Is That Bonsai Real?
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Author:  Richard Fish [ Thu May 12, 2005 11:22 am ]
Post subject:  Re:

This is an interesting article. I have not commented before now, as I have been trying to find out where my own 'line' would be drawn in all this. At one extreme there is the anything goes mentality which would say that as long as it fools the viewer into thinking that it is real, it does not matter; at the other would be the catalogue of events and manipulations for the public to see the 'how.' I can't live with either of these extremes.

I do not want to know the how, when I see great trees in exhibitions - I am begging to be fooled - I want the illusion that creates the art. I will stand many feet away from the exhibits to absorb the display. Only when I am satisfied, will I be forced up close in my desire to learn for my own trees. There I can see where someone has used shoe-polish on a juniper trunk, or used various shades of ink in lime-sulphur to create depth in the deadwood. Up close, some of these tricks seem very artificial and the illusion is lost for a time for me.

In the end Mark summed up my feelings for me:
Mark Rockwell wrote:
I would tend to draw the line at adding things that the tree couldn't have in a wild state. That would mean bark or fruit from another species, plastic foliage or fruit or bark, or whatever. This is a purely hypothetical "pointy-headed" ;-) issue, however, as such things that tend to be most "egregious" at crossing some arbitrary line don't make for an effective bonsai image. The so-called "line" in other words becomes self evident when the image doesn't work.

Will, I think that your piece is very valid to us all. Bonsai is about the image and feeling of a tree in nature; of a time, a place, a memory, an emotion that communicates with us. If we go too far down the road of anything goes, because this is art, then bonsai loses its soul, just as contemporary ikebana has done. This could be a real danger - one only needs to look at the 'bonsai' planted in red glass beads and the displays of rusty iron and weeds that manage to sneak into bonsai shows. This sort of thing is not many degrees of abstraction away from plastic leaves and metal trunks.

All the best,

Author:  Will Heath [ Thu May 12, 2005 5:18 pm ]
Post subject: 

Yes I agree, Mark said it very well.
"I would tend to draw the line at adding things that the tree couldn't have in a wild state. That would mean bark or fruit from another species, plastic foliage or fruit or bark, or whatever."
Anything else is scupture and not bonsai, no less valid but completely different just the same.
Now if we could just have Mark cleabn up that quote and refine it, we may have a creedo!
Will Heath

Author:  Owen Reich [ Sun Jan 22, 2006 7:06 pm ]
Post subject: 

Mark Rockwell mentioned in an earlier post dog breeding. I found out last fall that there is an illegal procedure (according to the AKC) to implant plastic testicles to replace the ones removed by neutering to make the dogs appear "whole" during shows.

I'm sure you're all wondering what the point is, so here goes. I've done tissue culture research and other manipulative techniques to plants and these seem o.k. to me. We are merely tricking the plants to do what we want them to without endangering them too much.

If a tree isn't acceptable to the owner, why show it? If a bonsai enthusiast has to stoop to the level of glue and varnish then they are pursuing the wrong hobby. This art is for development of patience and appreciation of Nature's beauty in my humble opinion; not smoke and mirrors. This type of behavior seems a Little childish and I'm only 23.

I don't know about anyone else, but I've personally seen trees and other plants growing out of crevices in rocks as well as in small pockets of soil on top of large boulders. These seem like Nature's pots to me.

Author:  Shane McKenzie [ Sun Apr 30, 2006 11:02 am ]
Post subject:  Re:

Attila Soos wrote:
Adding fruits to a tree that does produce the same fruits is another example of acceptable practice. However, if you add something that the tree has never produced, I see that as dishonest.

Having only just heard of this practice in this article, I do not consider gluing fruit onto a bonsai for exhibition acceptable. I have certainly never read of this in any of my bonsai texts, nor could I find any info online. It irks me as dishonest to portray that your bonsai grew that fruit naturally when it did not.
What source lists gluing fruit on as an acceptable bonsai practice?

P.S. Thanks for your comments re scary trees; I haven't had time to post a considered reply just yet. 19 days to complete my PhD.

Author:  Hector Johnson [ Sun Apr 30, 2006 12:01 pm ]
Post subject: 

It's a common practice with quince, persimmon and pomegranate, Shane.
It's been done for a long time and is little different to grafting branches, when you think about it.

Author:  Will Heath [ Mon May 01, 2006 12:07 am ]
Post subject: 

Do you have any examples of trees with glued on fruit or a written source of the practice? I never actually thought this was practiced yet.

When we graft on a branch, it becomes permanent, a part of the tree. When we glue on fruit, it is just for the moment, a fleeting fix..


Author:  Hector Johnson [ Mon May 01, 2006 9:26 pm ]
Post subject: 

Take a look at many of the quince and persimmon specimens in back issues of BT.
I can't say I've ever seen it written anywhere, but a few master artists I know have explained how and why it is done. They both told me it is common in shows in Japan and Taiwan, especially in winter displays.
The "why" makes sense, as a tree might be severely weakened in yielding 5 or 6 large fruit.

Author:  Attila Soos [ Tue May 02, 2006 11:55 am ]
Post subject: 

The best example that comes to my mind is the Chinese quince (Pseudocydonia sinensis). Those fabulous specimens seen at Kokufu-ten, displaying one or two yellow moon-like fruit. They are usually artificially attached to the tree.

The exhibit takes place in late-winter, the tree is dormant, and the fruits have usually fallen by that time. In addition, the fruits usually don't grow on the visually most advantageous branch on the tree. So, they are strategically placed on a certain branch in harmony and balance with the overall design.

Author:  Attila Soos [ Tue May 02, 2006 12:15 pm ]
Post subject:  Re:

Shane McKenzie wrote:
It irks me as dishonest to portray that your bonsai grew that fruit naturally when it did not.

The fruits did grow on the tree, but at a different time. It is important to understand that the timing of these large exhibits do not coincide with the season when the fruits grow. Another thing to consider is that if the fruits are relatively large, and the tree has very fine twigs at the outer edges of the foliage, leaving a large fruit at the extremities for a longer time will ruin the design: it will bend the fine branching and also push the fine twigs out of place. Therefore, it is important to remove these fruits and place them at the time of the show to the most fitting branches.

This, of course, doesn't apply to trees producing a large number of small fruits, such as holly, crab apple, hawthorn, etc.

Author:  Hector Johnson [ Wed May 03, 2006 12:11 am ]
Post subject: 

I think it's best to remember this is an art, and artistic licence is allowable, in reasonable measure.

Author:  Adam John Prawlocki [ Sat May 27, 2006 11:10 am ]
Post subject:  maybe a few terminological differences at work.

preface: First post here and a wonderful and intelligent discussion forum>
I'm seeing a lot of terminology tossed around in the pusuit of defining art.
As a trained sculptor I define it thusly:

Art: Any intentionally created object, visual or aural, that is designed to convey an idea or elict a reaction from the recieving audience.
Bonsai: A potted tree/ woody plant that adheres to certain horticultral priciples and practices, allowing it attain the appearace, in miniature, of a mature large specimen.

Craftsmanship: attention to minute detail, that extends to the application of the highest possible level of workmanship throughout a piece.

In regards to the discussion, I take a very liberal slant as to what i'd call bonsai as well as art. A high level of Craftsmanship does not make a piece a work of ART. It makes it a masterpiece of skill. This can transcend into art when it deliberately conveys a concept or idea. A bonsai that conveys an idea can be called art regardless of it's level of CRAFTSMANSHIP. A poorly crafted bonsai is still a bonsai to me as long as it adheres to those basic horticultural priciples. If we pigeonhole ourselves into a very narrow and traditional definition of what is bonsai, we are in danger of stagnation. That said, to allow any sort of modification to be allowed in the pursuit of the finished product seems a bit much for my taste. I'd say such a piece would be a work of ART not a bonsai, or perhaps at it's best both simultaneously. Perhaps we need to expand and redifine our classification system.


Author:  Will Heath [ Sat May 27, 2006 11:46 am ]
Post subject: 

First, welcome to the forum, I look forward to reading more of your thoughts. As a sculptor, you may find this an interesting read this

Interesting definitions above, I can not disagree with any of them separately. I see that you agree that a bonsai may or may not be art as with any other medium used. Metal wielded together may indeed be art or just highly skilled craftsmanship paint on a canvas may well be art or just highly skilled craftsmanship...this is true in all forms of expression.
I defined bonsai in the article here titled, "Defining Bonsai" as "A living, artistically created, idealized vision of a tree, cultivated in a container." I think this covers most of the issues, while separating the endeavor from container gardening quite well.

The Internet is full of pictures of bonsai craft, the examples of bonsai art are indeed rare. Have you seen our gallery section as of yet? I am sure you would agree that there is art tucked away in some of the galleries.
Again, welcome!


Author:  Adam John Prawlocki [ Sat May 27, 2006 1:08 pm ]
Post subject: 

Will, Thanks for the warm welcome!
I've had the pleasure of seeing several of those bonsai sculptures in person at a traveling exhibition while I was in college. That certainly pushes the boundries and merges them at the same time. In the gallery, perhaps the most obvious example is Salvatore Liporace's magnificent jin/shari work. There is a clear and precise aesthetic at work there. The execution is obviously well thought out in advance and masterfully executed. Add it all up and I'd definetly call it bonsai art. More than that, i'd go so far as to say Fine Art in Bonsai.

Author:  Attila Soos [ Tue May 30, 2006 6:10 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: maybe a few terminological differences at work.

Adam John Prawlocki wrote:
A high level of Craftsmanship does not make a piece a work of ART. It makes it a masterpiece of skill. This can transcend into art when it deliberately conveys a concept or idea. A bonsai that conveys an idea can be called art regardless of it's level of CRAFTSMANSHIP

I like how Adam puts the two concepts (art vs. craftmanship) into a clear and simple context, in relation with each other.

Some of the examples of modern art illustrate this very clearly. We can see modern paintings, highly regarded as works of art, displaying very little in terms of craftmanship. These are the "I could do this myself" paintings. The "I can do this myself" statement proves that we often mistake craftmanship for art...when in fact, according to the modern definitions of art, they have NOTHING to do with each other.
This is, of course, very different from how people perceived the arts centuries ago, when a high level of craftmanship was a requirement for being recognized as an artist.

Considering these two different views, are we going to re-define the concept of ART every couple of centuries?

Author:  Will Heath [ Sat Nov 25, 2006 11:04 pm ]
Post subject: 

Interesting thread on restoring a dead tree with paint and glued on leaves and flowers: ... rdseen#new

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