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artofbonsai.org • View topic - Becoming a better bonsai "viewer"
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 Post subject: Becoming a better bonsai "viewer"
PostPosted: Sun Apr 17, 2005 11:51 am 
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Location: Raleigh, NC
Hi,
This is an open thread to anyone who, like myself, would like to become a better viewer and interpreter of bonsai, which can only serve to make our own bonsai design better. I remember reading a while back about the differences in the Japanese language and other languages and how they relate to interpreting bonsai. I believe it might have been Mr. Rutledge's book or one of his threads where he touched on this topic. If I remember correctly, the shapes and styles used in bonsai have an entirely different and definitive meaning because of the importance of shapes and styles used in their word characters. Therefore, a Japanese person viewing a Japanese bonsai might have a different interpretation of the bonsai tree than someone who does not understand the meaning of shapes/styles in Japanese. I find this a very interesting subject, and would like anyone with better knowledge on this topic to expand on it further. Any other ideas about becoming better at viewing bonsai are welcome as well. Thanks.
All the best,
Jason D. Latter


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 Post subject: Becoming a better bonsai "viewer"
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I've read Van Briessen's Way of the Brush, (and the MSG Manual as well) a few years ago, it helped me a lot to understand the nature of the rules in bonsai and put them in the proper perspective. I completely agree with Peter that if one is not familiar with these oriental artforms, one cannot appreciate traditional bonsai in the correct context due to the lack of understanding of the aesthetics behind it. I realized this instinctively a long time ago and there were years when I've spent more time studying Chinese painting and Japanese woodblock printing than studying bonsai.
I have several of Cahill's books as well they are great reading material, thanks Peter for the comprehensive list.


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PostPosted: Thu Jun 30, 2005 11:00 pm 
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The other day I was sculpting a little pin with the Japanese characters for "bon" and "sai". It struck me that the brush strokes themselves were strangely reminiscent of bonsai, the angles and shapes were haunting when viewed in that regard. So this thread really struck a chord.
So, is it reasonable to say that Classical Roman lettering, columns, and artwork "speak" to the educated Western viewer in subliminal ways; Mayan writing, architecture, and artwork "speak" differently to one who knows how to look; Germanic Blackletter and the accompanying architecture and artwork also have feelings and interpretations associated with them? The lettering reflects the philosophy and world view of the culture?
Wow. That's a lot to wrap your mind around.
We certainly use lettering to reflect our intent and inflection. There is stern lettering and friendly, official and casual, gaudy and plain. Does it speak to more than our surface familiarity? (In other words, are we programmed by contact with lettering, to expect certain intents with certain lettering styles, or is it even deeper?)
Joanie


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 01, 2005 7:55 am 
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Joanie
since I work with Typography quite often, these questions concern me. However, I can only speak about 'latin' lettering.
When you are creating a company logo or use handwritten letters as design elements, the question will always be if the viewer can see what letter there is: Will he see the reduced 'G' or will he see a 'C' instead?
Then there is a deep going accomodation to what graphists call rhythm. A good typographer will keep care all spaces between letters are about equal. You do not have to be a pro to see the big holes bad software produces between 'V' and 'i' as example. To repair it is work, however. 'Spacing' the versal letters of a widely set roman antiqua is in fact a mastership.
I have a little collection of faults. As example, there is a photography of a churchbell. There you almost always find some text on, made from wax letters being fixed on the model. I show this photography sometimes and ask people, if there is something strange about it. Almost all see after some time, that a little 's' looks different. Well - it was fixed head down and so it is out of balance - the lower part of an 's' is always a little bigger that the upper part, although they seem equal.
Conscient action (and hard work - look at childern!) first, writing and reading in the course of a lifetime becomes a reflex almost. You 'get the feeling' of it. But only there where you are. It would never accept to do a russian company logo. I do not have the feeling for cyrillic letters. And these are still very close to latin letters. And both are normed, technical letter systems, not 'pictures', what the chinese letters originally are. So, I can somehow fancy how delicate japanese brush-writing must be.


Last edited by Andrew Loosli on Sat Jul 02, 2005 6:35 am, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Fri Jul 01, 2005 11:38 am 
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Andrew, thank you, that was very interesting. You would know a lot about lettering styles and positions! When I took calligraphy, many years ago, we learned a lot about spacing in hand lettering. We also learned (and this may not be true, but the teacher said that it was) that if the top line of your small letters was even, the bottoms of the letters could be slightly uneven and no one would notice.
You may not be familiar with the Russian lettering, as such, but if the Russian lettering is strongly vertical and with very sharp edges/corners, with a bold line to form the letters, do they perceive that as "stern"? Are the lighter, softer, more flowing lines "friendly"? Does the Russian lettering have echos in their architecture and art?
Here's another way of looking at it.... if you were given examples of the lettering, architecture, and art of four or five cultures that you are unfamiliar with, could you match them up? Could you find the echos in each component that reflects the other components?
Joanie


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PostPosted: Sat Jul 02, 2005 6:59 am 
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Joanie
It will take a lot of time to really think that through. I have some hints from my limited knowledge about typography, that may be clues to you, too.
It is in fact astonishing to learn about similarities in the history of letters and other art forms. Renaissance letters are (from here on I am using my personal, subjective terms to describe) severe, clear, they aim to have an ideal form. Barock brings something new and you will see the idea of 'bar-occo' easily. The famous Giambattista Bodoni went a step forward: He was seeking to design letters that could be scratched into copperplates, the state-of-the-art printing technology of his days. This work had to be done as mirror-image. The former letters with their clear 'direction' from left to right (a result from handwriting) were very confusing to be reproduced like that, so he designed more or less symmetric letters. At the same time they are fitting the contemporary architecture. And so it goes on and on. A 'Schwabacher' reflects architectural ideas of that time and for sure the name 'Futura' has something to do with italian 'futurismo'. Bauhaus had its echo in typography and today the 'digitalism' produces equivalent letters.
There is just one thing I do not know: Which is the chicken, which is the egg? When have technical reasons formed letters, when was it the search for beauty? The famous quote 'form follows function' shows, how complex this can be. In another place there is a discussion, if traditional forms of appletrees could be a base for 'new' bonsai styles. The old man living across my place, who has a very beautiful old applegarden once said to me about pruning: 'When a tree looks good, it will also bring a lot of fruit'. 'Looking good' means 'known to be fruitbringing'. But to him, it is beauty, too.


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