What if Traditional Bonsai Style Did Not Exist?
Page 2 of 3

Author:  Attila Soos [ Fri Dec 30, 2005 2:29 pm ]
Post subject:  Re:

Walter Pall wrote:
One thing I do not understand here. If the above is a good clue to what is going on, why is it that the overwhelming majority of American bonsai practitioners seem to cling to the Easten model?

That's because bonsai here in the US was started and taught by the Japanese. And to this day, a large number of teachers and practitioners of bonsai are of Far-Eastern descent. Their influence here is much stronger than in any other part of the world. They are respected and they set the standards here.
In Europe, the majority of bonsai artists are NOT asians. They are europeans. Some of them were schooled in Japan, but they are not bound by japanese tradition. It's a very different chemistry, and this obviously leads to a different outcome.

Author:  Andy Rutledge [ Fri Dec 30, 2005 5:28 pm ]
Post subject: 

Walter and Attila,
After reading your posts I'm left with a bad taste in my mouth. Not from what your opinions are, but rather from what you cite about the state of things in Europe.
This business of preferring to represent oneself as innovative divorcing oneself from tradition smacks of having no courage. It is like living a lie. I'm sorry, but if someone is afraid to cite influences and tradition, they simply lack balls. Cowards are poor representatives of art. I'm disheartened to learn how cowardly and pretentious the average European artist is, according to your observations.

Author:  Walter Pall [ Fri Dec 30, 2005 5:47 pm ]
Post subject: 

and your reply made me almost break into laughter. I wonder how exactly you have made that inellectual summersault with a double twist.
If you are serious about your last post you are accusing the American artist in general as well of being cowards with the exception of American bonsai artists. Or what exactly??

Author:  Andy Rutledge [ Fri Dec 30, 2005 6:26 pm ]
Post subject: 

Haha, yeah, that was a bit over-the-top. ;-) I felt a bit awkward submitting that one.
But I'm only half-jesting. Sure, anyone who learns from someone and then refuses to acknowledge their teacher is a coward and an ingrate. And those who clearly follow a tradition and refuse to acknowledge it are misrepresenting themselves (lying; be they American or European or Asia. And yes, I'm using strong language to reference what is only partially true for most, but the reference is not wholly unwarranted. Or did I miss something in your posts?
There are, of course, those who follow no teacher and no tradition. Their work is easy to recognize as most often it is quite poor. Not always, of course, as there are some exceptionally gifted individuals in any endeavor, but this is generally true. In any event, those who refuse to devote themselves to a teacher (or teachers) and learn the fullness of what that can bring (over a significant time) are not necessarily cowards or liars, but they've got their own problems ;-) - or they simply don't want to produce excellent work. Not every enthusiast must strive be a top artist, certainly.
Look, we can discuss and debate the issues surrounding the various styles and traditions, as we have been doing, and not touch on issues of artistic quality and craft integrity. But if we are going to reference issues of relative quality, the traditions will win hands down. That's what they are set up to do - perpetuate quality. Stepping outside the bounds of tradition is fine and liberating. But the results don't usually compare well with that which comes from within a tradition. I'm just sayin'. ;-)
Kind regards,

Author:  Hector Johnson [ Fri Dec 30, 2005 8:49 pm ]
Post subject: 

Interesting, Attila, that you chose to show us one of Hasui's pieces that depicts what is, to me at least, a very traditional scene from Japanese art. It was done very well by Utagawa Hiroshige, in his Tokkaido series (No 22, I think) of the Utsutani Pass. The same subject received the attention of Sotatsu and Roshu, before him.
I would have thought it was the perfect example of how different artists deal with a similar subject.
I think the assertion that there are different, distinct schools developing out of the one art, bonsai, is perhaps a little disingenuous. I see it more as a progression of fashions, not unlike fashions in men's clothing. The decorations and embellishments change but the basic shape remains the same. We are constrained to the needs of nature, though there is a gradual, cyclical evolution apparent. A little fuller now, a little tighter then but all recognisably linked, each to the other.
As with any fashion, be it clothes, art, music, literature, religion or anything else; there will always be a cadre of "traditionalists" who adhere to the tenets of what they consider to be the "true style". Bonsai is no different, in my view. It attracts people into "schools", and leaves them to their own devices, and to occasional scorn from the "progressives".
Tradition or no, there is little but opinion to determine whether one practitioner is right, or another wrong. (Admittedly, for someone to be "right" they usually feel compelled to make someone else "wrong"). However, if we are prepared to make the church broad enough then there is room for Walter and Andy to fit under the roof and respect each other's work from a distance, if not actively.
It is human nature to divide along tribal lines. Why should our art be any different?

Author:  Andy Rutledge [ Fri Dec 30, 2005 9:18 pm ]
Post subject: 

Hi Hector,
I appreciate your thoughts on these matters. As for our church, there is certainly room here for what you describe. As it relates to my view of Walter's work, I greatly admire it - and not just "from a distance," but actively. As with any artist's work, I admire much of it and take issue with some of it as well. When there is much agreement, much disagreement does not sour things. Especially when the disagreement is over substance and not personalities.
Another thing I admire about Walter is that I may come "at" him or "to" him with as much gusto as I care to, and he is comfortable enough in his own skin to examine the content of what I say and not worry about inferring any tone in what is written.
When Walter and I go at it, I imagine that we might as well be sitting comfortably out on the veranda with our feet up, sipping lemonade. I appreciate that fact and wish that it were so with many others with whom I bandy words and ideas. ;-)
Kind regards,

Author:  Walter Pall [ Sat Dec 31, 2005 12:23 am ]
Post subject: 

'Look, we can discuss and debate the issues surrounding the various styles and traditions, as we have been doing, and not touch on issues of artistic quality and craft integrity. But if we are going to reference issues of relative quality, the traditions will win hands down. That's what they are set up to do - perpetuate quality'
sure I can agree to this. An awful lot of nonsense and crap is produced under that name of individuality, of 'real' art. The art of bonsai is a good example of this.
There are lots of those who say 'this is a free country' and 'nobody is giving me no rules' and they produce most pathetic stuff. There are lots of those who turn your argument around and call traditionalists cowards who don't dare to escape the old-fashioned cage.
But this is not at all what the credo of creativity, individuality, getting rid of tradition really is about.
Only those who have more tradition than they ever wanted and who have this tradition deeply engrained into every single move they make should really start to get rid of it. Only then can be real progress and not futile trys of a new start and reinventing the wheel.
I will yet have to find the person who creates what looks like magnificent bonsai to me who does NOT have a solid theoretical and practical background that comes from tradition, some sort of successful tradition.
But it seems that in the Western culture the individual who goes his own way eventually is applauded and not frownded upon like there is tendency in the Eastern culture.
And there is more tradition, artistic and otherwise in Europe than anybody would ever want. No wonder that so many want to go away from it. But really they are trying to invent their own tradition.
The aim must be to progress from tradition, to stand on the shoulders of those who have carried that old tradition.
It is possible for some individuals to get to a rather high level without ever having had formal training or any teacher. Really?
Well, I have not had a single workshop in my life, I have never had someone who came close to being my teacher. But this does not mean that what I can do and what I know is ALL my own invention. It clearly has it's roots in whatever information I could get from all possible sources. All these sources together are well traditional bonsai.
This was because there were simply no people in Europe who were in a position to really teach. There were only ignorants who tried to teach.
I am not suggesting that one should try to do similar. It is the very hard way. And it has very much to do with a certain sort of personality which absolutely does not allow an authority above.

Author:  Andy Rutledge [ Sat Dec 31, 2005 1:14 am ]
Post subject: 

Thanks Walter. Yes, this is what I was meaning when I referenced exceptional individuals in a previous post. There are some people who just "get it," because they have a God-given talent and ability and see into things in a way that most others simply cannot.
For instance, you have an artist's way and it seems to me (and if I remember your own observation from some years ago) that you bring that artist's way to anything you do. If you did not grow bonsai, you'd be doing something else in an artistic manner (and likely do anyway). It matters not how much instruction you received from others directly. You see into things and learn - you steal something important from everything you see. At least that is what I surmise.
In a sense, formal training is formal training - no matter the discipline. If you have an ability to get to the heart of that gestalt, it can be applied to just about anything. Surely you and others have this ability.
This business of trying to start one's own tradition is tricky business. Here in the US, it is commonplace. Take the various Eastern martial arts, for instance. There is a master teaching in every strip mall and office park. The vast majority are "founders of their own style." Idiocy. It is no different with bonsai, I think.
I have no respect for those who live this way and produce crap and teach crap. Of course there are those who truly have something to offer and who produce excellence. You gotta respect that. I just hope that they pass on their insights and "system" to others in a systematic (traditional?) way so that they're more than just a spark that dies in the darkness.
Kind regards,

Author:  Hector Johnson [ Sun Jan 01, 2006 7:32 am ]
Post subject: 

If I could make a few observations?
1. Few people like being told what to do.
2. It's far easier to get people to do things if they believe it is their own idea... at least in Western society.
3. Bonsai is an expensive pastime, if you're going to do it right.
4. There are a number of pointless conventions holding the art back, at least in Australia and the US. I'm not sure about other countries.

1. Westerners enjoy a radically different cultural outlook to that popular in the East. Individualism is stressed, over the social expectations of conformity that are the norm in many Asian communities.
2. A more focussed effort to educate the public, as they become interested or involved in the art, might work to establish a better understanding of bonsai. Of course, this is still subject to the vicissitudes of the teachers who attempt to impose their radical styles and ideas and values on their little portion of the bonsai world.
3. The major impediment I see, in our efforts to bring the concept of good bonsai to people, is the sheer cost, in terms of time and money, of obtaining a collection worth having. I'm sure I'd spend more on trees if I could justify it, like many people. There would be fewer poor trees sold in supermarkets and hardware stores, if it were possible to produce quality less expensively.

4. I also believe the art would be better developed if there wasn't this pointless obsession with growing your own stock from seed, or collecting your own trees and potentially damaging micro-environments. There's nothing wrong with buying partially trained stock from capable wholesale growers.
4a. Likewise, what's the point of the insane insistence upon only exhibiting trees you have styled yourself? I understand that everyone wants to play on a relatively level playing field but that should not stop anyone from buying pre-styled "finished" trees and enjoying them. If they want to show them, or maintain them, then they should be able to do that, too. The upper echelons of the bonsai world regularly trade and sell styled trees. Why is it wrong for amateurs to do so?
In fact, I recommend this path to people who want to get involved in bonsai. It is also the reason that I don't ever participate in the club scene, with its irritating, petty politics and its blathering masses of "It's all my own work but you bought yours as a 15-year-old stock tree, didn't you?" morons about its fringe.
Perhaps these are the real reasons there are so many who don't want to follow the traditional paths? There are too many impediments to actually doing it, to satisfy the short term gratification needs of the average interested bystander... and too many small-minded snobs lurking in the fold.

Author:  Andy Rutledge [ Sun Jan 01, 2006 10:26 am ]
Post subject: 

Wow Hector, you've pretty much summed up my collection of forum posts for the past 6 or 8 years. ;-) Or did I post that in my sleep under an assumed name. Haha.
You've hit several nails on the head. And you also point out a couple of things that will never change, no matter how much a few of us would like to see them change.
Yes, Western preoccupation with innovation and independence will always be an obstacle to enthusiasts learning artistic fundamentals to any significant degree. It takes a good deal of submission and conformity to do so. That automatically limits the number of enthusiasts who will ever achieve any solid understanding of bonsai art. That will never change.
Yes, it is quite expensive to participate in quality bonsai activities. That, too, will limit the number of enthusiasts who will participate with any reference to high-quality results. This is also not to mention the fact that bonsai is in and of itself a very geeky and specialized endeavor. It is of interest to only the smallest portion of society. So we're beginning with the merest, miniscule sliver of our population and then further decimating the number of participants with other various culling methods we've already mentioned.
It is a fact that local and regional clubs and the various conventions are the most significant features of entry into this endeavor, education for the endeavor, and of community participation in this endeavor. I don't see that changing anytime soon. So the fact that the largest portion of these organizations and activities are poisoned against quality, poisoned against advisable education and poisoned against matters of artistry ensures that by and large our community will never see any significant trend toward a more healthy artistic understanding nor shape its concerns and activities around quality and artistry.
This is simply something that will not change, no matter how much some of us would like to see it change. Therefore, those individuals for whom artistry and quality are the primary issues of the endeavor will always be fringe elements and will always be working outside of the mainstream with segregated efforts. This causes us to seem and sound elitist and odd.
I'm not worried about that and don't care how the mainstream perceives of such activities. This is natural and irreconcilable and we waste our efforts if we work to change this natural balance. Much more can be accomplished by developing our own house and building our own infrastructure on more solid ground.
So I hope that for our own sake we can dispense with lamentations of this wholly natural imbalance and cease with efforts to penetrate the mainstream.
Kind regards,

Author:  Hector Johnson [ Sun Jan 01, 2006 7:12 pm ]
Post subject: 

Andy, maybe you just happen to be spot on with your observations? Your position in the whole bonsai scene pretty much ensures you have a perfect overview of the game, and all of its warts and wens.
I may have been channelling for you, at least in part. I saw a post of yours a while back, observing that people seem to adopt an attitude of superiority about trees they have styled for themselves, irrespective of how poor they are as specimens. As I've said elsewhere since bothering to participate in the online bonsai community, since November 2005, I stay away from clubs and competitions.
I have, however, been watching the participants from a distance for the past 16 years. There are few things more annoying than the assumed arrogance of the old sweats (NOT the good practitioners... they keep to themselves and only tender advice if you ask for it) in the club scene. I'm talking about the theorists; The know-alls who have read or heard enough to make them "experts" in much the same way as the worst teachers and lecturers are often "experts". By that I mean they are possessed of a little knowledge and a lot of opinion.
The uninformed public comes at bonsai from another direction, I've noticed. Who has had this discussion?
"How old is that tree?"
"Umm, about 30 years. I collected it from my garden."
"How about this one?"
"Oh, maybe 10 years."
"But this one looks so much older than the old one!"
"That's because it grows more quickly and has a few features that make it look older more quickly. There was also a better starting point, because I bought it as semi-styled stock."
"Is this one in the black nursery bag semi-styled stock?"
"Yes, that's a Japanese Black Pine. I've had it three years, training it before I put it into a proper bonsai pot."
"How much would you pay for a semi-styled tree like that?"
"I paid $500 for that tree, three years ago."
"Holy sh... " (At this point it is necessary to get smelling salts, an icepack and a pillow, to assist with the revival of the guest, who has swooned.)
Maybe you're right. maybe we should keep it all to ourselves. Just a secret society, with its own handshake and special passwords and arcane usage of selected Japanese terminology, to keep the great unwashed on the outer ;^) .
That way we can maintain the traditions of bonsai without having to concern ourselves with any nasty challenges to our preconceptions. It works for me.

Author:  Andy Rutledge [ Sun Jan 01, 2006 8:54 pm ]
Post subject: 

I would think it unnecessary to mention, but I made no reference to keeping anyone out of any segment of our endeavor. I merely observe that it is useless and senseless to continue to try and make inroads into the general community of bonsai enthusiats. There, artists are not welcome except to entertain.
It is an utter waste of effort to insist that someone accept, accommodate and/or adopt what you are doing when they do not share your values or interests.
So anyway, do not for a moment think or suggest that I'm prescribing any effort toward segregation. Fling wide our doors, put a neon sign out, but just don't go knocking door-to-door and have any hopes of success. Let others come in, but respect their preferences for their own space. That is neither offensive nor threatening. It is also, however, not secretive or segregational. I hope you take my meaning here.
Kind regards,

Author:  Hector Johnson [ Mon Jan 02, 2006 12:42 am ]
Post subject: 

I had your meaning from the outset. I was simply playing the Devil's Advocate. Perhaps I should use more emoticons, to soften the meaning of my words?
Sorry if you misread my sarcastic outlook on the whole sorry mess.

Author:  Walter Pall [ Mon Jan 02, 2006 5:22 am ]
Post subject: 

Andy and Hector,
I cannot really agree to your views of the ability of the bonsai community to learn and to accept change.
Yes, there is the bonsai estabishment which, like all establishments cling to their possession with all claws they have. And there are the bonsai fundametalists who know the truth and absolutely do not want to hear about other truths.
But there is the general bonsai public. It may be naive and ignorant, but it is not dumb really. There are lots of people who are open to change and new ways. Who are open to information and who are tolerant about other opinions.
I am in the most fortunate position to be invited around the world to teach and they do offer me podiums. Quite often there is a big crowd, like a hundred or more, often the room is packed full. I say what I have to say there, regardless of where I am and who is in the audience. Sometimes I feel like Maritn Luther in the Vatican. But somewhow I feel that there are enough peole who want ot hear what I say. At least they give me this strong impression and they do reinvite me. And I have the feeling that a am a catalyst for some change. Slow, but steady change.
Very recently I had this big crowd in Sacramento. There were about 30 or more Japanese Americans in the crowd, many of the old guard. They did look somehat reserved in the beginning, but, boy did that change by the end of the meeting!
So it is possible to preach quality, to preach tolerance to bring new and fesh and controversial ideas into this community which is the most conservatives in artstht I know of.
I am certainly not giving up. I feel that it is getting better and I see the light at the end of the tunnel. Well, you know it, it is the train coming at me.
Happy New Year! To the year 2006 when we will eliminate the bonsai fundmentalists and all the bigots.

Author:  Andy Rutledge [ Mon Jan 02, 2006 10:52 am ]
Post subject: 

No, I could never deny the successes you encounter publicly and the afinity that much of the worldwide community has for your efforts and programs. And these are good things! But evidence shows that after you have left town, few if any then devote themselves to bonsai artistry. Still they cling to their own limited view and non-artistic practice. This is not change, this is fascination with entertainment. Entertainers (be they artists or charlatans) will always be welcomed by the general community.
Again, I do not suggest that many within the general community cannot enjoy excellent examples of bonsai artistry. I simply maintain that artistry is something that the general community does not aspire to nor has the stomach to pursue. And that is as it should be. Doing so requires far more than most are prepared to invest (monetarily, temporally and of effort).
Doing what you do, traveling the world spreading ideas and widening vistas, is terrific and certainly beneficial. As I said, fling wide our doors and invite all to participate. Good on ya!
Kind regards,

Page 2 of 3 All times are UTC - 5 hours [ DST ]
Powered by phpBB © 2000, 2002, 2005, 2007 phpBB Group