A few notes from an outsider of this discussion, not being American.
Of course the quality of bonsai is important when seeking to raise the level of bonsai in an area. The good bonsai makes the hobby artists eager to make the same quality in many cases, or at least serve as inspiration when working with bonsai.
Only few people will have the skills and will to strive for the best though. Developing great bonsai is very demanding. One has to keep focus and work with bonsai for many hours around the year, disciplined and artistic, knowing when and how to perform the right techniques i.e. and having the artistic mind bringing in creativity as well.
Many enjoy working with bonsai as a smaller hobby at a lower level, but as long as it brings joy and pleasure doing so, I see absolutely nothing wrong in that. There must be a place for every level, accepting that only few people will go all the way. What is important is to make a foundation for both on an organizational level.
We had this discussion many times over the years in Denmark, and there has so far not been given any answers on how to heighten the quality to the top. It just happens if some people does care to work focused and steadily, regardless how the majority feels or do.
For many years Denmark has been nothing in the world of bonsai. But a handful of people didn?t care and just worked with bonsai intensively anyhow, and this shows results now. Over the last one or two years the quality suddenly exploded. The last national exhibition showed the result of the focused steady work, and the quality was all of the sudden much higher than the previous year, and I strongly believe this will continue.
Is it important to be the best on the scene? For some it is, for others it is no big deal. I am glad we are now getting somewhere in my area, but it is also important how it happens.
I do not know how the US bonsai artists collect material i.e.
In my country there is no tradition for spending any money on buying good quality raw stocks, or buying preshaped imported material costing serious money.
This clearly distances us from many other European countries.
We are a country with a culture of gardening, but also having a tradition of doing everything ourselves. This means that we grow bonsai from cheap nursery stocks, seedlings, or find older qualified gardens plants i.e.
Only very few go on Yamadori collecting good plants in nature, and nearly no one buys preshaped imported material, and especially not if it is just a little expensive.
Going to Germany, Italy, England i.e. in Europe clearly shows another gardening culture, or at least bonsai culture. There, many more people are ready to spend very big money to get preshaped or finished quality bonsai, imported from Japan or elsewhere. And big money is spending on pots, help from experts and so on. We don?t do that where I live, and this of course set us a little back in development. On the other hand we get there by patient work, just much slower.
The quality shown at Gingko (with exceptions of course) shows much bonsai from expensive trees.
As an example I helped an internationally well renowned artist at an event, choosing the right tree for a Shohin display with focus on bringing up the standard to Gingko qualifying for a costumer. This customer simply asked what to buy to bring the display to Gingko. No questioning about money or time to train the tree. Just buying a show ready quality tree to raise the level to Gingko standards.
This story to tell partly why the standards of some shows in Europe are high. This is not the full story, but gives a hint of what is part of the game. I know this is generalizing and not the full picture, but is a very important part of the story.
So when you compare own skills and standards, it is also very important what you compare to. Are you a hobbyist comparing to a professional bonsai artist?
Are you styling and growing your bonsai from basic, comparing your bonsai with expensive imported bonsai?
Please keep this is mind, because it is easily enough to discourage yourselves, and that has no point at all.
Who tells European bonsai are better than American bonsai. Probably the Europeans. If we say it repeatedly you may believe it -:)
Bring in the best people to judge your shows, to teach and inspire is important. Also let the best people teach at all levels, no matter if the ?best people? are the most experienced and talented from the local area or international acclaimed teachers brought in for the occasion i.e.
Using the best is the only way forward, keeping the joy of bonsai alive and raising the level.