly fine if that suit's the artist taste. But we should never denigrate those who?s tastes differ from our own.

But for all the world, we each choose the style that best suits us and each strives to bring that style to its artistic fulfillment. This, to me, is the true essence of bonsai as an art form.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Mar 14, 2005 8:19 am 
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Charles,this is what Andy Rutledge also writes in the article you referenced:

Age-
' Usually, we develop and style our bonsai to convey a sense of great age. As mentioned before, bonsai often portray archetypical ideals. Regardless of the special individual character we work to portray with a bonsai, the impression of great age is almost always part of the message. However, most of the trees we most often work with are relatively young. Given many years of development, the telltale signs of age will come, but we also want our younger bonsai to appear to be very old.So, we must use artistic techniques to convey age.'

Apart from the connotation of age in bonsai design we have other points as well to consider as told by KYUZO MURATA. In his words it is bonsai spirit expressed thru WABI& SABI.

He also says'"I firmly believe the final goal of creating bonsai is to create this feeling of Wabi or Sabi in bonsai. He explains SABI as feeling of simplicity and quiteness which comes from something that is old and used over and over again. He gives example of such felling as of standing in front of Ryoanji's stone garden in Kyoto in the late autumn evening in misty rain.

I have not visited Japan yet I am quite content what KYUZO MURATA has to say on bonsai spirt.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Mon Mar 14, 2005 12:52 pm 
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I completely agree with Soumya that the the feelings expressed by the Wabi-Sabi character of a tree are intensified with age, and that the highest achievement in bonsai is to express those feelings.

However, by completely ignoring youthfulness in bonsai, we are diminishing the powerful impanct of showing great age. To demonstrate this with an example, a towering giant will have the greatest impact if shown amongst others of lesser height. The starker the contrast, the more powerful the effect.

Showing a group of trees of equally great age will have nowhere near the effect of another group where great age stands next to the freshness of youth. The latter case is where character and wisdom really stands out.


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 Post subject: The meaning of age in bonsai
PostPosted: Mon Mar 14, 2005 3:57 pm 
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This is an article i wrote some time last year with my proposal to why we seek the age in bonsai.

http://artofbonsai.org/forum/viewtopic. ... 2847#12847


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Tue Mar 15, 2005 3:48 pm 
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Excellent article MORTEN, it tries to close the gap by clarifying the socio-religio-cultural matrix of East and West.

But i would like to revisit the issue at its base .

This response is not gainsaying of the yowl for youth exhibited in this thread. This is just to put in proper perspective the apparent dichotomy emerging from opaque concept of bonsai.

The advocates of youth in bonsai presuppose youth as nonentity in bonsai since yore & assume to champion the new found cause.

The endeavor is laudable yet is non sequitur to the concept of the art of bonsai per se.

It seems the confusion arises if "youth" in the concept of bonsai is proclaimed as a destination or a hallmark rather than considering "youth" as just a phase in the journey of the "life-force" continuum.
In other words celebration of life all through.

The Chinese concept of CHI-( the dominant life force) along with CHING- KU &KWAI have been the guideline of bonsai concept for long so was the Japanese concept of WABI , SABI& KAMI .These concept focus on life in general in all thru the bonsai's journey to semi permanency.

It accepts the juvenile youthful phase as a transient part of CHI?S journey for manifestation of Wabi , Sabi, Kami ,Ching ,Ku & Kwai.


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Mar 16, 2005 3:37 am 
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Morten,
Thank you for sharing that thought-provoking article with us.

Soumya Mitra wrote:
It seems the confusion arises if ?youth? in the concept of bonsai is proclaimed as a destination or a hallmark rather than considering ?youth? as just a phase in the journey of the ?life-force? continuum.
In other words celebration of life all through.

Souymya

I like that: bonsai as a celebration of life all throughout. I see the value of a shift in thinking, so that youth in a tree is seen viewed as a transient stage of a life's journey. That is to say, I see that the image of youth can be well associated with a feeling or idea of transcience.

That does not mean that the artwork itself must be transcient to achieve this goal. One of the marvels of art is that through art we can make permanent that which is ephemeral. Rubens' portrait of his young daughter Clara Serena captures for me today the beauty of early childhood - despite the untimely death of its subject nearly four centuries ago. Art can suspend time, and despite its living essence this should be possible in bonsai as well; an image of transient youth which lasts for a century.

Best regards,

Carl


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Mar 16, 2005 8:46 am 
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Carl, I would have fully agreed to your artistic comment this time too yet i could not which is not to my liking.

From biological point of view you know jolly well the fallacy of the claim that bonsai can capture the image of youth permanently!

Bonsai is not static as a painting/photo/sculpture.These media hardly evolve over time significantly whereas bonsai is a living media.

Please accept life as a journey forward and manifest in transient phases, youth included.

What will happen to the youthful image in fall,winter?

it will comeback in spring, yes ,but the image is not even semipermanent for a calender year !

let's not try to stop the tide of life in an alive bonsai.
WE shall wither and gone and bonsai shall remain , giving us company as a considerate friend, growing and evolving with me & witnessing my journey to the ultimate bliss....... i know he will still be there to tell the story... s..l..o..w..l..y....


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 Post subject:
PostPosted: Wed Mar 16, 2005 12:09 pm 
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Carl asked 'Whatever happened to youth? The pure freshness, vigor, innocence, unmarred beauty of youth has escaped us as bonsai artists. '

As I reread his comments, I recognized this is why I, and perhaps others, have such a liking for deciduous and flowering/fruiting trees. No matter how old and gnarly, the flush of spring growth on old wood is especially welcome and poignant. I think it goes beyond transience...more of a reassurance of the cycles of life rather than of its ephemeral aspects.

It's enough to make one 'shiver with antici...pation!' ;-)


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