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Judging Bonsai

By Attila Soos - USA


Judging Bonsai

Judging bonsai is like judging any other art form: always controversial and highly subjective. And yet, we all agree that certain bonsai are better, or much better, then other. In the following article, I would like to explore the various aspects of judging a bonsai, and also design a judging system that can be used to determine the relative quality of one bonsai, compared to another.
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Aims in Bonsai: A Psychological Perspective

By D. Williams, USA


I think there is often perhaps some confusion between the object (the tree) and the subject (our ideas concerning trees). When we view an object such as a tree, we are usually dealing with the projection of stereotypes or, more accurately, 'schemata'. The tree, objectively, looks like a tree. It only looks like a bonsai to someone with a schema for bonsai (i.e. a preconceived cognitive 'template' for the defining characteristics and form of a 'bonsai'). With no a priori knowledge of bonsai at all, it would just look like an odd shaped tree; perhaps a caricature of a tree.
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Aims in Bonsai: A Psychological Perspective

Bonsai as a Western Art

By Colin Lewis - USA


Bonsai as a Western Art

IT DOESN'T REALLY matter whether our individual fascination with bonsai began via gardening, art or a general interest in things oriental, we all have much to learn. Those who were introduced to bonsai through gardening will have the knowledge and confidence that will give them a head start in the horticultural processes involved. Those who came to bonsai from an artistic background will already have a grasp of the aesthetic principles of line, form, balance, etc.
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The Correct Way to Make Art

By Nancy Doyle, USA


I sometimes receive e-mails from people who seem to think there is a way to paint a good painting - a correct way - which when followed produces an indisputably good painting. They seek a magic formula - Step 1, Step 2..., a closely guarded secret that they can use to become a good painter - quickly. When I hear this, I wonder: Is there a correct way to love someone? To make an ice cream sundae? To sing, to write music? It seems to me that the heart and soul of art, and some other things, is how each person creates their own unique likeness.
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The Correct Way to Make Art

Behind the Rules

By Robert Steven - Indonesia


Behind the Rules

Obviously, all the textbook conventions for bonsai are derived from fundamental concepts of artistry and aesthetic principals of visual art. Among the aesthetic principals of visual art are line, form, color, texture, composition, dimension, perspective and balance.
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A Brief Exploration of the Literati Style

By Will Heath, USA


Like the style itself, the name used to describe it takes on many forms and the usage changes from region to region. The word Literati is used by many practitioners and is a Latin name originally attributed to the Japanese Bunjin due to the lack of an exact English equivalent. Bunjin is in turn a translation of the Chinese Wenjen, the word used in Chinese to denote those scholars who were practiced in the arts.
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A Brief Exploration of the Literati Style

Balancing the display - in three steps

By Morten Albek, Denmark


Balancing the display  - in three steps

If you're just beginning to consider bonsai display and the basics of artistry, the many conventions surrounding traditional bonsai display may leave you confused. Face it, all of the fussy particulars for how to properly display a bonsai can prove to be either daunting or maddening. It may seem easiest to simply ignore the traditional conventions and just do your own thing when displaying bonsai.
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Thoughts About Viewing Bonsai

By Walter Pall, Germany


From the point of view of the designer, bonsai is the art of making visible something that was not there previously, which belongs to the unknown and cannot be not understood with our intellect. The intellect can help in thinking about the story the tree is telling us about nature. But the intellect cannot help us in really making understood the emotions that this story evokes.
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Thoughts About Viewing Bonsai

Bonsai Display 101

By Andy Rutledge, USA


Bonsai Display 101

If you're just beginning to consider bonsai display and the basics of artistry, the many conventions surrounding traditional bonsai display may leave you confused. Face it, all of the fussy particulars for how to properly display a bonsai can prove to be either daunting or maddening. It may seem easiest to simply ignore the traditional conventions and just do your own thing when displaying bonsai.
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Displaying Bonsai Indoors

By Morten Albek, Denmark


Bonsai can easily be brought inside the house for showing. It is a good way to welcome guests, or simply to enjoy a bonsai yourself. It is a Japanese (owners of bonsai) custom to set up a fine bonsai on display in order to welcome and show respect for the guest. As I visited Mr. Tomio Yamada, the owner of the Bonsai garden Seikou-en in Omiya, Japan, some years ago, I was welcomed by a stunning Juniper communis. It was placed in the Tokonoma that was in the main building of the garden.
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Displaying BOnsai Indoors

Avant-garde Bonsai

By Will Heath, USA


Avant-garde Bonsai

We've heard this question many times during the past few years. It divided the bonsai community, and turned long-time friends into enemies. Some would turn away in disgust as soon as this question reared its ugly head in Internet discussions.
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Imitation

By Will Heath, USA


The debate about imitation in art has been waged since the first artist saw the work of the second artist. As history shows, even some of the greatest artists of the world could not agree on whether imitation was an advantage or disadvantage to the artist.
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Imitation

Editorial: Is It Art?

By Attila Soos, USA


Editorial: But Is It Art?

We've heard this question many times during the past few years. It divided the bonsai community, and turned long-time friends into enemies. Some would turn away in disgust as soon as this question reared its ugly head in Internet discussions.
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Displaying Shohin Bonsai

By Morten Albek, Denmark


Displaying Shohin-bonsai isn't the easiest thing in the world compared to displaying traditional bonsai. Shohin-bonsai demands more trees available at the time of displaying, and more creativity must be put into the display some times.
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Displaying Shohin Bonsai

Displaying Shohin Bonsai: The Rack and Placement of the Trees

By Morten Albek, Denmark


Displaying Shohin Bonsai: The Rack and Placement of the Trees

There are seven positions to place the elements.
To obtain harmony of the whole display, the seven elements are a necessity.
Don't use any equal species twice in the display. Also the style and the color of the pot may not be the same one.
The species and their style and color, their fruit and their size has to differ, in order to make a well balanced and beautiful display.
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Display Styles

By Morten Albek, Denmark


There are three basic forms of bonsai display styles regarding to the Japanese traditions. They are named shin, gyo and so.
These examples take their start point in the cases where a scroll is used. There are plenty of examples of displays where a scroll is not used, but the basic styles are easier to explain by the use of a scroll.
In the case of Shohin-Bonsai displays, it is important to note that the overall point is to express beauty and the time of year (summer, autumn, winter or spring).
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Display Styles

Photo Essay: Mushrooms

By Will Heath


Photo Essay: Mushrooms

As bonsaist, we spend a great deal of time studying trees in their natural environment. We observe their beauty as we drive past them when we commute and we rejoice in their splendor as we walk through the woods and forests.
Many of us widen our vision even further and see not only the tree, but also the micro and macro environments that the trees grow in. We see the under-story plants, the natural accents, we see the symbolic relationships that the trees in nature share with the ferns, the moss, the lichen, and other plants. This "sharing" of growing space is what we attempt to duplicate when we use accents in our bonsai displays.
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Pen, The Origins of the Shallow Tray

By Robert J. Baran, USA


From seven or eight thousand years ago and crafted in fishing settlements along the southern coast of what is today mainland China comes the earliest pottery currently known to us from there. Bowls and large-globular jars were made from a thick gritty clay. Beautifully painted red earthenware pottery, some later pieces showing clear evidence of having been turned on the potter's wheel, was made by this Yangshao [Yang-hsiao] culture.
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Pen, The Origins of the Shallow Tray

Art of the Mud Man

By Myron Redding


Art of the Mud Man

A brief discussion of collectable mud figures in relation to historical Chinese Pen'Jing & modern Bonsai.
Mud figure, mud man, san kai, whatever one chooses to call them, one fact will always remains the same, either you like them or you don't!
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The Myth of the Single Front

By Will Heath, USA


There is a prevalent idea in bonsai that a single small slice of the whole, a single artist defined view, commonly called the front, should be selected and styled for a very narrow viewing frame and displayed in such a manner that only this small view is shown.
It is too often insisted that a bonsai must have a single defined front
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The Myth of the Single Front

Back to Back: Demonstrations

By Hector Johnson, Australia; and Vance Wood, USA


Back to Back: Demonstrations

Picture the scene: A crowd of awe-filled bonsai enthusiasts, sitting on uncomfortable plastic chairs, watching the unthinkable... a venerable pine or juniper being wired, shaped, trimmed, pruned, root-pruned, twisted, transformed into a bonsai that they could only dream of creating themselves.
At the end of the show they all cast lots for the "Emperor's Discarded Clothing"... the new masterpiece in their midst...
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Living Sculpture, not Living Painting

By Attila Soos, USA; and Will Heath, USA


Bonsai is closer in comparison to sculpture than any other art form in existence today. When styling, viewing, and displaying a bonsai - or debating the artistic merit of design, people may wrongly compare this art to painting. Some also seem fixated on concentrating their efforts toward a single view commonly called the "front"...
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Living Sculpture, not Living Painting

Back to Back: Instant Bonsai

By John Dixon, USA; and Will Heath, USA


Back to Back: Instant Bonsai

I've always heard to become skilled at debate one must take a subject that one supports adamantly, and dispute the very traits that one likes about it. When the subject of 'Instant Bonsai' was brought up by Will Heath, it intrigued me as a worthy article. Now that he has decided to argue for instant bonsai and I against it, I find that I will not be improving my debate skills this time around.
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Bonsai by Numbers

By Howard Smith, USA


The term cookie cutter bonsai has stuck under my craw ever since it was first coined. Perhaps it is not the term itself that offends me, but the context in which it is used. It is often applied when referring to a Japanese Masterpiece. I would love to have a backyard full of these so called cookie cutter plants; they just don't look like cookie cutters to me. Perhaps if I stand fifty feet away from these Japanese artworks they start to blend together.
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Bonsai by Numbers

The Role of the Stand

By Attila Soos, USA


The Role of the Stand

Few issues pertaining to bonsai carry as much uncertainty and controversy as does the correct use of the bonsai stand when displaying our trees. Many of us feel at home when shaping our trees, but suddenly tread on shaky grounds when the issue of display stand comes up. This is mainly due to the fact that we have no problem being inspired by our landscapes and our trees, but cannot easily relate to a bonsai stand, an accessory originating from the traditions of the Orient.
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The Tokonoma Window

By Carl Bergstrom, USA


The window in the tokonoma serves dual purposes. The window provides a way in for light; it provides a way out, for the eye. The former is well appreciated. I will treat the latter here.
Just as a successful composition requires a path that eye can follow smoothly into the image, a display also requires a way out by which the eye can gracefully exit without beating an awkward retreat the way that it came.
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The Tokonoma Window

Bonsai and the Ancient Art of Rhetoric

By Attila Soos, USA


Bonsai and the Ancient Art of Rhetoric

I believe that for anyone who is seriously engaged in arts, understanding the various aspects of art theory and its evolution has important benefits. One of them is recognizing the interdependence of arts at a deeper level.
One of the oldest theories having significant influence over the arts in the Middle Ages and early modern period is the ancient rhetorical theory.
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Artistic Limitations in Bonsai

By Richard Fish, UK


Bonsai as an art form, as opposed to a horticultural pastime, is often portrayed and likened to sculpture by its proponents. We often hear the term 'living sculpture' bandied around - and many seem to accept that this is an adequate description when trying to define bonsai art in a Western cultural context, or when attempting to define and categorize bonsai as an art.
This description has its uses ...
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Artistic Limitations in Bonsai

The Principle of the Steelyard in Formal Bonsai Display

By Carl Bergstrom, USA


The Principle of the Steelyard in Formal Bonsai Display

The conventions of formal bonsai display are more than arbitrary protocols lent gravity by the weight of history and tradition. Rather, the conventions of formal display reflect basic principles of perspective, balance, and composition. In an introductory essay on bonsai display, Andy Rutledge illustrates the way in which the layout of the tokonoma reflects the viewpoint of a human observer as she contemplates a natural scene.
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Artistic Composition and the Position of an Asymmetrical Nebari

By Carl Bergstrom, USA


The unassuming tree pictured above recently provoked an extended and at times heated debate on one of the internet bonsai forums. The topic: the "proper" relation between the position and movement of a tree's surface roots and the position and movement of its trunk.
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Artistic Composition and the Position of an Asymmetrical Nebari

Artist and Design Integrity - Winter Display

By Richard Fish, UK


Wherein lies the beauty of a deciduous tree such as a maple or hornbeam? We seem, by our very actions, to believe that the true magnificence of a maple is in full leaf, while the Japanese tradition is very different. Given that our art was taken to its current position by mainly Japanese aesthetic guidelines and that we borrowed the art from the Japanese, just as they borrowed it from the Chinese mainland, why have our views on the display timetable diverged so radically? Have we managed in so short a time to choose a different paradigm to suit bonsai to our own aesthetic sensibilities, that says that deciduous trees should be shown in leaf, or perhaps, have we simply got it completely wrong? My assertion is the latter of these options.
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Technology Killed the Bonsai Show Star

By Will Heath, USA


Not very long ago in order to display, view, judge, or compare bonsai you had to attend a show. At these shows or showings the bonsai were displayed at their best, neatly trimmed, pruned, polished, and slicked for maximum appearance and palatability. Soil was brushed, pots oiled, accents groomed and scrolls dusted.
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Technology Killed the Bonsai Show Star

When Good Art Goes Bad

By Andy Rutledge, USA


Well, it has happened now several times over the past few years, in several venues around the world and it's time to say something: Displays of bonsai combined with other examples of Western art do not work. At least such is overwhelmingly evidenced by the efforts presented thus far. So stop it. No, really.
Okay, so what about the idea of grand purpose and daring-do in artistry? Yes, there can be honor and reward in sticking one's neck out, in braving new territory. Art quality is somewhat subjective, after all, which means that boundaries are only vaguely defined. Pushing boundaries comes naturally to artistry. But in the cases we've been presented as yet, it is not boundaries that are being left behind, but artistry. .
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How Good Art Gets Better

By Carl Bergstrom, USA


Over the past four years, several American and European exhibits have paired bonsai with other pieces of art in non-traditional ways. The quality of the individual art pieces and the success of the overall images has varied widely from display to display and from exhibit to exhibit --- but these efforts are important steps forward in the development of Western bonsai display, for two reasons.
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How Good Art Gets Better