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How Bonsai Taste Evolves
http://www.artofbonsai.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=3864
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Author:  Will Heath [ Thu Nov 19, 2009 9:33 am ]
Post subject:  Re: How Bonsai Taste Evolves

That's a great idea and one which can be accomplished to a certain point.

In art, there are many styles of painting, Abstract, Cubism, Impressionism, Surrealism, and so on... some paintings fall easily into these classifications, but many also can not be so easily pegged down and bleed across these lines.

Author:  Ana Veler [ Thu Nov 19, 2009 12:27 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: How Bonsai Taste Evolves

Gene Deci wrote:
It would be helpful if there were an authoritative source describing [...] all these terms



Authority is a neat shortcut to have, but I wonder if in this case such a classification can only get to be authoritative if describing well accepted, well-worn use.

As far as I remember, art currents are either born in a manifesto, or else become apparent in the review mirror only - and from serious distance. Meaning, one isn't necessarily aware of them while at it. Possibly a quirk of art history? [i.e. easier to pigeon-hole dead masters who can't protest the act..., impossible to tell whether a normative manifesto is justified by its content until the dust settles, better spread the risk of calling some group a 'school' after all ambiguity over itelectual property rights has vanished, ;) etc. Without a pinch of salt or a dozen, history no older then a couple' decades sounds allot like gossip. ]

In all skepticism, the 'naturalistic' thing would seem to have some of the familiar air of enduring words [n.b. add salt liberally here!]... Even Google comes up with a reasonable encyclopedia-style entry for it. 'Doubt Google has the authority [for anything] to call 'naturalistic bonsai' a 'current' though. Big word, shifty definition, slippery authority... Fingers crossed!

Author:  Colin Lewis [ Wed Dec 02, 2009 3:18 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: How Bonsai Taste Evolves

Interesting thread.
In my experience, the higher up the ladder of artistic achievement an artist climbs (or is placed by his/her audience) the less likely is that artist to judge the work of his/her peers. Comment, sure. Suggest possible modifications also. But not to judge in terms of 'good or bad'. Why is this? Possibly because the more accomplished an artist becomes the more aware of the irrelevance of such absolute terms.

Pattern recognition in assessing the merit of a bonsai is probably more common in the earlier stages of bonsai artistic development of an individual and becomes less so as that individual becomes more accomplished. The more compliance with preordained patterns (adherence to the "rules") is a dominant factor in assessing the merit of any art, the less importance is given to creativity and what I call the "success" of a piece. Art is, after all, basically a means of communication that goes beyond simple narrative imagery. Good or bad cannot be applied to communication in this context, but successful or unsuccessful can.

Two examples:

Longer ago than I care to reveal, my daughter's eight year-old schoolfriend came to play. She had never been to the house before. She galloped down the steps from the terrace and stopped dead as she passed my display benches. "Oh!", she shrieked, "little trees!". Here, pattern recognition played a major role: she was not judging the trees as works of art or as adherants to rules, but her reaction demonstrated that my trees, as works of art (communication) were ultimately successful. This was, and still is, one of the most gratifying experiences I have ever had in my bonsai career: the instant recognition by a naive mind of the purpose of my work.

The second example occurred in the late nineties, when Salvatore Liporace paid one of his annual August visits to my garden. I showed him a tree I had recently styled - a very unconventional scots pine with three trunks, each of a different style. He laughed and said he thought the tree was schizophrenic - it couldn't make up its mind what it wanted to be. "One trunk, one tree" he said - for him the tree had to follow one of the accepted patterns to be of any merit. The message I was trying to communicate was lost on him. Two years later, that tree won second prize in the JAL/NBA World Competition, with the comment from the judges that its branches "followed the spirit of Japanese bonsai". This comment made of a tree that followed no rules, no patterns, but succeeded in communicating, heart to heart, soul to soul, with a group of people who were arguably the most rigid proponents of adherance to the rules.

Even the most un-tree-like bonsai images, such as highly stylized driftwood junipers, that follow no natural or non-bonsai patterns, can still be validly judged by non-bonsai people on their success in communicating something of what was in the artist's soul when the work was created. A bus driver, accountant, soldier or horse jockey with no prior contact with bonsai, can judge the artistic success of such a bonsai, albeit probably subconsciously. They can receive the message communicated by the artist, and the stronger and more empathetic this message is communicated, the more successful the artist's work. And this success is amplified when the bus driver, accountant, soldier and jockey all agree....

... which is something the bonsai cogniscienti seldom seem to do.

Author:  Gene Deci [ Wed Dec 02, 2009 5:55 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: How Bonsai Taste Evolves

I do not think when Walter writes about pattern recognition that he necessarily meant to limit the patterns involved to the "rules". Did not the little girl that Colin tells us about delight so in the "little trees" because she recognized the pattern of "big trees" so marvelously echoed in miniature. I think that is one reason Colin's work is so extraordinary - because he does that so well. On the other hand, Kimura's work does not usually look like any full-sized trees I have ever seen, but it still grabs the soul somehow. What is it that is being communicated? Is there a name for that style?

Colin, I would love to see a picture of that triple trunk tree. Is that possible?

Author:  Colin Lewis [ Thu Dec 03, 2009 3:16 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: How Bonsai Taste Evolves

Gene Deci wrote:
Did not the little girl that Colin tells us about delight so in the "little trees" because she recognized the pattern of "big trees"


Yes, this is true, although the trees she first saw were a root over rock larch, a tanuki driftwood juniper and a dwarf spruce and chinese elm planted in rocks. These were not "normal" tree images, but I imagine that for an eight year-old any brown stick with green leaves could represent a tree.

Gene Deci wrote:
On the other hand, Kimura's work does not usually look like any full-sized trees I have ever seen, but it still grabs the soul somehow. What is it that is being communicated?


What you feel when you see it is what he is trying to communicate. If words could do the same job, perhaps we wouldn't need bonsai!

Gene Deci wrote:
Colin, I would love to see a picture of that triple trunk tree. Is that possible?


Of course.

Attachments:
JAL.Pine.jpg
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Author:  Gene Deci [ Fri Dec 04, 2009 1:41 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: How Bonsai Taste Evolves

Thank you for the picture Colin. Awesome tree.

Ana Veler made an interesting observation earlier. More than other art forms, people with an on-going interest in bonsai are involved in creating their own pieces. I think the joy they get from doing bonsai comes more from the process than from appreciation of the end result. It is well known in psychology that people who are dedicated to something tend to be internally motivated.
It would be disingenuous to suggest that any of us hobbyists are not thrilled by the good opinion of experts, and do not channel our efforts accordingly, but the stage of our own creative efforts may play a role in our ability to appreciate the work of others. If your Scots Pine had been mine a few years ago I surely would have cut the lower trunks off. Yet if the little girl saw that tree she would have been just as blown away as the Japanese judges were. It is true art but I do not believe I would have been open to it a few years ago.

Author:  Colin Lewis [ Fri Dec 04, 2009 3:11 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: How Bonsai Taste Evolves

Of course, Ana was correct: I can think of no other art form wherein artists willingly build a collection of their own work. Reluctantly, perhaps, when pieces do not sell, but not by choice.

The young girl, of course, had no knowledge of bonsai or its conventions. Perhaps three years ago you were more concerned with, or more conscious of the conventions of bonsai design and such an unconventional offering as mine would not have fitted your recognized pattern.

As an aside: most people comment one way or another on the trunks - their lines, relationships, etc. However, the true essence of this design is the crescent-shaped negative space on the left, embraced by the terminal foliage pads. Perhaps it would make an interesting design exercise to ask students to draw a tree, any tree of any configuration, that includes this negative area as part of the total design.

Author:  Gene Deci [ Sat Dec 05, 2009 10:30 am ]
Post subject:  Re: How Bonsai Taste Evolves

Wow – the negative space is what unifies the composition isn’t it. That along with the attention paid to the details of the foliage pads make it work when the “rules” say it shouldn’t.

I have never been very successful designing a tree with pencil and paper but I have always started with a tree I have, not a general concept. I have looked at removing or adding branches using Photoshop. That can be an interesting exercise.

Author:  Ana Veler [ Sat Dec 05, 2009 5:39 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: How Bonsai Taste Evolves

Colin Lewis wrote:
Of course, Ana was correct: I can think of no other art form wherein artists willingly build a collection of their own work. Reluctantly, perhaps, when pieces do not sell, but not by choice.




Hadn't thought of the particular spin. Thanks :)

I can think of other kinds of artistic production being kept in artists' possession for other reasons then lack of buyer interest - sometimes outstanding, often unusual work & a treat to look into ;), but the necessity of maintaining bonsai stocks is quite on a different order of magnitude, alright!

Author:  Ana Veler [ Sat Dec 05, 2009 5:50 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: How Bonsai Taste Evolves

Returning to the original article, and the theme of evolving taste, the bit below was written in a very different context, but nonetheless:

"To works, [...] not raised upon principles demonstrative and scientific, but appealing wholly to observation and experience, no other test can be applied than length of duration and continuance of esteem."

I meant to to drop this in sooner, but kept missing the citation, hiding in plain sight! [in 'Preface to Shakespeare' by Samuel Johnson]

Considering that the works of art considered here depend on such 'continuance of esteem' quite physically, I wonder how well Johnson's pessimistic verdict fits...

Author:  Colin Lewis [ Wed Dec 09, 2009 6:50 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: How Bonsai Taste Evolves

Ana Veler wrote:
... I wonder how well Johnson's pessimistic verdict fits...


I'm not so sure it does, Ana, although it would be nice if it did. Bonsai is subject to changes in fashion and taste which makes longevity of esteem more difficult. Skill levels increase, as do expectations; boundaries are pushed ever more outward and conventions are challenged. In the late eighties, the carving of deadwood by Masahiko Kimura was revolutionary and very highly regarded. When you look at those photographs now, it's not so hot by today's standards.

Author:  Ana Veler [ Wed Dec 09, 2009 7:11 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: How Bonsai Taste Evolves

Colin Lewis wrote:
Ana Veler wrote:
... I wonder how well Johnson's pessimistic verdict fits...


I'm not so sure it does, Ana, although it would be nice if it did. Bonsai is subject to changes in fashion and taste which makes longevity of esteem more difficult.



I can think of a few domains where fashion really ruins nearly all hope for a work to survive fast changes in taste - collections like V&A etc. notwithstanding. However, there seem to be bonsai out there that have spent more then a human life-time 'in training'. Do their styles function as an arbiter of fashion? Or do these trees retain relevance simply as curiosities?

Author:  Colin Lewis [ Mon Dec 14, 2009 11:38 am ]
Post subject:  Re: How Bonsai Taste Evolves

Ana Veler wrote:
Do their styles function as an arbiter of fashion? Or do these trees retain relevance simply as curiosities?


Ana, Although some bonsai have been 'established' for centuries, they do change. This is unavoidable simply because they grow and such growth inevitably brings about changes in character, size, shape and even sometimes concept. They are the result of a succession of artists, each of whom will decide whether to attempt to retain (or regain) the tree's original conceptual form or to introduce more contemporary stylistic elements. Whatever the decision, it is made in response to how the tree has changed and its implementation is limited by what is possible at that time. Such trees are more often than not revered for their history and provenance rather than necessarily their current aesthetic merit.

Any attempt to compare bonsai to any other art form is doomed to failure because of this mobility of appearance and the need for successive artists to accommodate changes brought about by the trees natural growth. This is not the same as, say, a conductor putting his own spin on a piece of classical music, or a director doing so with a Shakespeare play.

Author:  Ana Veler [ Mon Dec 14, 2009 4:17 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: How Bonsai Taste Evolves

Colin Lewis wrote:

Any attempt to compare bonsai to any other art form is doomed to failure because of this mobility of appearance and the need for successive artists to accommodate changes brought about by the trees natural growth.



Sounds like an interesting challenge. Challenging definitions of art is a respectable trade these days, in some places...

What should a successful connection with another form of art accomplish?

Author:  Colin Lewis [ Mon Dec 14, 2009 5:45 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: How Bonsai Taste Evolves

Ana Veler wrote:
Challenging definitions of art is a respectable trade these days, in some places...


Indeed so. And about as productive as trying to catch morning mist in a butterfly net.

Ana Veler wrote:
What should a successful connection with another form of art accomplish?


I'm not sure it should achieve anything specific, but there are things it could achieve. It might help define bonsai to others, perhaps, or help bonsai gain wider recognition in the art establishment. Then there are those bonsai people with crises of confidence or identity, and a successful connection with another art form might bring them some comfort. But I really don't think such a connection is possible; bonsai is... unique.

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