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Mass Produced vs Master Produced Bonsai - Only One is Art

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by Michelle Dougherty

Mass Produced vs Master Produced Bonsai - Only One is Art

Right Mallsai Ginkgo - Stock Image
Left Photograph and Bonsai by Walter Pall

Actual 'Art' is supposed to be a little bit misunderstood. Art should force a person to ponder, to feel an emotion more acutely. To be the most effective, it should not be immediately apparent what the full message is. The intention of the artist expressed in the carefully orchestrated details and layers should expose themselves gradually, the subtleties and nuances requiring extra attention to comprehend. This paradox of communication is occasionally a source of frustration for the artist, this feeling of sometimes being misunderstood.

If an artist is to maintain some sanity after finding a unique ‘voice,’ clarifying a message, defining a purpose, the art must be created for its own sake. The theory that the image will haunt you until it can be realized as an actual tangible thing may apply. Only after the process of creation will the creator of the work find satisfaction, relief, or particular joy. This must be the motivation and the reward. The work of art comes alive through the perception of it by others and the interaction that results. Art should not be created in a vacuum nor displayed in a closet. The artist’s obligation is to stifle personal doubts and their fear of criticism and allow the work to be seen.

Mass Produced vs Master Produced Bonsai - Only One is Art

Hibiscus: the flowers are too large and too many.
Wild cherry: a flowering tree can be tasteful and natural. Less is more.

Critique, Bonsai, and Photographs by Walter Pall

If a work of art is too obvious, or sentimental, or immediately accessible, the uninitiated public may be more likely to purchase the item to place on their living room mantle, or if a bonsai follows a current trend, it may be more likely to sell to a novice. This easy transaction results in some financial profit for the artist, but ultimately may place the art at risk of being labeled too “commercial,” by the rest of their artistic community (i.e. a Thomas Kinkade print or replica). Great art usually requires some rumination and cerebral struggle to initially create. It may stir up some controversy, then needs time to settle into the collective consciousness, and to be assimilated into the culture, to be fully appreciated for having had some effect. This occasionally results in the unfortunate fact that so many artists are only recognized and appreciated after they are gone. True artists are not followers of trends. They are visionaries, trailblazers, taste makers, risk takers, and founders of the ‘life imitating art’ reality.

When another person finally sees the value of the work and effort, or the genius of the impetuous, and then offers to buy, it becomes a rewarding personal exchange of gratitude and understanding. If the whole world wants to possess something, or it becomes the ‘it’ thing to have, it is likely due to one or several of the following: a monumental marketing campaign explaining virtues and magical problem solving powers, ownership of such an item by a celebrity or conspicuous public figure, the perception of future appreciation in value, or the appearance of having historical significance, i.e., a Dyson Vacuum Cleaner, an iPod, anything Picasso touched during his lifetime, a small pedigreed dog carried under the arm in public as a fashion accessory, a juniper cutting in a plastic tray with gravel glued on - so-called-Bonsai - typically sold in shopping malls. Over time this kind of highly sought after artistic work may prove to be in fact too commercial, ultimately fleeting, or of limited long term value. The realities of supply and demand warrant that mass produced products only achieve real value once they are no longer being made, some time has passed, their credentials established, they eventually become limited in availability and if they are still desired, become collectibles or assets. If it is too easy or inexpensive to come by, it is also easy to let go.

Mass Produced vs Master Produced Bonsai - Only One is Art

Paint-By-Number-Pine: the creation of Bonsai should not be an exercise in conformity, but an opportunity to stretch the limits of your imagination.
Walter Pall's Pine: needs no explanation.

Critique and illustration by Michelle Dougherty
Pine Bonsai and Photograph by Walter Pall.

If something is exquisitely crafted, completely original, made by human hands and conveys an emotion, it is art. If it is not immediately understood or accepted, that is okay. If it can pass the test of time it may be truly great art. Do not be discouraged for being misunderstood. Do not create for the purpose of obtaining acceptance or recognition that may never come. Define a purpose or goal, then turn your vision into reality and let that be its own reward. Let the challenges and set backs become opportunities to learn and grow.

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