Truly Natural Style Bonsai
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Author:  Soumya Mitra [ Sun Jan 22, 2006 2:13 pm ]
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To my viewpoint the 3 images are example of Candle-Flame style
( Rosoku-Zukuri) with variations.
The 1st .image is a triple-tree candle-flame styled tree.
The second one is an old tree with short trunk line.
The is of asymetrical branch placement.
All these features are well executed and accepted feature of Rosoku-Zukuri.
This style(bonsai styles based on tree-shapes) differs from its elder sister Broom style ( Hoki-Zukuri) by having a natural & delicate appearence & in its branch placement. The silhouette lines between the two styles also differs in shape.
Natural look is an intregal feature of Rosoku-Zukuri, hence i think the discussion is going on its natural look - which is a feature of a style & not a style by itself here.

Author:  Hector Johnson [ Mon Jan 23, 2006 12:46 am ]
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I would suggest it is testament to the artist's skills that they appear this way.
Monotony is even more subjective than art. I can think of fewer things closer to purgatory than having to listen to Luciano Pavarotti for three hours. That doesn't mean I'm right and everyone else is wrong, though.
I usually allow glimpses of the trunk line through the foliage. i personally think that bonsai look too much like bonsai if they are showing the entire trunk line.
It's not clear to me whether the foliage would do this, on these trees, in other seasons.

Author:  Vance Wood [ Sat Feb 11, 2006 4:31 pm ]
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Not wishing or meaning to put words in Walter's mouth but trying to actually see if I understand what he has been saying for my own benefit. As I understand it, "Naturalistic" being a style or form that does not look stylized, contrived, or purposefully forced into one of the traditional styles or molds, or otherwise manipulated by man. Walter has said that this style does not mean messy or unkempt. It has in essence been styled by nature. Which oddly enough was probably how bonsai were formed before someone started defining what we know as styles today.
The second Maple pictured, which looks to me like a Trident Maple though I know it is not, and knowing how trunks like these are formed, the location of the chops being evident to me, I would have trouble putting this tree into a Naturalistic style according to the way I am understanding the above. If that is so, how could this tree be changed to be more like the above definition?
It then came to me that according to the above, all that would be necessary is to somehow soften the step downs between subsequent chops so that they flowed more together. It is the presence of these step downs that make the touch of man evident. I am, on the other hand, in awe of this tree, I think it is beautiful no matter how you choose to define it.
So---what I plan on doing is going through my collection to see what I can define or recognize as contrivance and see if there are ways to correct this. I am beginning to think that perhaps it is not so much the style or form a tree takes as it is the evidence of how it got there to a certain degree. If I am understanding the Naturalistic style correctly it is more an issue of forensics than form.

Author:  Anonymous [ Tue Mar 04, 2008 6:24 am ]
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Having followed this discussion and others like it silently for long I venture to express a few points for consideration. Of the three trees the first one is my favourite. The second one is impressive but it has a displeasing pigeon chested look in the upper trunk which I find not at all attractive. The third is graceful and elegant but imho not naturalistic, as I understand Walter to be using the term in this and other posts. It in fact looks over touched by human hand, over perfected, neat, tidy, angelic almost.
In the context of the discussion I think we all strive to make our bonsai look natural. For example we try to make chops at the back rather than the front and disguise pruning scars,etc. Further the text book styles are only an aid to learning and I doubt if many bonsai exist that follow the rules to the letter-in fact it would be very difficult, if not foolhardy, to attempt to make them do so. It follows that trying to define a separate style as naturalistic may only obscure rather than clarify. Can I not design a naturalistic literati for instance?-Kanwal.

Author:  Li Zhenxiang [ Wed Mar 05, 2008 12:57 pm ]
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Hector Johnson wrote:
Penjing has diverged sufficiently to be another art, altogether, in my view.
There has been a distinct schism between the two, in artistic terms, over the past century.

Likewise, the practice of "bonsai" in the west is slowly but assuringly evolving into another "art form". So is there a point in comparing what the West do with what the East agrees?

The discussion can be brought up to another more semantically and perhaps metaphysical stage. The word "art" in English itself can be interpreted in at least two manner: 1) as a form of expression by means of painting, music, writing, gardening, etc; and 2) as a refined skill, eg "artisan" of bakery: baker.

Has anyone wonder if the English term "art" can be truly translated into Japanese (芸術), or Chinese (藝術)?

All these talks and debates about how do we perceive bonsais as "art" appears to be pertinent in the western practice and habit of (over)intellectualizing a certain practice.

The way East-Asians perceive this world is rather different from the way Europeans and North Americans view the world. The former abides by a more "lateral" concept, whilst the latter a more "vertical" point of view. This verticality is very judeo-christian in essence, where there must be a good and an evil, a tall and a short, a big and a small, etc. The lateral view would be, there will not be a good if there wasn't an evil around. The subtleness must be correctly understood before one can make a jump to compare how each camp perceive the same subject.

From my observation of my home-continent, "bonsai" and "penjing" are rarely spoken of as high "art". If you study the provenance and etymology of the characters 藝術 and 芸術, and then bring it into the context of "artistic sphere" in Asia, you would see the weak relevance of the points touched in this thread.

Not wanting to sound patronising in any way, I sometimes think that the West over-complicate everything by the burning desire to "define" things. A venture into the first chapter of Tao de ching may help:

道 可 道 ,非 常 道 。 名 可 名 , 非 常 名 。
無 名 天 地 之 始 ﹔ 有 名 萬 物 之 母 。
故 常 無 , 欲 以 觀 其 妙 ﹔ 常 有 , 欲 以 觀 其 徼。
此 兩 者 , 同 出 而 異 名 , 同 謂 之 玄 。
玄 之 又 玄, 眾 妙 之 門 。

(translation into various languages can be found here I think

Author:  Mike Page [ Wed Mar 05, 2008 1:13 pm ]
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Li Zhenxiang says:" Not wanting to sound patronising in any way, I sometimes think that the West over-complicate everything by the burning desire to "define" things."

Li, thanks for a thought-provoking essay. You make some very good points.


Author:  Vance Wood [ Wed Mar 05, 2008 3:15 pm ]
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All of that is good, worth remembering and contemplating but it does not go to the key premise of this discussion; trying to determine what a natural style is and what it is about. Whether or not the Japanese or Chinese in particular and all Asians in general consider what we call bonsai to be art means little to me. It does not affect the way I look at the art (to me it is art) or the way I practice it unless what I can derive from the other will add to it (in my view).

In other words, if I like A but according to others' opinions and points of view A is not an art or not valid guess what I am going to do? I'm going with A because A is what I like, enjoy, find pleasing, and floats my boat regardless of what someone else my think of it. The arguments and discussions about whether bonsai is an art are to me at this point meaningless. Regardless of which side of the argument prevails it is not going to change the way I do what I do. I do it for my sake and no other, if you don't like it, they don't like it, or nobody likes it----tough, I like it and that's what matters to me.

I will entertain new ideas and look at new methods and if the results please me I will accept, even praise them and use them where I can and so it is with the Naturalistic Style. Personally I believe this is where bonsai started in the beginning before the ubiquitous styles, forms and rules clouded our understanding with facts and concepts approved by people whoes opinions may be questioned, challenged and proven faulty.

I know enough about how I want a tree to look to make my own way around the maze of do's, don'ts and not sure's in the world. Most of this is mental flatulence anyway, an exercise in the avoidance of performing the inevitable and the necessary. If bonsai and the love of bonsai drive you then do bonsai, forget the artsy-fartsy, nasty-craftsy stuff. How is this going to make better bonsai anyway?

Having said all of that I have one thing to say about bonsai Art and craft. If bonsai were a craft then anyone using reasonable material with reasonable skills would be able to make excellent bonsai simply by following a set of rules and guidelines. The fact remains that there are bonsai out there that are made from reasonable material with reasonable skills that become world class, jaw dropping gorgeous.

The difference between the two is when one is approached as a craft, the other as an art by an artist. Therefore, one can say that bonsai is a craft just as oil painting is a craft and sculpture is a craft. I do not argue this point. When those disciplines become art is when the heart of an artist is applied to the craft and something more than the sum total of its parts is manifested. One has soul the other has workmanship. One speaks stories and tells tales the other stands there and points to something better.

Forgive the rant.

Author:  Nick Mahaffey [ Thu Apr 17, 2008 3:16 am ]
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Just a quick thought. Has anyone actually seen a tree in nature that looks like the one in the middle? To me it looks un-natural. I personally have never seen any tree like that in nature. The trunk is just too large and it is huge all the way up. Whenever I see huge trunks in nature, the top breaks up into many smaller branches, it doesn't just continue up to a single point. The other two are amazing, especially the first one. I could stare at that one all day. Exquisite. Of course if you can show me pictures to prove me otherwise, I would be glad to concede. It looks more like a cartoon than anything in real life. Something out of a Halloween card or something.

Author:  Vance Wood [ Thu Apr 17, 2008 6:41 pm ]
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I have to agree with you about the second tree, The Japanese Maple. First off I think this is a wonderful tree but it is not a natural style. It is a classical example of a Maple trained in the Pine tree style; Single large trunk tapered to the top with no divisions into smaller ramified trunks as you would expect with a large Maple, Oak, or Beech in nature. As I said for what it is it's a beautiful example of the trunk chop and grow for taper. As far as a natural style for me it does not work because I know how this image was created, therefore to me it is not naturalistic. The naturalistic style should defy this kind of analysis. It is in fact more an example of one of the classical traditional styles.

Author:  Matt Williams [ Mon Jan 12, 2009 6:33 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Truly Natural Style Bonsai

Single large trunk tapered to the top with no divisions into smaller ramified trunks as you would expect with a large Maple, Oak, or Beech in nature.
Quite true, in many years of walking in the British landscape I have very rarely seen any mature beech with a single trunk line and no branching of the trunks (see ... sters.html), the same is true for both Acer campestre and Acer pseudoplanatus, this single trunk line on so many deciduous bonsai is what make many of them seem a little contrived. In my experience a single trunk line to the top of the crown is the (rare) exception rather than the rule, with oaks it is a little more common in specimen trees (those grown in the open rather than as part as a forest) but still relatively unusual. This is not to say that a very beautiful bonsai can't be produced from single trunked material (especially as it is commonly available) but we ought to consider a much wider range of branched trunk forms (e.g. what some have refered to as informal or naturalistic broom forms).

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