Bonsai is NOT Art, now it's official!
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Author:  Vance Wood [ Wed Mar 14, 2007 8:18 am ]
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Well it has only taken us sixty years to get enough competence in growing the things that we now realize there is an artistic aspect to the endeavour. As to the British Council? These kind of groups have over the years been notoriously wrong.
Before Newton, what we describe as gravity was explained with the understanding that all things longed contact with Mother Earth. Things that were moving slowed down because they got tired(that's my favorite). The every classic: The world is flat, and the center of the Universe. When ignorant people make rules and judgements their rules and judgements are usually ignorant as well. Having a title before your name does not always give credence to your opinions unless the title is God. These are the same types of people that would OOO and Ahhhhhha, over a mason jar filled with urine or fices, with some icon stuck in it. The only problem is that they control the pruse strings.

Author:  Yanic Arsenault [ Tue Mar 20, 2007 5:38 pm ]
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I think the reason why most outside the art of bonsai struggle with the concept of it as an art is the same as trying to grasp the Taoist principle of P'u - The Uncarved block.
For those who are not familiar with the principle, it is simply that every part of the Universe in it's original simplicity has a power that is in the silent potential residing inside of it. It's when the simple balance is spoiled by complexity, that power changes.
I see bonsai as a never ending art. A constant evolution that will never be finished. It's the forever Uncarved Block that will be balanced and maintained in it's truest most simplest form but will never be completed because completion would mean loss of that simplicity and changing of that power.
I can see how an art lover would cringe at the idea of looking at something and being told, "but it's not finished"... imagine being told "it will never be finished"...
We are not all meant to understand things the same way. We are a rare few that can see the beauty in the complexity of a simple tree.
Now I am by no means trying to excuse anyone for lowering our passion to that of the simple "growing of a tree", but it does bring the mind to wonder about processes with which people view all things.

Author:  Attila Soos [ Tue Mar 20, 2007 6:07 pm ]
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Hi Yanic,
I like your observations, and I agree with you that people would feel very unconfortable when told that their precious work of art is never finished and always changing.
When thinking about this, a few more things came to mind. When it comes to fine arts, people value them not only for their aesthetic value, but also as an investment. In addition, human nature also craves for permanence and is afraid of change. We want things that we highly value to last forever, and we don't want them to change.
Bonsai doesnt' meet the above mentioned criteria. It changes. One pays ten thousand dollars for a great bonsai, and he will be terrified to find out that next year he may have an entire different tree from what he paid all that money for. This is a big problem for a lot of people.
The other problem is permanence. Bonsai, and life in general, is not permanent. It may die. This is another thing that scares people and makes their investment risky.
In the light of the above concerns, people may just decide that bonsai is not art. Instead of being unconfortable with impermanence and change, it is easier to conclude that bonsai is not art, and the case is closed.
In order to make it easier for the public to accept bonsai as art, we need to address the source of their discomfort. In Japan, and the Far East in general, this is much easier. In the West, it will be a little harder.
Here are a few reasons why it is easier for people in the Far East:
They are not afraid of impermanence. In fact, it is part of their culture. The Budhist philosophy regards impermanence as one of its main focal point. There is not much that we can do about this in the West.
Another reason is that in the Far East (particularly in Japan), they have a solid infrastructure of bonsai professionals that can ensure that a top bonsai stays in top condition practically forever. They have many great artists and craftsmen who can do the yearly maintenance. And if one goes, there is another one who can take his place.
This is where the West can greatly improve, if bonsai is to be accepted by the public as art. To have enough professionals, so that the collectors are confident and confortable that their precious investment is always taken care of by a professional. And they don't have to worry that if the professional in their neigbourhood is not there anymore, they cannot find another one. When this worry is taken care of, the public will be much more confortable to accept bonsai as work of art.
Naturally, those of us familiar with bonsai know that change can be a source of great joy. Change is one of the main charms of bonsai. The spring blossoms, the fresh leaves of early summer, and the fall foliage is the magic that bonsai can offer, and other works of art cannot. People afraid of change need to be reminded of that.

Author:  Richard Moquin [ Wed Mar 21, 2007 7:44 pm ]
Post subject:  Re:

Dorothy Schmitz wrote:
Perhaps we should start building our own"Bonsai Art Museums"(statewide) and add some space for contemporary artists in a rental gallery to fund the place..
Everybody would be pleased!?

Now that would be a wonderful idea!!

Author:  Richard Moquin [ Wed Mar 21, 2007 7:50 pm ]
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The raptures, embraces and joys of our chosen passion is definitely not understood by everyone, that is the sadest truth. Unless someone is involved in our beloved "craft" we are just a bunch of crazy people growing tree in "pots" no more, no less.
I guess the question remains, is it truely important to acquire "art" status? Those who share in the passion, I believe couldn't care less what status our passion is given.

Author:  Vance Wood [ Wed Mar 21, 2007 8:24 pm ]
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Maybe those of us in bonsai who think the way we do should stop trying to prove that Bonsai is an art and instead, continue claiming that it is. Challenge those who disagree to prove it is not. That leaves them having to do the more difficult tasks; proving a negative.

Author:  Will Heath [ Thu Nov 12, 2009 5:56 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Bonsai is NOT Art, now it's official!

syohin wrote:
The real art is in the display.

This is like saying the real art in painting is the framing.


Author:  Mike Page [ Thu Nov 12, 2009 6:01 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Bonsai is NOT Art, now it's official!

May we say that art can be both a journey and a destination?


Author:  Vance Wood [ Thu Nov 12, 2009 6:44 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Bonsai is NOT Art, now it's official!

syohin wrote:
I many ways I agree. if one follows the tradtional Japanese rules as a guide not as law you will find there are very few artistic descions to make when it comes to styling. The art is in the more in the choice of pots, stones and accents plants and even here there is a method behind it. The real art is in the display.

This argument has been made many times before. If you follow the traditional rules of branch placement and are lucky enough to not kill your tree trying to squeeze it into a bonsai pot you might come up with some semblance of a credible bonsai. This is more or less the mantra of the "Bonsai is a craft" crowd. However; when you look at the results some are capable of producing, as demonstrated on this site and on IBC, you should be aware that if you were handed the same material and tried to follow the rules you would not come up with the same, and I might add, spectacular results. So what is the difference? In a word: Art. You might argue that bonsai in and of itself is not an art but it takes an artist to come up with some of the images created. So the question is left hanging. If an artist creates a bonsai will that bonsai be Art?

Author:  Ana Veler [ Fri Nov 13, 2009 8:00 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Bonsai is NOT Art, now it's official!

Much as I love to hate the very idea of an official pronouncement about art, this one is so official, it must fit under the title of this thread!

The Japanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs takes pride in bonsai as a 'Pastime Art'. There's no pigeon-hole for 'Arts' without an attribute:

Perhaps it was down to Karma that the website remained in a permanently unfinished state [Hic!] despite haute patronage? The page seemed worth picking because the pigeon-holing act is fairly spontaneous. At the very least I would expect that the developers were as conservative as one might be expected for the job and did not deploy some quirky personal view of which things are Art.

Funny... Perhaps that situation is simply one of whatever fleeting kind when an answer - one answer, and only one - is mandatory for such a question? If the weight of dedicated paper is any sign, much of the fun must be in the asking: the matter of classification wanders through a wonderfully short, but intricate history of Aesthetics - as a species of philosophy - in Japan. A few samples that happened to be in my way recently, bring up bewildering wobbles around familiarly European abstractions stranded in odd circumstances:

“Unfortunately, however, even today we have not attained the truth of beauty […]. Yet, oddly, people who are confident enough to call themselves artists do not show any intention of offering an opinion as to what art is…” [Tsubochi Shoyo, What is Beauty? in Michelle Marra, Modern Japanese Aesthetics: A Reader, page 49]

I am mostly guessing that the cultural clash of restoration must have produced oodles of excruciating writings: there were honest attempts to classify European philosophy including aesthetics, and more feeding on the various incongruities... If anyone needs evidence for the well-worn saying that "no one is prophet in their own country" there is plenty to go around in the Meiji-onwards Japanese approach to western aesthetics! All in all, it may be that the ‘Pastime Arts’ were too tough to crack. Sounds familiar?

Author:  jason mazzy [ Wed Nov 18, 2009 1:12 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Bonsai is NOT Art, now it's official!

I would say they are right. Growing trees is not an art/visual art as they would say. Look at my 500 year oak in the yard. it is just naturally growing there. Now the displaying of trees is art. And more so the displaying of trees whos design has been altered by unnatural force to display a representation of a subject is art. And in this case the subject is the mimic of old/ancient/contorted, or any combination of these descriptions, trees of stature Thus this in definition, defines this subject or manipulation as art. If I lined up 20 natural growth trees in a specific pattern, to convey my message, it would be art. If I spray painted a tree with a smiley face or series of random spatter it would be art, or if I take a tree such as boxwood and carve said branches to form an interesting shape or mimic an animal etc. this would translate to art. Bonsai needs to be reintroduced by the terms and standards of what art is. Bonsai is not growing trees. It is the shaping, changing, and manipulating of a subject to create a visual representation of something else. and thus..... art.

Author:  Ana Veler [ Thu Nov 19, 2009 7:03 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Bonsai is NOT Art, now it's official!

jason mazzy wrote:

Bonsai needs to be reintroduced by the terms and standards of what art is.

Anything good to read on the subject?

Author:  steelydave [ Thu Feb 11, 2010 9:09 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Bonsai is NOT Art, now it's official!

Just my own opinion, the dictionary defines "art" as:

1. the quality, production, expression, or realm, according to aesthetic principles, of what is beautiful, appealing, or of more than ordinary significance.
2. the class of objects subject to aesthetic criteria; works of art collectively, as paintings, sculptures, or drawings: a museum of art; an art collection.
3. a field, genre, or category of art: Dance is an art.
4. the fine arts collectively, often excluding architecture: art and architecture.
5. any field using the skills or techniques of art: advertising art; industrial art.
6. (in printed matter) illustrative or decorative material: Is there any art with the copy for this story?
7. the principles or methods governing any craft or branch of learning: the art of baking; the art of selling.
8. the craft or trade using these principles or methods.
9. skill in conducting any human activity: a master at the art of conversation.
10. a branch of learning or university study, esp. one of the fine arts or the humanities, as music, philosophy, or literature.

I would consider bonsai art, but I'm sure there are those that don't agree. That's fine, everyone has an opinion.

Author:  Ana Veler [ Fri Feb 12, 2010 7:01 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Bonsai is NOT Art, now it's official!

steelydave wrote:

Just my own opinion, the dictionary defines "art" as:

I would consider bonsai art, but I'm sure there are those that don't agree. That's fine, everyone has an opinion.

I doubt many would disagree with the dictionary, however.

Author:  Vance Wood [ Fri Feb 12, 2010 10:38 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Bonsai is NOT Art, now it's official!

If everyone has an opinion then no one opinion is correct----therefore no one opinion is incorrect. There is only endless argument over the nature of the Universe and the meaning of life.

I don't want the above seem to indicate that I am being flippant about this issue. I believe bonsai is an art and I will defend that opinion till my eyes bleed reading the opinions of those who believe it is not.

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