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The Problem With American Bonsai
http://www.artofbonsai.org/forum/viewtopic.php?f=22&t=930
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Author:  John Dixon [ Thu Feb 01, 2007 12:29 pm ]
Post subject:  Re:

Dorothy Schmitz wrote:
Vance,
just an additional thought:
You are probably familiar with Cheng's publications. The one book mainly deals with his sidiao technique. Cheng mentioned that he published the book to also show what you can do with material of secondary quality!
Think about it, 'secondary quality'!
This clearly shows to me how far Taiwan actually has advanced in the art of bonsai, not to mention their fabulous tropicals. (Knowing the Taiwanese juniper is one of the best material there is..)
So, it is not only Europe who is galopping away, for me it is Taiwan which is beaming away even more.
Regards,
dorothy

Dorothy,
No doubt Taiwan has many beautiful bonsai. Their skill with tropicals is becoming the stuff of legend.
However, let's switch back to American bonsai. I have buttonwood, black olive, bougies, and various ficus in my collection. All are inside now. However, I still have deciduous species and many conifers outside. There is something about a pine covered in snow that is very moving and special to me. You won't do that with a ficus many times.
I guess I'm saying this is apples and oranges. While other countries/ continents have there specialties, none have them all. A Vaughn Banting Flat-top cypress may not seem like world-class to a man situated on a Pacific Island, but it means exactly that to me in the Southeast U.S.
No one is wrong here. Sometimes we agree to disagree and it's best for all. I don't see any nation worthy of the "Bonsai Cup" as it were.
What America does best is not let others decide our fate. Seems like that may be carrying over to bonsai in some way. Let's see what the future holds.

Author:  Mark Arpag [ Sat Feb 03, 2007 8:17 am ]
Post subject: 

Will,
The Bonsai from Taiwan are stunning, and both are good representations of those artists work. Zhao's Land and Water Penjing also is very recognizable as his artistry and a wonderful composition. I am puzzled by several things.
1) Athough the tree you posted belonging to Walter is a fine tree, it is an imported Japanese tree and for me is not a true representation of his style.
2) In Vances article and in many arguments made in its defense, Europe, not Taiwan, was used as the bench mark for World Class trees that American Bonsai can not compete with. With the swell of all these World Class Bonsai in Europe, why were they not included in your posting? I know myself and others are curious as to what you think sets the bar in this standard.
Best Regards,
Mark

Author:  Will Heath [ Sat Feb 03, 2007 5:03 pm ]
Post subject: 

Mark,
I agree with your points as presented.
There is no doubt in my mind that Taiwan has some world class artists, as do many other countries. I can not speak for Vance, but I imagine he used Europe as a benchmark because this is the benchmark often referred to when people talk about the quality of American Bonsai. We could just as well compare America to Japan, Spain, Mexico, or any other country. However, forgetting the comparisons, is America bonsai artistically where it could be after all this time? If not, then why not?
I think Vance tried to put forth some reasons why not in his article.
So far I have heard a lot of people saying America's bonsai is far better than we give it credit for, but is it really? Putting styles aside, is American technique and the end artistic result of such technique really competitive with those of any other country, especially those countries who have a vast number of artists kicking out world class trees on a constant basis.

Food for thought,

Will

Author:  Vance Wood [ Mon Feb 05, 2007 7:49 pm ]
Post subject: 

Mark: I think Taiwan's trees are beautiful, it was just too painful to compare our stuff to their stuff. One hurdle at a time.

Author:  Colin Lewis [ Wed Feb 07, 2007 8:19 am ]
Post subject:  Re:

Vance Wood wrote:
A Vaughn Banting Flat-top cypress may not seem like world-class to a man situated on a Pacific Island....


If we only used the Japanese model for excellence no ficus, for example, would achieve world class status.
It isn't the style or species that makes a bonsai world class, it's the execution. I would certainly say that, from what I've seen, some of Vaughn's work with flat-tops easily qualifies.

Author:  John Dixon [ Wed Feb 07, 2007 8:58 am ]
Post subject:  Re:

Colin Lewis wrote:
Vance Wood wrote:
A Vaughn Banting Flat-top cypress may not seem like world-class to a man situated on a Pacific Island....


If we only used the Japanese model for excellence no ficus, for example, would achieve world class status.
It isn't the style or species that makes a bonsai world class, it's the execution. I would certainly say that, from what I've seen, some of Vaughn's work with flat-tops easily qualifies.

Colin,
That's exactly the point that needed to be made!!!
Compare American and European sports cars (recent Road & Track column). Three of each were compared. All were beautiful in different ways. All were powerful and performance-oriented. Of all of them, my favorite was the Corvette Z06. It compared very favorably to the tested Ferrari - which cost about $120,000 USD more!!!

I'm sure that an Italian sports car enthusiast prefers that same Ferrari over the Corvette. He isn't wrong, he's just got a different taste than me.
Bonsai is the same way, at least to me. There are lots of good examples, even great ones all over the globe, but my taste is formed by the environment I live in. It doesn't make me right or wrong, but it does add to the variety of bonsai that we have to appreciate.

Author:  Morten Albek [ Wed Feb 07, 2007 10:05 am ]
Post subject:  Well spoken

Quote:
There are lots of good examples, even great ones all over the globe, but my taste is formed by the environment I live in. It doesn't make me right or wrong, but it does add to the variety of bonsai that we have to appreciate.

Well spoken.
Regards
Morten Albek

Author:  Vance Wood [ Wed Feb 07, 2007 11:07 am ]
Post subject: 

A Vaughn Banting Flat-top cypress may not seem like world-class to a man situated on a Pacific Island....
I have been credited ( or blamed) with saying the above. If I said that in this thread or any other could someone please point it out because I do not remember doing so.
I personally think that a world class bonsai may not seem, or be recognized as, a world class bonsai to someone with a mallsai mentality evidenced by the numerous "People's Choice Awards" I have seen over the years at assorted shows and conventions. I think we have all shaken our heads at this silly exercise in irrelevance, so I will not expound further.
Maybe we are preaching to the choir with our trees but the bottom line is this: Art in bonsai is the expression of a deep personal vision of what a tree in miniature should look like. If it is nothing more than a parroting of a set of rules then it is nothing more than paint by the numbers using trees. This is not to play down the artifice of the so called traditional styles and the expression of art within that frame work. On the other hand it does not exclude those expression of art within the bonsai frame work that go around those styles, forms and rules. There is only one immutable rule in bonsai as far as I am concerned. A bonsai must be beautiful!
I have said it over and over for years that a good bonsai must be beautiful. If it achieves this goal it does not matter if it follows the established rules, whatever they may be at the time, or it violates the established rules, whatever they may be at the time, beauty always trumps rules. If I never say another thing in my entire life I wish people would remember this if they choose to quote me because this is the yard stick by which I measure a bonsai.

Author:  John Dixon [ Wed Feb 07, 2007 11:28 am ]
Post subject:  Re:

Vance Wood wrote:
A Vaughn Banting Flat-top cypress may not seem like world-class to a man situated on a Pacific Island....
I have been credited ( or blamed) with saying the above. If I said that in this thread or any other could someone please point it out because I do not remember doing so.
I personally think that a world class bonsai may not seem, or be recognized as, a world class bonsai to someone with a mallsai mentality evidenced by the numerous "People's Choice Awards" I have seen over the years at assorted shows and conventions. I think we have all shaken our heads at this silly exercise in irrelevance, so I will not expound further.
Maybe we are preaching to the choir with our trees but the bottom line is this: Art in bonsai is the expression of a deep personal vision of what a tree in miniature should look like. If it is nothing more than a parroting of a set of rules then it is nothing more than paint by the numbers using trees. This is not to play down the artifice of the so called traditional styles and the expression of art within that frame work. On the other hand it does not exclude those expression of art within the bonsai frame work that go around those styles, forms and rules. There is only one immutable rule in bonsai as far as I am concerned. A bonsai must be beautiful!
I have said it over and over for years that a good bonsai must be beautiful. If it achieves this goal it does not matter if it follows the established rules, whatever they may be at the time, or it violates the established rules, whatever they may be at the time, beauty always trumps rules. If I never say another thing in my entire life I wish people would remember this if they choose to quote me because this is the yard stick by which I measure a bonsai.

For the record Vance, I said it originally (about nine posts prior), but I didn't see the need to bring that up for Colin's remarks to have substance.
Sorry it grates on you so much. I thought it was a valid point, that exceeded the need to identify the author. Obviously, you don't.
John

Author:  Colin Lewis [ Wed Feb 07, 2007 11:42 am ]
Post subject:  Re:

Vance Wood wrote:
A Vaughn Banting Flat-top cypress may not seem like world-class to a man situated on a Pacific Island....
I have been credited ( or blamed) with saying the above. If I said that in this thread or any other could someone please point it out because I do not remember doing so.

My fault, Vance. I copied the quote and forgot to change the quoter. Apologies.
Vance Wood wrote:
I have said it over and over for years that a good bonsai must be beautiful. If it achieves this goal it does not matter if it follows the established rules, whatever they may be at the time, or it violates the established rules, whatever they may be at the time, beauty always trumps rules.

I agree entirely. This maxim is no more obvious than with the use of yamadori which by its very nature does not (cannot) follow any rules. Attempts to do so normally only end in an un-beautiful disaster. One classic example that comes to mind is the work of a well-known Swiss bonsai person who used to take spectacular yamadori and build a little rule-following informal upright on top of a gnarled and twisted trunk base. Every one of these works looked ... well... silly, for want of a better term.

Author:  Mike Page [ Wed Feb 07, 2007 2:05 pm ]
Post subject:  Re:

Colin Lewis wrote:
I agree entirely. This maxim is no more obvious than with the use of yamadori which by its very nature does not (cannot) follow any rules. Attempts to do so normally only end in an un-beautiful disaster. One classic example that comes to mind is the work of a well-known Swiss bonsai person who used to take spectacular yamadori and build a little rule-following informal upright on top of a gnarled and twisted trunk base. Every one of these works looked ... well... silly, for want of a better term.

Colin, we in California have seen lots of that in the past. Great gnarled California Junipers would have the foliage styled into what was derisively referred to as the "Christmas tree on top".
Mike

Author:  Vance Wood [ Wed Feb 07, 2007 3:34 pm ]
Post subject:  Re:

John Dixon wrote:
Vance Wood wrote:
A Vaughn Banting Flat-top cypress may not seem like world-class to a man situated on a Pacific Island....
I have been credited ( or blamed) with saying the above. If I said that in this thread or any other could someone please point it out because I do not remember doing so.
I personally think that a world class bonsai may not seem, or be recognized as, a world class bonsai to someone with a mallsai mentality evidenced by the numerous "People's Choice Awards" I have seen over the years at assorted shows and conventions. I think we have all shaken our heads at this silly exercise in irrelevance, so I will not expound further.
Maybe we are preaching to the choir with our trees but the bottom line is this: Art in bonsai is the expression of a deep personal vision of what a tree in miniature should look like. If it is nothing more than a parroting of a set of rules then it is nothing more than paint by the numbers using trees. This is not to play down the artifice of the so called traditional styles and the expression of art within that frame work. On the other hand it does not exclude those expression of art within the bonsai frame work that go around those styles, forms and rules. There is only one immutable rule in bonsai as far as I am concerned. A bonsai must be beautiful!
I have said it over and over for years that a good bonsai must be beautiful. If it achieves this goal it does not matter if it follows the established rules, whatever they may be at the time, or it violates the established rules, whatever they may be at the time, beauty always trumps rules. If I never say another thing in my entire life I wish people would remember this if they choose to quote me because this is the yard stick by which I measure a bonsai.

For the record Vance, I said it originally (about nine posts prior), but I didn't see the need to bring that up for Colin's remarks to have substance.
Sorry it grates on you so much. I thought it was a valid point, that exceeded the need to identify the author. Obviously, you don't.
John

You are right it was a valid point, but it was not my point. I don't want to get hammered for something I did not say, I do that for myself without outside assistance. Neither do I want to take credit for something I did not say, brilliant as it may be, or have been.

Author:  John Dixon [ Wed Feb 07, 2007 4:26 pm ]
Post subject:  Re:

Vance Wood wrote:
John Dixon wrote:
Vance Wood wrote:
A Vaughn Banting Flat-top cypress may not seem like world-class to a man situated on a Pacific Island....
I have been credited ( or blamed) with saying the above. If I said that in this thread or any other could someone please point it out because I do not remember doing so.
I personally think that a world class bonsai may not seem, or be recognized as, a world class bonsai to someone with a mallsai mentality evidenced by the numerous "People's Choice Awards" I have seen over the years at assorted shows and conventions. I think we have all shaken our heads at this silly exercise in irrelevance, so I will not expound further.
Maybe we are preaching to the choir with our trees but the bottom line is this: Art in bonsai is the expression of a deep personal vision of what a tree in miniature should look like. If it is nothing more than a parroting of a set of rules then it is nothing more than paint by the numbers using trees. This is not to play down the artifice of the so called traditional styles and the expression of art within that frame work. On the other hand it does not exclude those expression of art within the bonsai frame work that go around those styles, forms and rules. There is only one immutable rule in bonsai as far as I am concerned. A bonsai must be beautiful!
I have said it over and over for years that a good bonsai must be beautiful. If it achieves this goal it does not matter if it follows the established rules, whatever they may be at the time, or it violates the established rules, whatever they may be at the time, beauty always trumps rules. If I never say another thing in my entire life I wish people would remember this if they choose to quote me because this is the yard stick by which I measure a bonsai.

For the record Vance, I said it originally (about nine posts prior), but I didn't see the need to bring that up for Colin's remarks to have substance.
Sorry it grates on you so much. I thought it was a valid point, that exceeded the need to identify the author. Obviously, you don't.
John

You are right it was a valid point, but it was not my point. I don't want to get hammered for something I did not say, I do that for myself without outside assistance. Neither do I want to take credit for something I did not say, brilliant as it may be, or have been.

Roger that. I copy direct.
John

Author:  Mark Arpag [ Wed Feb 07, 2007 5:46 pm ]
Post subject: 

Small flecks of wisdom slowly appear.
Does copying the style or techniques used in creating a World Class Bonsai produce another World Class Bonsai? These hungry to be famous types are concerned and are striving so hard to this end, it is painful to look at their trees for me. How many will take the time to stop and look and feel the tree?
Vance brings up the soul of the tree and I agree. Creating trees with an agenda leads to souless trees. Forcing techniques, no matter how well executed, leave a hollow failure. Many have rushed to copy Kimura's techniques looking for quick glory. The essence of what makes his trees great is what is in the mans heart and soul. To apply technique without feeling anything is a crime and one that is committed too often.
Mark

Author:  Vance Wood [ Wed Feb 07, 2007 5:50 pm ]
Post subject: 

Wow Mark, we see the same thing! Is it not wonderful to be Solieri to the world's Mozart's of bonsai? Very frustrating. However you cannot correct a problem or issue if you don't realize there is one.
As it was with musical masters we can only learn what they did, not how or why they did it. We can copy, we can admire, we can analyze and we can apply those principles we think we understand. But in the end we must find our own soul in the matter but this is a subject for another article soon to be posted.

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