Age Discrimination
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Author:  Vance Wood [ Wed Feb 15, 2006 10:08 am ]
Post subject:  Re:

Hector Johnson wrote:
To return to my original point. We are perhaps a little too bound up in notions of what the Japanese are trying to say (It's a Western trait to question and struggle against conformity) than we are with what spiritual significance underlies Eastern appreciation of art, including bonsai.

You bring up some interesting points and this is one of my favorites. I remember the last movie Peter Sellers made: Being There. The story about an idiot gardener who stumbles on the scene from out of no where and is equated to have all of this sage wisdom. Everything he said was stupid but was taken as brilliance. Perhaps we take some of this too seriously and maybe the Japanese are not trying to say anything at all.

Author:  Will Heath [ Wed Feb 15, 2006 10:47 am ]
Post subject:  Re:

John Dixon wrote:
Once again, if it doesn't inspire with it's mere presence, the bonsai's pedigree is irrelevant. Appearance of age, whether real or imagined, is always a goal to reach for in bonsai, in my humble opinion.

Why is appearance of age necessary in order to present an image that is visually pleasing?

We have mentioned this, debated this, and posted opinions but we have not answered this question.

Is there not beauty in youth? Is the sight of a group of young, fresh Maples racing toward the sun in an open field visually pleasing to others than myself?

I agree that an appearance of age adds greatly to many bonsai and many of these would not succeed without it but surely it is not mandatory in creating an artistic piece.

Author:  Vance Wood [ Wed Feb 15, 2006 11:22 am ]
Post subject: 

Why is the appearance of age necessary? I am not sure that it is, it simply is the way it has always been. However even the examples you just posted have the look of older trees----in my opinion. I am not sure you can create the effect we expect to see in a bonsai without trying to simulate age.

There was a bonsai book published about the same time Yoshimuras book came out. It is now out of print, I don't remember the name or the author, but it had some real interesting things in it. There was a section on growing Chrysanthemum bonsai, twisted trunk Black Pine and another part on a planting using Black Pine pine cones.

The pine cones were just planted on the surface of the soil and the seedlings allowed to germinate. By the end of summer you had a hundred little trees growing out of the one pine cone. It was said at the time this was a popular planting though I have not seen it since. So to answerer your question this would be a bonsai using really young material demonstrating youth.

Bonsai has always been in the past an art demonstrating the struggle to survive, so the idea of a youthful bonsai still eludes me.

Author:  Mike Page [ Wed Feb 15, 2006 12:27 pm ]
Post subject: 

In Morten Albek's excellent article he wrote: "In the eastern world, there is much respect for elderly people, because they have gained wisdom and experience, through a long life way towards enlightenment. This is contrary to the western way of thinking."
I'm sure this is an important part of the veneration of ancient trees, and the reason that the age component of bonsai is important to so many practitioners.

My mother's age was in the late '80's and near the end of her life. She loved Chinese food, and we would take her to our favorite Chinese restaurant when she felt able. Most of the wait staff were from China, and they would fuss over mother, try to make her comfortable and feel very welcome. Mother didn't understand why they seemed to pay so much more attention to her than to others. I tried to explain that it was a cultural difference between East and West. I don't know if it made any sense to her, but I learned a valuable cultural lesson.

Author:  Vance Wood [ Wed Feb 15, 2006 1:23 pm ]
Post subject: 

That's an excellent point, and I think there is probably a lot of weight to that argument. However it does not totally rule out the possibility of young looking bonsai from a Western point of view.

From an historical and cultural point of view the idea of a young looking bonsai, or attempts to create a young looking bonsai as an artistic goal is probably not valid.

There is another reason this probably will not work is the fact it is self defeating. Eventually this tree is going to age of its own accord losing it original identity as a "Young looking Bonsai", by default of its own advancing age. It is also possible that even in our Western culture, most observers of live growing trees will find the older trees more interesting and full of character than trees of lesser age.

Young vibrant trees usually lack a rustic character and indications of an interesting history; the things that make bonsai appealing to us. Without seeing examples of something differing from this view point I am afraid we might be trying to find a way to justify, or make appealing, the ubiquitous tree in a pot. I don't know I would go so far as to say it is impossible or forbidden but, I would think the artist who sets out to accomplish this feat has a giant task before them.

Author:  Carl Bergstrom [ Wed Feb 15, 2006 1:39 pm ]
Post subject: 

One further thought; if we are to extend our discussion to penjing and other forest plantings, there is a vibrant contrast that can arise from youth. Imagine the sunrise/sunset combination of a withered forest giant, its dead upper branches leaning out as if to encourage the young saplings - its offspring - that rise beneath it.

Off the top of my head, I do not recall seeing compositions like this one. If small trees are used, they tend to be used at the periphery for scale, perspective, and to fill out the shape of the overall composition -- not for youth.

So why not? Are there examples that I'm missing? Or is there some reason why this would not present an aesthetically appealing image?

Best regards,


Author:  Vance Wood [ Wed Feb 15, 2006 2:41 pm ]
Post subject: 

I think in the context you have presented it, yes it would work. I think now, as you pointed out, young trees are used in landscapes to give the illusion of depth. The problem is that the young trees are used as one might use a stone or accent plant to make the individual bonsai stand out, create depth, or accentuate the main tree.

Sadly that is not what I understand to be the original premise of a young styled bonsai. As I understand it this is to mean a free standing bonsai tree in a young tree style. This is a compelling concept, not so much as whether you should do it, but whether or not it can be done at all.

We all know you can shove a tree in a pot and call it a bonsai, but is it possible to put a tree in a pot that looks like a young tree and a bonsai as well? Without all of the equivocating and pontificating that would normally follow some sort of innovation that is so far out there, would enough experienced bonsai people view this tree as a legitimate bonsai? Or would it be followed by critiques that would suggest this and that for future development, supported by disclaimers that this will be an excellent tree-----some day-----when it's older?

Again I have to add just because I can't see it at this point doesn't mean it can't be done. Remember science says a Bumble Bee shouldn't be able to fly----nobody told the Bumble Bee.

Author:  Will Heath [ Wed Feb 15, 2006 2:58 pm ]
Post subject: 


You said, "However even the examples you just posted have the look of older trees----in my opinion"

While this may be true, these examples do lack the extreme taper, rough bark, Jin, and Shari we usually see used to show great age.


Do you still have those pictures of "Towering Style" bonsai handy? If so would it be possible to post one or two here?

If my memory serves me correctly, they had the appearance of youth and vigur.


Author:  Vance Wood [ Wed Feb 15, 2006 3:12 pm ]
Post subject: 

If those trees you posted are Representative of your idea of young trees, then I have to agree that it is possible. I guess it comes down to your definition of a young tree. However here is the conundrum: Eventually these trees are going to get old, and start taking on the look of age.

Normally in bonsai we are concerned with the idea of making a young tree look old. If your artistic purpose for this tree is to represent a young tree what are you going to do to keep it looking young? Viagra, and hair replacement? Sorry Will, I couldn't resist, maybe even weight loss treatments. If the point is to justify young trees being bonsai I don't think there is any question that you can do this. I hope that does not offend you, t'was just a joke.

Author:  Will Heath [ Wed Feb 15, 2006 3:15 pm ]
Post subject: 

It is the Lingnan school that practices the Towering Tree style.

It would seem this age discrimination is more prevalant in Bonsai than Penjing.
The acceptance of youth by the Chinese Penjing artists may well be directly related to the landscape paintings from China's past.

Below are some examples deeplinked from "Chinese Landscape Paintings: Journeys of the Mind in Space"

Author:  Carl Bergstrom [ Wed Feb 15, 2006 3:32 pm ]
Post subject: 

Beautiful landscapes, Will. The youthful groves there are lovely.

And that's a good thought regarding the towering tree style. I've attached one picture of the Lingnan Towering Tree style, from the Pacific Rim collection. My apologies for the background; I'll try to get a shot of this one isolated in front of a proper backdrop at some point. In any case, it's interesting how much this tree looks - or rather, feels - like those in the second of your landscapes.

Best regards,


Author:  Hector Johnson [ Wed Feb 15, 2006 3:45 pm ]
Post subject: 

I would point to quite a number of the illustrations in Yoshimura's book, to show young trees. In particular, there are many in grove or forest styles. There are also a number in two tree plantings.

It's not unknown, just unusual. I think the Japanese veneration of age and wisdom is largely responsible. A 200 year old tree is unlikely to look like a sapling.

Author:  Will Heath [ Wed Feb 15, 2006 3:49 pm ]
Post subject: 

Thanks for posting that picture Carl, it has been in my mind every since you first showed it to me.

Yes, America as well as other countries was introduced first to and influenced by Japanese bonsai, hence it is natural that we as adopted an inbuilt prejudice against bonsai that do not look old.

Maybe it is time to open our eyes and see that there can be some beauty in youth?


Author:  Will Heath [ Sat Sep 08, 2007 12:28 am ]
Post subject: 

While adding newly acquired content to our John Naka Tribute ( ) I ran across a quote by John that is fitting here...

"...the joy of working with very young trees could, unfortunately, not be enjoyed if all one's bonsai were old."
- John Naka - Eastman Kodak's Applied Photography Magazine. Issue #41, 1969

Author:  Nicholas Merriman [ Mon May 18, 2009 2:54 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Age Discrimination

I just wanted to say hi and add my bit as a new member of your site.

I am a younger bonsaist and can't help but think that bonsai is one of those things that the internet might as well have been created for.

I have truly enjoyed reading this article as well as the replies to it. It has been a "consciousness-expanding" read for me. And without the net I might never have had my mind opened this way.

Thank you all.


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