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artofbonsai.org • View topic - Book Review: 'The Art of Bonsai Design' - Colin Lewis
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 Post subject: Book Review: 'The Art of Bonsai Design' - Colin Lewis
PostPosted: Tue Sep 18, 2007 11:48 pm 
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The Art of Bonsai Design
by Colin Lewis
Image
Sterling Publishing Company., Inc. New York: 160pp., $19.95
ISBN 0-4027-0070-9
First Paperback Edition 2001
Reviewed by Will Heath*

When I first became involved in bonsai a few years ago I started an unquenchable quest for knowledge and picked up any book I could find on the art of bonsai, regardless of the quality of content. Some of these first books have never been opened since; they collect dust on the library shelf, waiting for perhaps my young daughter to reach the age where she will embark on the same quest and maybe find some useful tidbit of information that I could not. Maybe she will just gain the enthusiasm, the drive, and the sense of wonder I did and like me, want to read every single word ever written on the subject, good or bad.

Other books, such as Colin Lewis's "The Art of Bonsai Design" are now clearly showing the signs of wear, of constant page turning, and long hours of use for education, reference, and inspiration.

While the book weighs in at just 160 pages, including the index, Colin has managed to make it seem much bigger than it is. Filled with color photographs, informative side bars containing educational information on topics pertaining to the main discussion, and his own unique blend of good old common sense coupled with vast experience, this book succeeds in delivering solid, no nonsense bonsai.

In his forward to the book Colin shares his belief that bonsai is an art form and he expresses hope that we may find something within the pages to 'take greater strides towards freeing bonsai from the chains of tradition and the stigma of "ornamental gardening" and establish it in its rightful place as an art form-with all the creative potential and dignity of any other.'

The introduction "Bonsai as a Western Art" Are we denying our own cultural heritage in our pursuit of Japanese style?" should be mandatory reading for every Westerner interested in the art of bonsai. Colin aptly compares the foundation of Western and Japanese bonsai and the cultural differences that influence us as artists. In one of his most enlightening observations he uses cartoon trees, such as those from Disney, to drive home his points on simplification and character. Colin has published this forward to his book as an article which can be read on his web page linked to below. We at AoB found the article so important, that we have republished it also here on our forum.

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The book is divided up into sections covering Elms, Junipers, Pines, and Larch. Each section not only gives progression examples of the species, but also cultivation, styling, care, propagation, and other pieces of information useful to those working with such material. Each section is filled with problems he has encountered and the unique and sometimes surprising solutions he created to overcome them. It is this correcting of mistakes, the overcoming of material shortcomings, or unforeseen problems that lets the reader experience Colin's great talent first hand.

In the Juniper section the reader will find detailed information on the species, progression examples on rafts, cascades, tanuki, and other styles. He provides deadwood carving techniques, cultivation, propagation, and covers many other subjects pertaining to the species. Colin also provides close-up photographs and descriptions of many of the Junipers we use in the west for identification purposes.

The section on pines covers only Scots Pine (Pinus sylvestris) unfortunately, but it covers the species very well. Subjects such as collecting, needle reduction, candle pinching, feeding, and even regional styles, amongst other subjects will no doubt fascinate the reader and prove to be a valuable reference source.

The section described above are representative of the other sections, all extremely detailed and informative and all containing unexpected, but welcomed knowledge, such as information on sphagnum moss, making concrete slabs, three dimensional bonsai, a new viewing angle suggestion for cascades, and more.

Image

Lastly, after the sections, Colin has added a series of essays in the appendices, which alone would be valuable educational references. When coupled with the contents of the book these essays polish the already intensive knowledge given and gives yet another reason every bonsaist should have this book in their collection.

Included in the appendices are the essays, 'The Naked Truth - The Deciduous Challenge? "An Infatuation with Elms" "Is a tree Ever Old" " Age and the Aging Process" and what is most likely the most complete reference on mycorrhizae in relation to bonsai I have ever read, "Mycorrhizae " Microscopic Miracle Workers.'

My regrets about the book are limited, I would have liked to see more species covered, but I have to admit that what was covered, was covered very well and it may well be best that information was not left out to make room for other species. Hopefully Colin is planning on a sequel to the first where he can share his knowledge of other species as well as more of his knowledge on the art of bonsai itself.

I was saddened to see, in bold capital letters predominately displayed on the back upper left corner of the book, the word "GARDENING." Such a book, although dealing with some cultivation, should, like all bonsai books in my opinion, be displayed in the Art section of bookstores. Colin makes mention of this in the forward to the book with the words "bonsai is undoubtedly an art form; but this book, and all others on the subject, is displayed in the gardening section of your bookstore." Maybe someday, as more and more people, including members of the bonsai community, recognize bonsai as an art form and demand that it be treated as such, books on the subject will be displayed next to books on painting, sculpture, and other forms of art.

I am also disappointed that I have the unsigned paperback edition, something I will certainly correct in the near future.

In closing, this book is worth far more than the selling price, it should be in every enthusiast's library and I personally recommend it to everyone I talk to about bonsai. Books such as these are valuable for those of us currently practicing the art and maybe even more so for those that will, like my daughter.

For more information on Colin Lewis please see the following:
Colin's website
( http://www.bonsaiforum.com )
An on-line interview with Colin Lewis
( viewtopic.php?t=719 )


*


Last edited by Will Heath on Sat Mar 15, 2008 8:18 pm, edited 2 times in total.

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PostPosted: Sun Sep 23, 2007 8:33 am 
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PostPosted: Sun Sep 23, 2007 10:39 pm 
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 24, 2007 9:40 am 
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Your rebuttal and analysis IMO is comparing apples and water melons.

Correct me if I'm wrong but I don't believe Robert's book saw the book shelves, whilst Colin's did. When comparing these two maginficent works, undoubtidly one surpasses the other. Although Colin's book deals to a certain degree in the "art of bonsai" it is miles appart when comparing to Robert's creation that deals specifically with artistic impressions.

If Robert's book was indeed placed in the arts section, how many enthusiast would have known to look there? Unless the individual does a computer search, and the store just happened to tag it as a "bonsai reference" it wouldn't be found. On the other hand, it is my opinion that a greater number of enthusiast would find it in the gardening section.
I'm not arguing that bonsai is not art, just where references should be kept. My observation had more to do with the total disgust you displayed because of the classification the book had on its back cover. Outside of the bonsai community, who would know where to place the book in the store? Sterling Publishing thought it wise to do so. A business decision perhaps, but who are we to argue a wise decision IMO. I believe more sales occured in this fashion than your prescribed classification.

Although, some chose to classify bonsai as art, not all bonsai possess that mantle, some do and some don't. To the public at large, bonsai is a form of Asian gardening. We can spend hours debating this, but the public at large shows greater numbers than our small community. It is further my opinion that the more we educate, the further ahead the community will be. But, I am being a realsit here, neither of us will see bonsai accepted as art in our life span. Should we just lay over and die? No! But should we loose sleep over it? I'm not. I don't feel the need to.

I believe you mentioned you are in sales. From a business perspective, where would you display this book for maximum exposure and sales?


Last edited by Richard Moquin on Mon Sep 24, 2007 2:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Sep 24, 2007 10:22 am 
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PostPosted: Mon Sep 24, 2007 12:12 pm 
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Art and gardening don't have to be exclusive.

Bonsai certainly belongs to BOTH. The art part cannot exist without the gardening aspect.

Japanese gardening is just as much art as bonsai, but it is still displayed under the Gardening section. If I told the store manager that he should take out Japanese gardening books from the Gardening section, and move them to the art section, he would think that I am crazy. I would try in vain to convince him that japanese gardening is really an art form and not gardening. He would argue: "If American gardening belongs to gardening, why would Japanese gardening be different? Are the Japanese better than us? I don't think so!"

How about English gardening. English gardening should belong to the Gardening section, since the English gardens are natural, growing wild. But wait, this is not quite true: they create the "impression" of growing wild, but in fact, it is all done with a definite purpose in mind. So, let's move English gardening to the Art section as well.
French gardening, on the othe hand, it's all topiary. That's just craft. Leave them in the Gardening section.

OK, enough of this madness...
Since bonsai justly belongs to BOTH, which department should it be displayed under?

I leave that to the store manager, I really don't care.

If it was my store, I would create a separate location, neither gardening, nor art. It would be at a very well lit section of the store, and I would call it THE BONSAI CORNER. It would have a few indoor bonsai trees decorating the store (a huge and stunning ficus, an exquisite bougainvillea in bloom, a kumquat tree, laden with fruits) and a lot of bonsai books and tools. The gorgeous live bonsai trees would raise a lot if interest amongst the bookworms, and this would trigger a lot of bonsai book sales. This section would also have some tables and chairs, where people can sit, have a coffey, and contemplate on the beauty of bonsai. It would make both the gardeners and artists happy.

How about that, for uniting and reconciling art and gardening?


Last edited by Attila Soos on Mon Sep 24, 2007 12:35 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Sep 24, 2007 12:31 pm 
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ROTFL
Have you been sniffing my humidor LOL.
In the case of Colin's book although store management may decide otherwise, the "publisher" decreed where best to display this book. If Colin was in disagreement with the way the publisher delt with this issue then... he always had the option of seeking another publisher.
I am sure both thoroughly enjoy the royalties of such a "business decision"


Last edited by Richard Moquin on Mon Sep 24, 2007 12:39 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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PostPosted: Mon Sep 24, 2007 12:37 pm 
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LMAF..
Rick, check out my post, I edited it. :)


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PostPosted: Mon Sep 24, 2007 1:22 pm 
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I believe the problem is the inability to separate what goes into creating art and the art itself.

Using the same logic as described above we can say that all books featuring collections of some of the best masterpieces from talented painters should be displayed in the home improvement section of the book stores. After all it is painting, just like painting a house, well just as much so as gardening is bonsai, which is the comparison used above.

While Rick and Attila is classifying bonsai by the techniques used to create, I classify bonsai by the end result. I no more believe that a book featuring bonsai should be in the gardening section than I believe that a collection of pre-Columbian sculptures should be in the geology section.

I will however admit that books on how to create bonsai should be in another section, perhaps the how to section of books stores, along with how to paint with water colors, etc. But as far as book featuring bonsai as an art.....they should be in the art section. I will also admit that such books are rare.

Robert has released his second edition, by the way, paper back and for mass distribution.

Bonsai is an art and should be treated as such, can anyone name me another art form's results that are not displayed in the art section, no matter what techniques are used to create them? Just one?
And as far as cigars go, I smoke Ashton.

Will


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