Finding a Soul in Bonsai
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Author:  Ron Sudiono [ Sat Oct 13, 2007 10:31 am ]
Post subject:  Re:

Al Keppler wrote:
All trees have a voice.
It's just us viewers that sometimes don't understand the language.
Cheers, Al

Bonsai = the art of tree story telling.
Bonsai art is a 2 way art:
First, the artist try to listen to the voice of the tree, imagine its life story, grasp its message, etc.
Second, the artist try to pass the story according him/her to others, and when someone from the audiance listen and be able to build his/her own story of the tree, than we talk about a good bonsai and a good bonsaiist.
But, nobody will ever know the true story of the tree; what we know is the story of the tree according to the bonsaiist, and later on, according to the watcher. It is however not necessary that these stories are the same. What counts is it's depth and effect for both persons. So, in bonsai we have second hand and third hand stories. It is like writing a book and reading a book, which is based on some "truth" in the (outside) world.

Author:  Will Heath [ Sat Oct 13, 2007 10:51 am ]
Post subject: 

Does art need a story? Does a tree need a story to be art? Why?


Author:  Vance Wood [ Sat Oct 13, 2007 3:39 pm ]
Post subject:  Re:

Will Heath wrote:
Does art need a story? Does a tree need a story to be art? Why?


The key word here is need. The tree may tell a story but it does not need to tell a story. All a tree needs is to touch something inside the viewer that is at some sort of spiritual level. Because of a discussion on another forum, I have been doing a lot of thought on this issue/problem over the last couple of days. I have come to the conclusion that we are trying to understand this from the wrong direction.
To me the concept of what we call art is as old as man kind. It is a given that man has always been a social animal needing companionship and mutual cooperation to survive. A single man by himself cannot hope to survive long beyond the limits of finding food, and avoiding predators. Community allowed the rise of thought beyond food and survival. It was that point in time where man advanced beyond survival basics and found himself with time to think about his environment, his life, and his mortality, but not necessarily in that order that abstract thoughts of the unseen and ways to control it entered into his life.
From these thoughts came religion, ritual, and an understanding of the cycles of life. Questions that could not be answered were thought about, debated and honored through ritual and representations of a world beyond natural sight and not directly controllable. Man began to see himself as a direct recipient of the blessings and curses of this unseen realm and sought ways to gain it's favor or at least not to incur its wrath.
From this way of thinking came the practice of art, representing thoughts, ideas, ideals, fears, reverence, joy, and grief. In short the birth of art coincides with man's first awareness of a spiritual existence. Art is both the reaching out to unseen forces and the reaching in for unseen power.
I believe it is part of the human legacy to imagine the unimaginable to contemplate things that no one has seen or conceived of, it is the manifestation of the creative force withing our species that is capable of astounding accomplishments of progress and abominable acts of horror. I don't think it can be or ever shall be totally definable in terms that we can all agree on but anything that comes from this place or takes us to that place is part of what makes us human.
In order (in my opinion) for bonsai to be art it has to come from that place inside where those thoughts come from and take us to that place inside where those thoughts are processed. It is an exchange of spirits for lack of a better term. Does the bonsai tell a story? Maybe yes maybe no, but it should go beyond a tree in a pot, it should go beyond a critical analysis of its parts; what it has become is an expression of those things we cannot describe, analyze or compartmentalize as much as we desire to do so. Again we come to the concept of Kami.
To make the judgement that a bonsai must tell a story is to diminish it down to the level of a bill board, though the bill board my be visually pleasing.

Author:  Euan Pollock [ Fri Aug 29, 2008 5:30 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Finding a Soul in Bonsai - by Vance Wood

Oh this just gets better - I am really liking the AoB!!

Traditional styles are for me painting by numbers! You follow the numbers with the little pots of paints and out pops a neat little copy of Van Goghs Sunflowers!! Does your little masterpiece have soul and will it move people - no way! Are you quite pleased with it - maybe? Does it make you a great artist, maybe, but what you have just done is not great art and it certainly does not push the bounds of art. This I feel, is where a lot of US art is (as I have stated elsewhere I do not feel qualified to comment on bonsai alone). You can see it architecute every day - another glass clad tower is not great architecture/art; it is the same as so many others. The Chrysler Building on the other hand.......Someone in the US that takes a Ponderosa Pine and tries to create a copy of a Great Japanese Black Pine by following Japanese tradtion is trying to put a square peg in a round hole. The Ponderosa is an American tree that should have an American style - it should look like a Ponderosa - not a maple or a azalea or anything else it is not. You would not try and take a Florida Boxwood and make it look like a Japanese Black Pine.

The beauty vs ugly debate also is fascinating. As I have said elsewhere I am European, therefore I feel obliged to be at least a little chauvinistic!! A beautiful woman does not become ugly as she ages just look at Catherine Deneuve, she remains beautiful but she has aged. She does not require plastic surgery or any other form of denial to remain a beautiful woman. She is certainly more attractive than Joan Rivers!!! A bonsai or any art form is the same - the Chrysler building mentioned above is still good architecture even if it is old - some may say this makes it even more so as it has stood the test of time. Surely this gets at the very essence of bonsai. Appreciation of art/beauty.

To define beauty is another matter - it is almost art on it's own. What makes something beautiful is a concept that the majority of us struggle to define thus the majority of us are not great artists. One tree with a trunk and branches is ugly and the other of the same species with similar physical characteristics portrays uglyness/harsh conditions/a hard life/age in beautiful manner! Way to abstract for me. I would need to leave such debates for the budding Platos and Aristotles!

Again thank you for the entertaining debate - I am finding it so much more challenging than the conventional forum with photos of $20 chinese elms and people asking what is wrong with them!!

Author:  Vance Wood [ Fri Aug 29, 2008 8:41 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Finding a Soul in Bonsai - by Vance Wood

Again thank you for taking the time to read and comment intelligently on another of my ponderous pontifications. I do have a question and I hope it does not create a problem; Is Epollock your real name or a screen name? Site rules state that members must use their real names. I hope this is not a problem for you, I would hate to see you depart due to this policy. It is in place because of the common practices found at sites where a screen name becomes a hiding place for all manner of attacks on other members and what they do. We have found at AoB that people tend to be more civil when what they say and do is linked to their real identity.

Author:  Euan Pollock [ Sat Aug 30, 2008 10:45 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Finding a Soul in Bonsai - by Vance Wood

No - epolloock is my real name. Euan is my first name - Pollock being the second. When I went to sign up for some reason it would not accept my name - which is strange as I am sure there are not too many of us!!

This is a great resource for bonsai - I spent half the night reading various posts and threads - thoroughly entertaining and extremely informative.

Author:  Vance Wood [ Sat Aug 30, 2008 12:27 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Finding a Soul in Bonsai - by Vance Wood

I believe you. The server probably looked at the name as a screen name. Don't worry about it I am sure this will get sorted out. It is quite obvious you are a serious enthusiast of bonsai with an ability to but that enthusiasm into words. You keep posting and I will try to make sure the name is accepted. You have to kind of understand the way some people put together these screen names and your given name seemed to fit that mould. Our problem, not yours. I hope to see you on AoB often. I am interested in what you have to say about other things.

Author:  lindsay farr [ Wed Dec 03, 2008 1:01 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Finding a Soul in Bonsai

I think Attila's definition of soul as
"showing the true nature of things". has insight.
Since, this is an extension of Vance's Problem with American bonsai article I would begin by observing where soul may be found in Ameican art.
I read a newspaper interview with James Brown some years ago. Brown was asked "what is soul" He replied "soul is the real you, devoid of pretense and pose".
Brown's soul touched people everywhere. Particularly in Japan.
Brown's status in his home country was somewhat disenfranchised.

Thelonius Monk is one of my most loved American composers. His Jazz classics, UGLY BEAUTY and "round midnite" are soulful and poigiant creations. Monk was disenfranchised not only by race but was banned from performing in this great creative period.

In American Bonsai everyone can see that John Naka had soul. Naka's war years were spent growing vegetables in a Colorado Truck Farm. He was disenfranchised from mainstream society. Many of his fellow Americans were interned.

When America suffered global PR disasters as TV news sent images from Birmingham to the world in the sixties, the state department responded by sending artists like Satchmo and The Alvin Ailey dance theatre. A cultural feast for the world and a PR coup for Washington. They had soul.

For those of us who are not disenfranchised, Soul may be difficult to acquire.

If the human is devoid of soul the tree will probaly follow.



" a lowly state is a boon"
Lao Tzu

Author:  Colin Lewis [ Wed Dec 03, 2008 1:48 am ]
Post subject:  Re:

Will Heath wrote:
Does art need a story?

What art doesn't?

Author:  Will Heath [ Wed Dec 03, 2008 2:15 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Finding a Soul in Bonsai

What story does, let's say, the Mona Lisa tell, the piece by itself? Is it the same story others see? Or is it that we just need to attach a story and it is separate from the art itself?


Author:  Enrique Castano [ Wed Dec 03, 2008 7:45 am ]
Post subject:  Re: Finding a Soul in Bonsai

I think a story is build by the viewer, although for many it will be a similar story. In reality it is a personal story. The reason is that part of the story is based upon the viewers knowledge, his experiences etc. So two people can see the same piece of art and in reality see it different, it will have different meaning to each, and it may give a different sensation to each person. But that's what art does. I see no difference with bonsai. With the only exception, that current bonsai art forms tend to have a "happy story" therefore being a bit more limited in the type of sensations and individual can feel.
Just some morning thoughts

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