It's All Mr. Yoshimura's Fault
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Author:  Attila Soos [ Mon Feb 13, 2006 5:25 pm ]
Post subject:  Re:

Vance Wood wrote:
I subscribe to the philosophy that says: "Never argue with a fool or an idiot, they will only drag you down to their level and then beat you through experience". I have to admit sometimes I go looking for Sancho Panza, I get on my horse, take my trusty lance and chase after the nearest wind mill.

Vance, your knowledge is very valuable (which can be translated into money) to those who seek it.
Don't waste it on some guy whom you don't even know and who clearly has no idea how to appreciate it. You know the saying with throwing pearl at the doesn't matter how precious and rare the pearl is.
I sometimes give advice from my experience to some people I already know (internet or personal) and when I know that they appreciate it. But I do it reluctantly, my time is just too valuable to me (and too limited) to waste even one minute of it. Often I don't have the time to help people even when they ask for it, never mind some stranger on the internet. The half hour spent on pointless reasoning, can be better spend on other things, such as reading something valuable, or calling up a long-time friend to say hello.

Author:  Vance Wood [ Mon Feb 13, 2006 9:51 pm ]
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You're right, I should get off my tall horse. Sometimes I allow some people to rent space in my head and I shouldn't.

Author:  Vance Wood [ Sat Mar 18, 2006 8:06 pm ]
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After going through this entire thread yet another time every word, I want to thank all of you who have taken the time to post opinions and observations. I think Mr. Yoshimura would be proud how his contribution to bonsai has grown beyond those things he wrote. In many cases his students both direct and second generation are now becoming the teachers of yet another generation of bonsai growers. No longer do we wonder about growing bonsai, we now argue about style and ethics and new techniques for doing some things that were not even thought possible at the time he wrote his book.

Author:  Bill Struhar [ Tue Mar 21, 2006 2:12 pm ]
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I took a yew in a landscape pot to our last club meeting and asked Vance for advice. What he told me didn?t suit my tastes, so I said I would grow-it-on because I didn?t like the style that he said it would need to be arranged in now (the sizes and proportions being what they are, now).
I don?t know enough about bonsai to recognize ?styles? as being Japanese, or Chinese, or European, but I know they exist. I?m only at a level where I can see that Japanese favor austere pots, and Chinese pots are often very decorative, and Europeans favor the kinds of very old trees you can collect in the mountains. We might all favor those kinds of trees if we all lived near mountains.
I?ve seen comments from those who favor what they think are Japanese-like qualities in selecting pots, in which they condescending pass judgements on cobalt blue pots, as though Il Cognoscenti would NEVER use a pretty pot. They believe that the pot should never compete with the tree. And, they believe that?s the way the Japanese think. Maybe some of the Japanese think that way, but if you peruse the Japanese pot competitions, you won?t find any austere, plain-Jane, square-ish rectangles pots there- they are all very avant garde. So, whatever else is true, I see some real differences between the tastes of the Japanese-American Masters who teach Americans, and the Japanese-Japanese who judge pots in Japan. The two could not be further apart.
I like Chinese-style pots and I consider it a waste of time and opportunity to put a beautiful tree in a plain pot. The first rule of Penjing is, ?Enjoy your planting?, and I do. I describe myself as being into Chinese bonsai for that reason (rightly or wrongly).
The Japanese have a national characteristic widely recognized as being very self-restrained. Americans are widely reputed to free-thinkers and very unrestrained. These two characteristics are, in my humble opinion, not mutable. They are not imitate-able either. Japanese who come to live in the US do not suddenly- or even after a life-time of living in the US, become as loose and undisciplined as typical Americans, much less artsy Americans. I don?t know, but speculate that Americans who live in Japan for a long time don?t really become ?Japanese-like? in their thinking. I think both sets of immigrants adapt, and adopt local customs, but continue to think of themselves as ?different-thinking?. Neither way of thinking, Japanese or American is superior, or inferior, they are the result of the cultures and both have good points and bad points.
What I?m leading up to is that when Americans practice ?Japanese? bonsai, they are, in my humble opinion, only able to imitate the Japanese, they can?t think like them because in Japan bonsai is practiced as a discipline, not just an artform. Discipline, really self-discipline, is foremost, and the art portion is secondary. It is just another part of the Japanese lifestyle in which religion, and personal interaction, and everything else is governed by moderation and adherence to fairly rigid rules.
American bonsai begins where I don?t take the Master?s advice because I don?t want the tree to look like what he says it ?is?, now. I?m not rejecting his advice. I?m not arguing with his wisdom. I am going to grow-it-on to obtain what I want. And that?s American. What?s it gonna look like? Too early to tell! Have I learned anything? Too early to tell.

Author:  Will Heath [ Tue Mar 21, 2006 4:03 pm ]
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The worth of a thought is weighed by the results it produces.


Author:  Vance Wood [ Tue Mar 21, 2006 9:30 pm ]
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Bill: I hardly know where to start here. I have waited several hours to make sure I amply cooled off before responding so here we go.
You made the observation that what I suggested to you for the styling of this particular tree did not satisfy your taste. In the past you have brought trees to me for the more or less instant conversion to as near a bonsai as the material allowed. I made the assumption that this is what you wanted with this tree. If I remember correctly I told you my decision for a style was based on not having any other option than what I would do with it now.
This is a major problem with people at your level of experience. You go out and choose plants without any consideration at all for its potential as a bonsai, then you take these trees to people like me and put us in a catch 22 situation where no matter what we tell you we are wrong. Feeling forced to come up with some solution for your tree I told you what would have to be done in order to make a bonsai of some sort out of it now. If on the other hand I had told you to stick it in the ground you would have come back and said " That's all these guy ever have to say, stick it in the ground".
As to pots: I do not remember even once having a discussion with you about pots, understanding that the trees we have worked with together are not pot worthy as yet, Chinese, Japanese, Korean, or what ever.
You also seem to suggest that I am locked in to the Japanese style which tells me you either did not read this entire string or you did not understand it.
I guess the real bottom line is this. If you don't like the way I do trees, and the styles I choose, and you think you can come up with something better why do you ask me what I would do with a tree?
What you want is American? What is American? This argument has been tossed about for years. I would hold this little phrase to axiomatic. There is no way you can tell where you are going or where you have to go if you don't know where you are.

Author:  Hector Johnson [ Tue Mar 21, 2006 10:23 pm ]
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Without wanting to get into the fray between two people... might I suggest that students attain at least a level of proficiency before they question their teachers?
I don't think it's too fine a point to put on it that people recent to bonsai simply don't "get" the "wabi sabi"/ "shibui" precepts and tend to put their trees in gaudy pots. When challenged on this, their argument is often that the pots are available, so they must be acceptable.
As an aside... I'm certain that I don't understand either of those Japanese concepts, any more than I understand a Buddhist's enlightenment or a Christian's "Hallelujah Moment". I do understand enough to know that I don't know, so I'll go with the flow for now.
Use of gaudy pots is rare, even in Penjing. In fact, look at the last few years' worth of Taiwan Exhibition (Arguably the most "Chinese" of the world's bonsai shows) trees and I would guess that fewer than one percent of trees go into decorated pots, and they tend to be very stately, handsome, big trees that can pull off such a stunt. Even then, it is likely the pot hails from a much earlier time and is the focal point of the composition, rather than complimentary to the tree.
Pots used for bonsai now are generally far more austere than they were 100 years ago, when barberpole stripes and deep urn-shaped pots were more often used. These are the sort of pots that we now use as decorative graden planters.
The use of flat, austere pots sprang out of the practice of using incense burner trays, for the most part.
Putting trees that really are not ready for a quality pot into a quality, unglazed or glazed ceramic pots is probably more indicative of the owner's need for instant gratification and self-aggrandisement than it is of any level of refinement or taste.
I've started this argument, albeit tangentially, in other places, with fairly predictable results.
If the tree can't support the pot then don't pot it. Take up collecting pots or something, but don't adulterate the art for a simple lack of knowledge and a bit of impatience.
Tradition is a large part of the appeal of bonsai. I wouldn't take the results of a few avant-garde pottery shows to be anything other than a willingness on the part of a couple of editors making a fuss of something different, not dissimilar to the 19th century practice of making women with beards into circus attractions.

Author:  Bill Struhar [ Tue Mar 21, 2006 11:17 pm ]
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I have made a grave error. I didn't make any attempt to make it clear that only the beginning and ending paragraphs had anything to do with Vance. Everything in-between was about other people, and me.
I apologize to Vance for allowing him to think otherwise.
Vance is absolutely right that I asked him about styling the yew "right now", and he made it clear that there was only one option "right now". He is also right that people at my level often buy stuff which, in retrospect, is not readily champion material within the first week. At my level, learning to shop better is certainly an important part of my learning curve, and much lies ahead of me. Vance is always frank, and if I had asked him whether the yew should be styled or grown-on, we all know what he would have said.
Vance and I have never spoken of pots. All the trees we have worked on are all still in training pots, and I am still learning how to keep them alive and growing-on well enough so that someday, they will be worthy of a proper pot.
Also, Vance and I have never spoken of Japanese/Chinese/Whatever higher philosophical matters, so my railing against imitating Japanese thinking doesn't apply to him either. I'm attacking you other guys.
Once again, I apologize for not making myself clear enough to avoid this mis-understanding.

Author:  Hector Johnson [ Tue Mar 21, 2006 11:33 pm ]
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And my reply, apart from the first paragraph, had nothing to do with your discussion with Vance.
It was a rebuttal of your views on pots, in the Eristic (Argumentative) section of our website.
It is a common mistake for people new to bonsai to select pots that are pretty, or to criticise pots they see as dull. It's part of the evolution of a bonsai enthusiast, in my view... as is their need to overcome their penchant for instant gratification.

Author:  Will Heath [ Wed Mar 22, 2006 12:13 am ]
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I have heard (and once made) the pot argument and also asking the question why should we blindly follow Japanese tradition when selecting a pot.
The answer is that it is not a Japanese tradition at all, the guidelines for selecting a pot are used because they work, nothing more, nothing less.
Chinese Penjing? Take a look at Brooks gallery, a Chinese Penjing artist, considered by many to be the best.
European Bonsai? Take a look at Walter Pall's gallery, certainly world-class without a doubt and a leading innovator of the naturalistic bonsai movement.
Indonesia Bonsai? Robert Steven's gallery contains a unique blend of bonsai and Penjing, certainly ground breaking stuff also.
American Bonsai? Take a look at Nick Lenz's gallery, he is without a doubt blazing trails with his bonsai creations.
The common denominator of these four artists, all from different countries is that most of the pots they choose is what is commonly labeled as traditional.
Accent pots break from the norm as they always have, but not so far as to lose the simple natural beauty we have come to love and expect in a pot. For an example, see Horst's gallery.


Author:  Vance Wood [ Wed Mar 22, 2006 8:45 am ]
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There is also the more practical issue of durability. Unless you grow nothing but indoor/tropical trees, or you are willing to remove each tree planted in a questionable pot for winter storage you have to consider whether or not a particular pot will hold up to a cold winter year after year.
Most Japanese pots fall into this category, some Chinese do, a few Korean pots will endure. I am not certain about some of the European makers, I just assume they will. But, all are more expensive than the traditional clay terra cotta pots you commonly see in nurseries. These pots you can consider lucky to survive one winter outdoors.
So there is a lot more to selecting pots than asthetics.

Author:  Hector Johnson [ Sat Mar 25, 2006 1:02 pm ]
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Of course, glazes on pots are rarely able to withstand the rigours of heat and cold, to anywhere near the extent an unglazed pot may.
I have seem them crackle, discolour and craze in just a single summer. That may well be another reason they are not particularly common on bonsai pots. Having said that, I don't recall seeing too many problems with glazed Tokoname pots. They seem to be better made than most.

Author:  John Hill [ Sun Mar 26, 2006 12:07 am ]
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Is the tree ready for show?? If not the pot does not matter IMHO. I have heard that some will pot a tree up in certain pots just for show. Antique pots mostly. So why is most people wanting to worry about what pots to pot there trees in if they are just growing and not even ready to show them as of yet? It is a simple question,, I am just curious?
Maybe this will spark a new article for Will??
A Friend in bonsai

Author:  Hector Johnson [ Sun Mar 26, 2006 1:27 am ]
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Do your trees sit in grow boxes, any time they're not in shows, John?
I agree... there is an article in this subject.

Author:  John Hill [ Sun Mar 26, 2006 5:40 pm ]
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Hi Hector,
Most of my trees are in pots but are they in the right pots? Most probably are not. Alot of them in big mica pots bigger then they should be I guess. I have alot of trees in pots that really don't fit the tree as of right now but in the future when They are bonsai then I will worry about the right pot.
Finding the right pot also is sometimes mind boggling. You know? You buy a pot thinking that it is right for a tree then get it home and sure enough it is not? I have many of those pots for sure.
I didn't mean anything by saying that trees don't have to be potted in the right pot per say right now but if one is to show it it should have the right pot witch sometimes can be hard to find. IMHO.
A Friend in bonsai

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