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artofbonsai.org • View topic - Against The Wind
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 Post subject: Against The Wind
PostPosted: Thu Jun 09, 2005 10:48 pm 
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Against The Wind
by Will Heath

"Against the wind
we were running against the wind
we were young and strong we were running against the wind"

- Bob Segar "Against The Wind"


Image
Photogragh by Colin Lewis

On top of a rocky crag in a hollow worn out by the winds and rains of time, a collection of organic matter and sand forms a bed for a wandering seed brushed off of a birds wing and deposited by blind chance in the one place in this barren spot that it could germinate.

In this hollow the seedling grows, sending its roots first into the mix of organic and sand particles and then down into the cracks and fissures of the rock itself, constantly searching, exploring for nutrients, for water, for life.

When its height reaches beyond the rim of the hollow in search of more sun, it encounters a never-dying wind. A wind that howls and angrily pushes its might against all that is within its reach. A wind that has wore down mountains greater than the one it now does battle with. A wind that knows the true meaning of patience, that all things will fall before it in time.

The seedling's growth is directed by the wind; it has a distinct slant away from the force. Its branches are whipped around and pushed away also, and in time they give up even trying to go against the wind.

The sapling grows into a tree, beat and scarred from its battle against the wind. It has a heavy lean away from the force of the wind, it's branches are twisted back, also showing the direction and shear force of the wind, some have snapped long ago, leaving jagged reminders of battles lost.

The story's ending is known, it has always been known. Throughout the ages the same battle has happened over and over, the wind always wins, the tree always loses. But it's not the victory we celebrate, indeed it is the struggle, the battle, the persistence against certain doom that we admire and seek to capture in the confines of a bonsai pot.

Yet, I notice that a lot of bonsai are styled with the trunk facing, leaning into the wind, a seemingly contradiction to all that is natural. When I see a trunk leaning into the wind and the branches forced back by it, my mind notices and rebels against the contradiction.

Maybe, I ask myself, the branches are merely reaching for the light? But then why would the trunk have grown away from it? In the example above the windswept tree had all the light in the world; it was shaped solely by the wind. I think we can all agree that a windswept branch and one that is simply reaching for light have different characters and appearances.

Could it be that the artist bypassed having the tree work together in harmony with all its parts in order to achieve visual balance? Let's imagine a windswept tree with its trunk leaning into the wind and all its branches moving the opposite way, with the wind. Now let's switch all the branches to the other side, have we lost visual balance? Can this simply be corrected by planting the tree on the opposite side of the pot, on the upwind side? Are there other ways to achieve visual balance without creating a contradiction?

Is this tendency of contradicting imagery common? Is there a reason we ignore the obvious? Are we in fact losing sense of nature's own balance?


Last edited by Will Heath on Thu Jan 24, 2008 10:53 am, edited 4 times in total.

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PostPosted: Fri Jun 10, 2005 8:13 pm 
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PostPosted: Sat Jun 11, 2005 1:35 pm 
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I see two separate questions here, with possibly contradicting answers:

1. Should bonsai follow the laws of nature?
2. Should art follow the laws of nature?

First I will answer the second question: Art doesn't have to folow the laws of nature. There are are endless examples of great art that apparently have nothing to do with the laws of nature. Take the cubist paintings of Picasso, the surrealist paintings of Dali, or many others. The artist selects certain aspects of the world surrounding us and constructs a whole new reality. Laws of physics don't apply anymore.

The answer to the first question can be derived from the first one: if bonsai is art, fully and unquestionably, then the laws of nature should not be a limiting factor either.

However, here is the challenge that the bonsai artist has to face:
If he creates a tree, being conscious of the fact that this tree defies the laws of nature, what is it that he is trying to express? What is the purpose of his picture? What is it that he is trying to evoke in the viewer? If he creates his piece of work, having the answer to all the above questions, then there is a chance that he created something meaningful.

If he breaks the laws of nature by being ignorant of them, I see that as a serious fault. Also, to break the laws of nature and justify it by saying that he is trying to "balance the tree", I see that as a worthless idea, and does nothing for me to value his bonsai. I need more than that from a tree.

I want to add though that I see as being more important for the tree to make the impression that the laws of nature are followed then strictly following nature.

Personally, I see bonsai as being much more powerful and evocative when designed keeping an eye on nature. My goal is to evoke natural landscapes, so natural laws are an important consideration. But I can imagine that I would be impressed by an unnatural bonsai as well if the artist is good enough to stir my imagination.

And I also want to mention here that Colin's windswept literati bonsai shown on the picture is hauntingly beautiful. It causes me great pleasure every time I look at it.


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 13, 2005 10:20 am 
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Great subject bonsai for discussion.

Colin discusses his efforts with the tree to great extent in his publication. I would suffice it to say, he had his share of difficulties with these trunks and trying to maintain the proper strength of the lesser one. His creation is wonderful, and I admire his resolve to make it "work". Nevertheless, this bonsai CAN be explained by natural influences in the matter of styling. I do not view it as strictly abstract.

Yes, bonsai is art, and as such it is not RESTRICTED by the laws of nature. However, we can impose that rule ourselves. The question is...should we?

It's a personal choice. Some will agree with it, others won't. The most important aspect of bonsai is that the tree "speaks". If it does not convey a message to the viewer, it has failed. Philosophy is unimportant when that occurs.

It MOST cases, nature will tell this story in full-sized trees. Artistic expression can IMPROVE the underlying general style of this in bonsai. The number of bonsai I have seen that cannot be an emulation of nature are decidely rare, but the number of bonsai that have been improved by artistic expression - in ADDITION to that aspect - are decidedly immense.

Always remember that Mother Nature sees our LIFETIME efforts are a mere blink of her eye. We cannot ever hope to truly equal her. We are well-advised to remember that when we tout our artistic ability. She can humble us on a whim. What we do have in our favor is the ability to make changes in a short period of time with techniques and materials that "she" cannot. If we didn't, we wouldn't even be having a discussion. A balance of emulation of nature and artistic expression is what we need to master. Both are necessary, albeit in different ratios based on the subject.

Who doesn't prefer yamadori material to regular nursery stock? Just my opinion.

John


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 20, 2005 11:43 am 
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While the laws of nature are staid, nature itself isn't. Boulders (windbreaks) are struck by lightning without mercy and roll down mountains to rest elsewhere. Great junipers and cedars are twisted by torrential winds during tornadoes that go undetected in unpopulated wilderness.

My story for this tree was that its landscape changed. In its formative years a huge boulder protected it from the wind, but was damaged and lost in a tempest. The little tree, being flexible, weathered the storm and remained, a little battered, but survived.

While I have a problem with the idea that wind just suddenly started blowing the other way, I do believe that windbreaks and protective flora can be eliminated by natural forces...

What is the tree telling us? Is it saying that nature is a hard and unhospitable thing, or does it say that nature is warm and nurturing? Is God an omnicient but aloof and capricious presence or merciful and curative? Might a discussion of the spiritual be included here? I think that many oak-styled trees say that nature and creation itself is lush and benevolent, while the junipers with bared jins and sharis are styled with a more unforgiving view.

Maybe it depends on whether you subscribe to Blake or Frost's world view...


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PostPosted: Mon Jun 20, 2005 1:23 pm 
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To bring it back to Seger:

"Well those drifters days are past me now
I've got so much more to think about
Deadlines and commitments
What to leave in, what to leave out"

The last line in this verse in "Against the Wind" is pretty much what bonsai is--what to leave in and what to leave out. I would have left one of the lower trunks, but that's me.


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PostPosted: Sat Sep 03, 2005 1:10 am 
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 Post subject: Art and nature works together
PostPosted: Mon Oct 10, 2005 4:35 am 
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 Post subject: Re: Art and nature works together
PostPosted: Mon Oct 10, 2005 10:22 am 
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Last edited by Will Heath on Tue Jan 29, 2008 10:27 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Art and nature works together
PostPosted: Mon Oct 10, 2005 11:04 am 
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 Post subject: Re: Art and nature works together
PostPosted: Mon Oct 10, 2005 11:30 am 
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 Post subject: Re: Art and nature works together
PostPosted: Tue Oct 11, 2005 12:35 am 
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Last edited by Will Heath on Tue Jan 29, 2008 10:29 am, edited 1 time in total.

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 Post subject: Re: Art and nature works together
PostPosted: Fri Oct 14, 2005 1:35 pm 
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There is a believable scenario where the form you have described could have happened. Wind blows one way, right to left and if the tree is high enough on the mountain on the western slope the branches could be blown uphill. Then one day heavy snow falls and there is an avalanche partially uprooting the tree causing the tree to lean down hill against the direction of the wind. In essence this could cause the trunk to go one way but the branches to be blown in the other. This is likely to happen near the top of a mountain where it is vulnerable to avalanche or wind fall.


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