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artofbonsai.org • View topic - The Future of Bonsai, The Third Dimension
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 Post subject: The Future of Bonsai, The Third Dimension
PostPosted: Thu Jul 28, 2005 2:42 pm 
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The Future of Bonsai, The Third Dimension
by Will Heath

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I have been involved in numerous discussions over the course of the last few years as to what the future holds for the art of bonsai both in America and elsewhere. I have given this a great deal of thought, viewed a few bonsai collections, talked to some artists, and put in some long research hours, all to better understand the current state of art in bonsai. The general consensus seems to be that each country and districts thereof tend to want (consciously or unconsciously) to develop an individual style that is unique to them. Most lean toward the factor that the trees in their area and the way they grow there will influence them. This is of course a huge contributing factor and it no doubt has and will continue to shape bonsai styles. However, I feel that these regional influences, although important in defining an areas bonsai design, are relatively minor compared to the revolution I see in the direction that the future of bonsai holds for us. I think this revolution will make bonsai better, more advanced, and greater than it has ever been before.

First let me explain where I think the current state of bonsai as an art falls short. We often talk about the four-dimensional art form that makes bonsai what it is. We talk a great deal about depth in bonsai and about avoiding two-dimensional trees, yet we choose a "front" as a preferred viewing angle for our bonsai. We take advantage of this "front" to carefully arrange branches and foliage to hide flaws. We painstakingly select the best view of the tree and then spend our time grooming and defining this one single view. All pictures that are presented of the bonsai are of this "front" and this "front" is also the only view shown at shows. Often when viewed from the side these bonsai are narrow and very unnatural.

I believe that only styling and perfecting one single view of a bonsai is simplistic and sorely outdated. I believe that the next major step in bonsai is the creation of true three-dimensional trees where the bonsai is viewed in a 360 mode and no faults can be hidden. Imagine taking bonsai to this step, where chops are no longer hidden behind foliage, where two dimensional trees are quickly revealed, where flaws, scars, and mistakes are no longer turned to the back side because there isn't one. Every single idea and technique of the artist must be perfect from every angle and view.

Can bonsai be shown with a 360 view? They can and are being shown this way already. Click on any of the links on the right side of this Korean site http://www.bunjae.net/zboard.php?id=cyber_gall and you will experience truly three-dimensional bonsai. The experience says it all, to see the whole tree, to expose all the artists' vision, to actually sense the depth, the full, the all of the bonsai for a change. Granted, not all the trees on this site meet the criteria for three-dimensional bonsai, only a few pass the test, but the unique perspective of viewing a bonsai from all sides is exciting.

Colin Lewis in his book, "The Art Of Bonsai Design" while restyling a Juniper, runs into a problem with choosing the front because all sides have possibilities. He "solves" this problem by styling the bonsai in a manner where all sides look good. He creates a great example of a truly three-dimensional bonsai. While designing a Juniperus Chinensis Sargentii he states on page 81 "Although I had established roughly what I had in mind for the design, I still found it difficult to settle on the best side. In a rush of lateral thinking, I realized that if I couldn't solve the problem, I could eliminate it by not deciding on a front. If all angles looked good, why not use them all?" He goes on to say on page 86, "In addition to my desire to create an all-around bonsai - one which could be viewed from all sides - I also wanted to create visual harmony among the trunks, the jins and the foliage masses."On page 88 he shows multiple sides of his bonsai, a cascade that I would be proud to own even if it only had one of the four remarkable fronts shown.

Styling a tree for viewing from all sides will be immensely more difficult than what we are used to. It will take much more skill and require even more patience than ever before. It will produce better and more technically advanced bonsai. It will also leave simple two-dimensional styling in the past.

Walter Pall has recently shown a couple of bonsai that have multiple front view possibilities and recently commented on this subject saying, "While I always had one single front in mind as the best one I tried to make the tree look natural and credible from all sides. In the end I found several fronts which are looking good to me. That's exactly the kind of problem that I want to have."


Image


Here is the future of the art of bonsai, expanding the perfection, increasing the skills needed, and presenting bonsai to the public in a brand new, more exciting way. Here is what will define bonsai in the years to come and I believe this is what bonsai was always meant to be.

Of course, as pointed out to me by Attila Soos, "this concept will challenge some of the traditionally held views of how a bonsai must be styled, such as, the apex has to lean forward, the branches can't point toward the viewer, the trunk movement must have a sideway direction, and the front of the tree should be free of branches to show the trunk. But I believe that the above mentioned guidelines do not invalidate the merits of a truly 360 degree bonsai."

I realize that strict abider's of the traditional rules may have problems overcoming these "rules" and many will still be unable to open their mind past the point of "choosing" a front only. Many who have spent time mastering the typical two-dimensional styling of bonsai may well be offended at the concept that there possibly is more to learn, more to master, that flaws can no longer be hidden, and that there is more to a bonsai than just a carefully groomed "front."

This is certainly not a 'new' concept. We have read and heard this spoken of often in past decades. But it seems that the general bonsai practitioners do not follow it in general or are at the least very hesitant to do so. Even those who preach it quite often don't follow it. Truly three-dimensional bonsai may never be completely possible given the nature of the material we work with, but the attempt can only lead to better bonsai, better artists, and a deeper appreciation of the whole.

The good news is that I know of a few artists like those quoted above that can grasp this concept and are putting out good 360 degree, three-dimensional trees. We need to start displaying them in ways such as with The Korean site that will show all of the art and not just a "snapshot" of 25% of it.

Will shows in the future consist of slowing rotating stands and/or displays? Will they have rows of bonsai displayed on open floors where the viewers can walk on either side? Will Monkey poles become the norm where people can walk around and view the entire bonsai? Can we as artists accept the challenge and step up to it? Will a great divide between artists come into effect, the 3D's and the 2D's? Will subdivisions in shows be made to showcase the 3D? And lastly, will two-dimensional bonsai become a thing of the past?


Last edited by Will Heath on Sat Jan 26, 2008 6:43 pm, edited 3 times in total.

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 Post subject: One or more fronts?
PostPosted: Fri Jul 29, 2005 10:18 am 
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I will like to go into this discussion for mere reasons.
First of all because I find it a good tread and interesting theme you started Will, and at the same time to I do not agree with many of the points of this tread.
I do not think bonsai should be designed to have more than one front. The basis of bonsai is to see the trunk line and movement as the very heart of the design.
Secondly, I haven?t seen a bonsai with more than one front styled convincing yet, and thirdly I can?t see how bonsai will be improved as art by shredding one of the most fundamental rules in bonsai styling.
If it could improve the image by using more than one ?front? I would have no doubts using this formula. But I can?t see how this should work without compromising the image. I haven?t seen it yet.
The pictures in the tread do not use more than one front as I read the images. The trees might have more than one front to choose from with different qualities, but you have to make the choice. Trying to use several fronts at the same time will be like trying to sit between two chairs at once. It doesn?t work.
I do not think the mentioned Korean site proves otherwise. First, the Korean site seems to be a sales site only, and the 360? turning photos serves clearly the customers to see the tree from all angles (which are a very good service). But it doesn?t defend bonsai to be viewed all around the clock as I see it. Why not? Because, as I see it, bonsai is only partly comparable with other three dimensional art (sculptures i.e.) that?s clearly has a front, but sometimes can be viewed from their left or right sides, and even from the back ? but most objects still has a front presentation. Like a bonsai. You can see it from the front mainly and slightly from the sides if you move.
By choosing the front you help the audience to look into the bonsai and discover its beauty.
I want to raise another question, because I can?t see the point in shredding the ?front rule?. What is the problem of viewing a bonsai from a chosen front?
Is it devaluating bonsai that a front is chosen from where the tree looks at its best?
What?s the problem with this?
To ask the other way around: What does it gives to the image of the tree, that it has more than one front?
If a bonsai should be viewed from more than one front, I think the development of this would have been forced through a long time ago. I can?t see a new way of developing bonsai today by trying to develop this part of bonsai, because I can?t see the meaning right now. The way bonsai are best viewed are clearly with a chosen front, because this art form have certain limits we must accept, to perform the art.
One of the proven effects of using a front and letting the tree come forward, is the illusion of a big tree, because this technique makes an elusion of a big tree with the viewer standing underneath looking up an into the tree. This illusion is lost by turning the tree seeing it from other angels, and thereby the image of a big tree disappears.
I don?t think the essence of a three dimensional object is the same as the bonsai can be presented with equal quality from all sides. The three dimensions just give us the same opportunities as in the art of sculpturing. It gives depth, form and a deeper livelier image to present, with its light and shadows, form and figure.
This might seems as a one side shoot down of your arguments Will, but I do not hope you are offended by this, because all these arguments are interesting. Regardless if we are sharing our views or not, it isn?t necessarily the way through the path that is interesting alone, but sometimes the goal solely.
Disagreeing with the main point, I contrary agree a lot with your line: ?Every single idea and technique of the artist must be perfect from every angle and view?.
This is absolutely true, but it doesn?t mean we have to be equally observing and judging a bonsai from all angles. A bonsai still have a front from which it is best presented, but the perfection of details all around the tree can be watched from the front of the image alone !(?).
Like in a painting, the artist has to manage mere techniques fully, to achieve a fine result. The layers beneath the final layer of paint may be barely visible, but they shine through and have their influent of the top layer that may be dominant, but not works alone.
The same technique and dominance on the final result is counting in many other art forms. A sculpture must have detailed techniques at the back, unless we only see the front clearly. The merely hidden details shine through in the final work, even when this has a clear chosen front.
Concerning the lines quoted from Mr. Colin Lewis book. I more than fully respect Colin Lewis and his work, because I find him one of the best western bonsai artists we have today. Funny enough I have just read this book of Mr. Lewis you mentions. It?s the fourth time, and I have read it thoroughly these last days during my holidays. But I just don?t agree at this point if the point is to show the tree from all the chosen sides. Only one is the best at the present time, but later another one can be chosen if the tree are restyled and changed.
I do not think a bonsai can have four equal good fronts at the same time. A good bonsai material though has more than one front to choose from, but for present one must be chosen. This makes the artist able to make the exact lines and balance with branches and movement in the leaves underlining the soul of the bonsai; the trunk.
Best regards
Morten Albek


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 29, 2005 10:23 am 
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Morten,
I will take the time to consider your points made here, but first let me congratulate you on a well written, coherent, and intelligent rebuttal of the ideas put forth. Your post could and should be used as an example of honest debate of an issue without unduly attacking the author.
Respectfully,
Will Heath


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 29, 2005 12:26 pm 
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It would seem that somehow throughout the years bonsai has become an object of art that is styled, shaped, and designed solely to be enjoyed from one single view only. Selecting a front and styling this selected viewing angle only has become the subject of many articles and debates. The general consensus now seems to be that as long as a bonsai looks good from this narrow viewing window, it is acceptable and considered to be a success.
Artists are using this narrow viewing window to now hide bad chops, poor ramification, one-sided nebari, scars, and other unsightly flaws of the bonsai. Instead of using techniques to correct these flaws and allowing the tree the time it needs to grow freely to heal and develop. Instead, they are rushing the bonsai into a pot and then counting on the narrow viewing window to allow them to hide flaws in the back, behind foliage, all safely tucked away out of view.
Somewhere we lost the tree and replaced it with a snapshot of one single view only. We lost the space, the spread, and the three-dimensional whole that makes up exactly what a tree is and is supposed to be.
Bonsai has often been compared to sculpture, yet we ignore that most sculpture is truly three-dimensional in that it can be viewed from all sides. Sure, the ?front? of a sculpture may be the preferred viewing angle, most people want to look at the faces and the artist no doubt had a front? in mind while carving the art. However, the technical expertise can be enjoyed on most sculpture from all sides, the rear being as realistic as the front, the sides in proportion to the whole. This is true art, art that enumerates nature, and art that has multiple viewing windows all as realistic as the rest.
Take and his sculpture, ?The Kiss? for example. The preferred front view as shown is no less a piece of art than the slightly altered side view We could also look at his sculpture ? or his or even his ? . The common denominator here is that even though there is a front to these, all other sides show the same talent, the same expertise, they are all visually pleasing.
Ii is very much more difficult to design an object in the round, to make it visually pleasing from all sides but it is not impossible by no means. How will this make a bonsai better? To answer that you must answer this, would taking way the beauty of three sides of any of the art I have linked to here devalue the art? Would only one visually pleasing side make the art worse?

Will Heath


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PostPosted: Fri Jul 29, 2005 10:17 pm 
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Will,
I?m sorry, but I disagree with your posit and your examples in this article. The examples are taken out of context and ignore the fundamentals of bonsai artistry. Bonsai of artistic quality must have a front. There?s no getting around it, for reasons related to our specific medium and other reasons I'll describe.
But ours is not the only medium that requires a ?front.? A landscape painting is not a 3-dimensional view of a landscape ? specifically, of course, because of the fact that it is made of paint on a flat canvas ? but also because paintings are an artist?s interpretation of a specific scene, rather than a verbatim reproduction of a landscape. Elements are arranged so that they work for the medium, for the artist?s interpretation of the landscape.
And this is not just because the artist wants to impose his or her interpretation on viewers. Rather, this is largely because the artist wants to compose the various elements in the scene so that the viewer?s eye is lead into and around the scene in a way that is effective, interesting, and so that emphasis is placed appropriately according to the artist?s intention. Such a thing is not possible when all angles and all manner of possible composition are supposed to be taken in.
In another communicative medium, visual advertising, great pains are taken to get just the right presentation of the product. And it is not just the product that must be viewed from the correct ?angle,? both the literal and figurative meanings of the term. The associated elements in the ad are also painstakingly arranged in order to offer the greatest impact.
This might be to show off the striking eyes of the model wearing the dress that is advertised, or perhaps the sharp nipple of the girl wearing the t-shirt being advertised. Even how the light reflects off of the condensation droplets on the bottle of the beverage being advertised. The entire composition is arranged just so in an effort to exploit human behaviors and tendencies. That is what gives art its power.
When filming a motion picture, the director and cinematographer do not use just any old camera angle, just any old lighting, or any old arrangement of the people and/or elements in the shot. They use fundamental artistry to compose the elements, angles, lighting, etc? so that there?s more to the shot than meets the eye, so to speak. Mood, atmosphere, environment, drama and a host of other relevant factors are suggested to varying degrees of success by how clever the director and cinematographer are in their jobs. This is artistry.
It is no different with bonsai. Bonsai are not just branches and leaves and root structure and bark and twigs. These things alone might be somewhat interesting or beautiful in and of themselves, but the fundamentals of artistry are necessary for them to be able to communicate specific themes or stories to viewers who come from a wide range of backgrounds and experience.
Take the arrangement of branches on the trunk, for instance. Surely there are lots of ways that branches may be ordered so as to present a convincing and compelling composition, but ?all? arrangements of branches are not visually compelling, effective or beautiful. Yes, on a full-sized tree in nature we are not generally offended by odd branch arrangements, but a bonsai has very little real estate with which to create illusion and communication. We cannot equate the two examples by any means.
If we are lucky, a piece of material may have one or two angles from which the branches alone are successful in communicating what we wish to communicate with a bonsai. But more is necessary! The surface root structure is very important in telling the bonsai?s story. Again, if we?re lucky one or two angles will prove effective for our purposes. The line and angle of the trunk is very important to the beauty and communicativeness of a bonsai. Some angles might be nice, but others are usually down right awful.
Now, all of these elements (and much more!) arranged just so ? and in context with one another - are necessary for a cohesive bit of artistry to allow us to create just the right illusion we?re after with a bonsai. Such a thing is not possible when every angle of view is expected to do the job of carrying off the illusion and communicating a cohesive theme. And it is not realistic to expect that artwork with this medium should do so.
Now, this is not to say that a well-composed and well-crafted bonsai cannot be beautiful or inspiring when seen from any angle. In fact, I?m sure that most of us enjoy taking in the whole structure of a nice bonsai by examining it closely from all angles. I certainly do. However, this sort of examination and enjoyment is not the same thing as experiencing the impact of artistry, properly composed and presented as intended by an artist. Not by a long shot.
Kind regards,
Andy


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