The Future of Bonsai, The Third Dimension
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Author:  Chris pootsie Conomy [ Fri Feb 10, 2006 3:59 pm ]
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I have noticed a few blatant misconceptions about the nature of bonsai being posted on other forums

How nice to be noticed!
Bonsai is best compared to other art forms that also are three dimensional such as sculpture.

I agree, but sometimes we simply MUST "dance about architecture" to make a point.
Bonsai, like sculpture does not have to be distorted from any angle in order to deliver the proper perspective from any angle.

I agree with that. However, sometimes a bonsai artist will make an old-fashioned 2-dimensional bonsai and make use of forced perspective.
In the context of my post that you cite, the discussion was about how (old fashioned 2-dimensional) forest arrangements will often include smaller trees in the rear, to give the forced perspective of making them look far away when the pot is actually not very wide.
As examples, here are some pictures in the AoB gallery from Qingquan Zhao, showing his very effective use of forced perspective: ... se_elm.jpg ... e_elm2.jpg ... e_elm3.jpg
My point was simply that using forced perspective for a 3-dimensional bonsai composition is not effective, because the perspective is lost from any angle other than the old-fashioned front. If you viewed any of these Zhao compositions from the rear, the forced perspective would backfire horribly.
David is interesting rare in that the head and shoulders are slightly larger in proportion as he was meant to be placed up high, where the whole would look in proportion, yet, even at eye level, it is barely discernible.

My point exactly. David's forced perspective would backfire if we viewed him from above, just like the sidewalk art.
Isn?t it time we stopped styling only two of the three dimensions and create bonsai that are truly visually pleasing from all sides?

It sounds like a great idea to try new things. I'm for it. I'm even going to make my girlfriend try sushi tonight, for the first time. And next week, I'm going to my first-ever klezmer concert, to hear the Klezmatics. I think this new frontier of bonsai should also be explored, and I truly am eager to see the results of its application.
My comment @ bonsaiTALK was not a rejection of the 3-D idea. My only point was that I think forced perspective is not a very good tool to use when you explore this new frontier.
But if anyone thinks it can be a good tool in the new arena, I'd be interested to hear about it.

Author:  Will Heath [ Fri Feb 10, 2006 4:07 pm ]
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Good points and excellent rebuttal, I understand your viewpoints much better now, thank you.


Author:  Will Heath [ Fri Feb 10, 2006 4:34 pm ]
Post subject:  Re:

Walter Pall wrote:
I am clearly teaching to absolutely avoid two-dimensional bonsai. They are just not good enough. Now is this a deterioration of the artform? Or is it an elevation?

I feel it is an elevation and a much needed one at that.


Author:  Will Heath [ Tue Feb 14, 2006 2:29 pm ]
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Since we are on the subject of elevating the art of bonsai, take a peek at the "Seasons" Exhibition at the Art Gallery of NSW. Here we have bonsai being exhibited in an art gallery. (At the bottom of the page)
Interestingly, the bonsai are displayed in such a manner that visitors can walk completely around them. Somehow, I don't feel bonsai styled from the front only would fit in here.
This is how I envision the art of bonsai in the future, displayed in an art gallery or comparable venue, displayed as other sculptures always have been, displayed as art.

Will Heath

Author:  Will Heath [ Sun Aug 20, 2006 11:58 am ]
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An interesting post was recently made at by Walter Pall, where he posted an animated gif created by Uwe of one of his trees.
You can see this at ... highlight= on the second page of the thread.
The ability to see a bonsai from all sides on the web could very well have far reaching ramifications and I expect that it will become more common as the technique to create these animated gifs is refined. If indeed this catches on and becomes the norm for showing bonsai, it no doubt will have a great impact on the way bonsai are styled.
Just my thoughts,


Author:  Walter Pall [ Sun Aug 20, 2006 1:35 pm ]
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Here we are:

Author:  Will Heath [ Thu Mar 22, 2007 4:42 pm ]
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Still a beautiful tree, Walter and the animated gif certainly gives more than an ordinary photograph think, much of the beauty in this tree would go unseen in a normal photo.
As a side note, the posting of the above animated gif by Walter at KoB eventually led to the creation of a special gallery section featuring such images there. ... m.php?f=71


Author:  Will Heath [ Thu Jan 31, 2008 1:51 pm ]
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Today, Chris Johnston, a student of Boon, in his usual manner posted the following on another forum ( ).

"I will agree with you fujian, that the stupid, stupid idea of 360 degree bonsai is pointless. Every great bonsai looks good from all angles, but there is always one best way, or a couple that might be interchangeable or possible. But the whole concept was merely promoted by a self-aggrandizing fool who always posts to engender a lot of debate to boost his own website babies."

What he fails to mention is that this "stupid, stupid" idea has been put forth by such recognized masters as Colin Lewis and Walter Pall, in fact examples and quotes from both these artists are included in my article on page one of this thread.

He states that "Every great bonsai looks good from all angles, but there is always one best way, or a couple that might be interchangeable or possible" but fails to mention that the "best way" is totally dependent on the viewer, what I may see as the best "photo front" may be entirely different from what another may see.

He also fails to mention that the entire concept of three-dimensional bonsai is to get people away from the all too common single front styling and thinking more about the total tree. This will lead to trees with much better perspective, depth, and offer many more possibilities for design.

There is no such thing as a single front, which I pointed out quite clearly in my article, "The Myth of the Single Front." Chris would do well to read it at ... efront.php

This article on three dimensional bonsai was published in Bonsai Today issue #101 and has received many good reviews. Many people have said that at the very least, it has changed the way they look at their bonsai. What more could one hope for?

As to the insult "a self-aggrandizing fool" Chris posted, this is usually the response of someone who can not intelligently debate a topic. People tend to condemn what they cannot understand. Such is the state of bonsai on-line today.


Author:  Will Heath [ Thu Sep 11, 2008 12:52 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Future of Bonsai, The Third Dimension - by Will Heath

While thumbing through the 2007 September - October issue of Bonsai Focus today I came across a couple statements that I thought were worth quoting here.

On page 45, in Farrand Bloch's article, "Carpinus coreanum - Growing on a cliff" Farrand states, "The new front - or the old back - shows a better movement in the trunk and branch setting. In fact the creation can be appreciated from all sides."

Later in the issue, on page 87 in Peter Warren's article, "Artless Art" Peter, when talking about a Juniperus chinenese shown, observes that "...this tree can easily be veiwed from any angle, not conforming to a standard "first branch, second branch" homogenous structure, this tree is pure bonsai, art and nature combined."

Interesting, at the least.

Author:  Will Heath [ Sat Jan 24, 2009 1:25 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Future of Bonsai, The Third Dimension

Another three-dimensional tree in progress with some discussion can be seen over at our friends at the International Bonsai Forum ... ;topicseen

For an idea that some thought was completely idiotic, it seems to have a very solid foundation and is being Incorporated into bonsai by some of the best artists of our time.


Author:  Ravi Kiran [ Wed Feb 04, 2009 3:33 am ]
Post subject:  Re: The Future of Bonsai, The Third Dimension

Guess it has been more than three and a half years since this thread has started and I hope I am not too late to add my thoughts to this thread, which I think is a fundamental one and has tremendous consequences for the future of bonsai. It has taken me a week since I had read through this thread to gather my thoughts and make this post.

For starters it would be great to look at bonsai as a 3D and not the conventional 2D. For those of you who have defended the conventional 2D approach I would humbly submit my justification. So please bear with me and read on.. Why 3D because “NATURE” which is our primary source of inspiration is 3D. All the rules that we follow in bonsai are a means to reproduce “NATURE IN MINIATURE” and not an end in themselves. While a revolving display may not be a practical way to display. However considering the thoughts of quiet a few in this thread who spoke of stand alone pedestals which offer 360 degree views, 3D seems a better way.

I have a beautiful Informal Upright Shohin gifted to me by a senior member of our club. It is a work of art to the T. It is impossible to find fault with it and I am confident that it would win awards in every contest it is entered into. It is a about 7 inches tall and the trunk movement, the nebari, the branches, front and back are perfect. I do not exaggerate as I do not take credit for this beautiful creation.

While the front and the back views were perfect, what was however intriguing is the top view. The top view looked like an apple cut in half. This had to be done as the trunk and branch ramification had to be visible from the front. Alternatively if one had not worked on the tree with a front in mind but had wanted to give it a “TREE” look then it would have looked like a full apple and every angle would have been very “VIEWABLE” and would have been a ‘front’.

While I say this I am aware that such a concept would apply only to certain styles of Bonsai like Formal Upright, Informal Upright, Broom only. The reason is symmetry. Other styles like Slanting, Literati, Windswept etc which are non symmetrical might not be suitable for a 360 degree or a 3D view but would have a single more prominent front. Having said that, a back view that doesn’t hide design imperfections could also become a second front in most cases (there could be exceptions).

Hope I have put my thoughts into perspective. Thanks Will for starting a great thread and also braving the onslaught. Such sacrifices would not go waste but would rather act as the foundation for the development of the art of bonsai in future.

apple.jpg [ 110.35 KiB | Viewed 25665 times ]

Author:  Will Heath [ Tue Mar 24, 2009 4:16 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Future of Bonsai, The Third Dimension seems to have caught the three-dimensional fever as well lately. They now have 3d viewing on their forum, although the idea is not new, nor revolutionary as claimed (KoB did it two years ago and a Chinese website did it before that) the newer imaging makes for a smoother experience. ... 8800#p8800

Nice to see bonsai being viewed on the web as 3D objects.


Author:  Will Heath [ Fri Sep 04, 2009 12:35 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Future of Bonsai, The Third Dimension

In the recent edition of the Journal of the American Bonsai Society Journal, David W. Fukumoto writes:

"This series of photos of the same tree demonstrates a little known penjing characteristic that designs trees in a three dimensional manner so that it will have multiple primary viewing angles. This is related to something I also picked up from Papa Kaneshiro. Papa was a bit of a rebel against some of the many Japanese guidelines that places very heavy emphasis on the "front" and the "back" of a tree. Having initially approached Japanese bonsai from a literal studious direction,I kept pestering Papa why his trees often violated Japanese standards. He said the "front" is the side facing you and you need to make ALL sides attractive and interesting."

- Dwarf Schefflera Bonsai - Range of styling and training strategies
The Journal of the American Bonsai Society Volume 43, Number 3, 2009
page 30

Author:  Ana Veler [ Sat Sep 05, 2009 11:56 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Future of Bonsai, The Third Dimension

Must admit that the discussion here has been particularly interesting as I am just discovering bonsai as an art. Couldn't pretend to know what the significance of the debate truly is from the 'inside' (thank you for opening it for a peek here), but, from where I am standing, the discussion makes quick work of many ways Bonsai is 'seen' as an object. and that's more then I could say of any random bundle of half dozen gallery talks, if taken from among the good ones...

Considering the association with sculpture, I would bring up at this juncture that sculptures - and not just western or modern sculpture, all, everywhere, anything - are not necessarily objects meant for 360 viewing. It would seem that only a fairly limited proportion of works truly are meant for a 360 view, and very few for a broader range of viewing angles (*). Obviously, the degree to which a 'front' is determined in the conception and execution covers the 360 continuum - any 'front' from the clearly restricted 180 of high relief and the un-restricted but nonetheless strongly suggested 180-270 for many works, etc... Come to think of it, the expectations for the display space is what must be making the difference, since the relation with the viewer is something that is required of a sculpture and as such taken as a fixed constant in its planning stages. Quite the truism for sculpture where this conception and execution are a one time event. Put bonsai and sculpture together and you have just made the significance of this 'truism' awfully tantalizing for a rookie.

Quite seriously, I find the notion that bonsai is somewhere, somehow, 'bi-dimensional', in need of an explanation.

Does it even matter if one shot can adequately 'summarize' the object? It must have mattered somewhere, somehow in the relation between bonsai and eastern painting and calligraphy [considering approaches to space], however, that is twice uncharted territory for me (**).

On the other hand, a random pick of sculptures and carvings meant for surround-view without an obvious front suggests that this way of engaging the viewer was strenuously deliberate, either on a monumental [e.g. some friezes] or pocket scale [e.g. some jade pebbles, netsuke]... Most are meant to stand observation from all accessible angles, but with a definitive 'best view' dished readily to the viewer. Possibly the need for a 'best view' corresponds to some very basic human quirk? (***)

* taking the view of a hypothetical gyroscopic display, a 'view' is a spherical section, a 'viewing angle' a spherical section restricted by a static viewer's field of vision. Both the maker and the viewer have their parse and restrict this space. Long-standing display conventions may be seen as 'coordinating' expectations on both sides.

** I do not know of many instances in any literature where the 'hunt' for perspective in painting is considered for its effective marks on the process of interpretation [not as a deliberate artistic tool, that is]. George Rowley does this in 'Principles of Chinese Painting' LINK; a 'teaser' to the book is online: Clement Greenberg's review LINK.

*** After all, we have one by construction and the shape of the field of vision is paired with behavior in significant ways... It may be amusing to get to that level of generality, but it isn't necessary to make the point, most output of the visual arts is made to be 'facing' us anyway. Since Google, someone might even be able to do the count! At this point, I'd bet on a simple majority, this proclivity for one-sided spatial arrangement certainly doesn't seem to be a concern limited to bonsai styling. And does not equate to a 2D standard.

Author:  Ana Veler [ Sat Sep 05, 2009 11:56 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: The Future of Bonsai, The Third Dimension

If you wondered what on Eearth triggered the rant, I do have someone to 'blame' for having spent a while considering how various art things are made to steer their viewer into a more or less predictable physical approach [i.e. same as the subway administration achieves with signs and pontoons, only not as obvious, inelegant, effective or useful!]. The man makes a point of pushing said relationship out of quilter: see for yourself HERE. I am sorry there isn't much to point at online [wishing for 'Bread of the world', 'The survivor', the compositions with mirror folds; in case someone else stumbles on a luckier search] - several of his distinct series show trompe d'oil 'objects' against more or less 'flat' imagery with which they form significant relationships [= instant connection with a certain bread & butter means of display here ;) ]

Just another thougt...

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