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A Brief Exploration of the Literati Style
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Author:  Will Heath [ Mon Mar 19, 2007 6:35 pm ]
Post subject:  A Brief Exploration of the Literati Style

This thread is for the discussion of the article "A Brief Exploration of the Literati Style" by Will Heath.
http://artofbonsai.org/feature_articles/literati.php

Author:  Attila Soos [ Tue Mar 20, 2007 3:19 pm ]
Post subject: 

Thanks, Will for the article. I think that the literati style is under-used in the bonsai circles.

Regarding John Naka's statement about creating literati trees from material that is no good for anything else, I agree with you: although John is the best teacher that one can have, this particular statement is not a good way to look at creating literati bonsai.

Although the statement is true, and we can indeed create literati bonsai from material that is useless for other styles (if, of course we are lucky and the material happens to have good literati potential), it implies that we should create literati bonsai only as a last resort.

I think this is wrong, and I also think that John did not mean it in this particular context. Creating literati is a personal choice, and should not be on the bottom of one's list of possibilities.

I, personally look at a material the other way around:
Since god literati bonsai is so rare (it's the rarest among all bonsai), and one needs to be truly lucky to find material suitable for outstanding literati bonsai, my first choice is to look for literati in every raw material, and if that's not possible, then I go with some other style, as a second choice.

This is, of course, a personal decision, but literati should definitely not be reserved just for material unsuitable for other styles. It is the most expressive of all, and thus has a deep impact on the viewer. It is also free from any restriction, and so it can be a great channel for a creative mind.

Author:  Mark Arpag [ Wed Mar 21, 2007 6:26 am ]
Post subject: 

Wil,
Interesting article. I feel that the spirit of the men of letters is tied to the image and the spirit of Bonsai in the Literati style. While is possible to incorporate accepted traits of Literati Bonsai in a design, this alone does not achieve a successful outcome. We have all seen these trees presented. There is no place to hide with Literati, you have so little to work with and all is exposed. Literati like no other style, is a window to the Artists soul. Not everyone is willing to do this or understands the importance of being true.

I find it facinating to study all the different forms of Literati Bonsai and the Artists brave enough to create them.

Attila,
John Naka was not the first to express the idea that trees which were not working out as other styles be considered for Literati. International Bonsai published a wonderful article "Discussion on Literati Bonsai" which was a conversation of Kamajiro Yamada and Saburo Kato on the topic of Literati.(1997 No. 1)They both felt that overlooked or damaged trees be considered for Literati style. Considering the history of the men of letters, I find the connection ironic. Of course this should not be the only source but a possibility to bring a tree from average to unique that may be over looked.
Mark

Author:  Attila Soos [ Wed Mar 21, 2007 11:25 am ]
Post subject:  Re:

Mark Arpag wrote:
Attila,
John Naka was not the first to express the idea that trees which were not working out as other styles be considered for Literati. International Bonsai published a wonderful article "Discussion on Literati Bonsai" which was a conversation of Kamajiro Yamada and Saburo Kato on the topic of Literati.(1997 No. 1)They both felt that overlooked or damaged trees be considered for Literati style. Considering the history of the men of letters, I find the connection ironic. Of course this should not be the only source but a possibility to bring a tree from average to unique that may be over looked.
Mark


Hi Mark,
A year ago, after I expressed my interest in those International Bonsai articles on literati, Bill Valavanis sent me a small collection of his articles. They are a great source of reference.

I really like your thought about the literati being "the window to the artist's soul". I also agree that applying accepted traits of literati bonsai alone does not guarantee any success. The success comes from traits that can not be generalized. The traits mentioned in the article are good for a novice to recognize literati.

Literati is so elusive, that to some, it may even be difficult to distinguish a great literati from a mediocre one, never mind creating it.

Author:  Peter Evans [ Thu Mar 22, 2007 6:36 pm ]
Post subject: 

I realy long to be able to create a successful literati. I do beleave that this the TRUE meaning of bonsai. Not wishing to upset the U.S. over this, I think there might have been a misunderstanding about John Naka's statement. I do not beleave that he said "that any negelected tree" could be made into a literati. Surely , he had more soul than that!.

When you look at his creations,he did not use c**p.!!
Mark, I'm sorry but I haven't had time to check out your link, I was just responding AT THE MOMENT.! Peter.

Author:  Will Heath [ Sat Jul 28, 2007 11:00 pm ]
Post subject: 

William Valavanis has an excellent presentation on Literati, of which I seen a part of the whole today. If you get a chance to see this, it is indeed educational and entertaining, a must see for those interested in this style.

Will

Author:  Attila Soos [ Mon Oct 01, 2007 2:30 pm ]
Post subject: 

Here is a question that I've been pondering lately:
I have a literati redwood that I am currently working on. The tree is slender and full of grace. I think it would make a great literati, it is about a year away from showing a decent image.

The thing that made me wonder whether or not it is indeed a good material, was one of Robert Steven's statement, saying that a good literati is one that has a dramatic trunk movement.

Well, my tree doesn't have a dramatic trunk movement, in other word, drama is NOT what this tree is about. Rather, it has grace.

I recentlyt read the Proceedings of the International Scholarly Symposium on Bonsai and Viewing Stones, one of the papers is written by a Japanese authority on bonsai history (sorry, I don't have the name as I am writing this). When talking about the literati style and Zen art, he says that grace is what literati style is about.

Grace and drama are vastly different.
I don't disagree with Robert's statement that a dramatic trunk movement makes great literati. But may be we don't make enough effort to express grace.

Incidently, the literati tree by Mr. Zhao shown in this article, has grace written all over. No drama. And it doesn't show a great struggle for existence either. Even the signs of great age are limited. Rather, it shows a tree showing a lot of grace in spite of living under meager conditions.
So, which one is the essence of literati: Grace or Struggle/Drama? I'd say that the former is essential, the latter is optional.

Author:  Attila Soos [ Mon Oct 01, 2007 2:40 pm ]
Post subject: 

Here is another expample of what I am talking about:
http://sidiao.myweb.hinet.net/2007htm/p24.htm
No drama or struggle, no great age.
Simple and graceful literati landscape. There is something very charming about it.

Author:  Mike Page [ Mon Oct 01, 2007 3:33 pm ]
Post subject:  bunjin

Attila, I believe that grace should be the primary characteristic of bunjin bonsai.
Early in my bonsai life, I began to question what was being taught concerning the bunjin style. I began to explore the art of literati, and my eyes were opened. The painters in literati style will teach you far more about the art than any bonsai book.
I'm posting an image from the book, JAPANESE PAINTING IN THE LITERATI STYLE by Yonezawa and Yoshizawa. The book, one of a series, is long out of print and out of copyright, so I have no problem posting.
This book, and others in the series is available from some old book sellers. Check the link.
http://www.abebooks.com/. . .=23&y=15
Back to the image; It's by a Chinese artist, Wang Fu, from about 1410.
Excellent representation of literati style trees.
Mike

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Author:  Attila Soos [ Mon Oct 01, 2007 3:53 pm ]
Post subject: 

Hi Mike,
Thanks for the link and the illustration!

Author:  Budi Sulistyo [ Wed Jan 02, 2008 12:22 pm ]
Post subject: 

Thanks for the nice article and discussion. I just want to add some of my view on literati. To my understanding literati is also called bunjingi is a style of a tall slender bonsai that can be twisted, bended here and there and quite often with special character on the trunk showing old age. The main aspect is tall, slender and usually without strong base, so that the bonsai seemed not really strong and stable, and there is a feeling that the tree will be moved by the strong wind. Bunjin means literate man.

In olden Chinese culture there were two types of people who were well respected. Most of them are illiterate people who mostly learnt martial arts, so that their bodies are strong. They have certain disciplines to achieve their expertise. They become soldiers, generals, war lords and many more strong men. The second type of persons respected by many people were they who learnt literature. They were usually bodily weak persons. A strong push on their body would make them fall. Anyhow, those people had special abilities in caligraphy, poetry and other literatures. They have special abilities that wre out of the common people disciplines. Their way of thinking was higher than common people. Though they were weak, they were well respected. Those two characters represented: one by normal bonsai with strong base and normal rules, while the second represented by literati style that tall, slender, weak without strong nebari and quite often not following the normal rules, yet gives strong expression in their simplicity.
Budi Sulistyo

Author:  Behr Appleby [ Wed Jan 02, 2008 1:12 pm ]
Post subject: 

Mr. Budi,
I just want to take the time to thank you for these thoughts...Although this is a simple explanation of the concepts, it is one I had never before considered...These thoughts will certainly become a part of my future explanation of the 'literati' form when teaching or discussing the form with others...
Regards
Behr
X X X

Author:  Li Zhenxiang [ Fri Mar 07, 2008 7:36 am ]
Post subject: 

Will Heath's short exposé, the responses in the thread and my observation so far, prompt me to realise that although some can after many years of training and practice become a bonsai master, not all bonsai masters can be a bunjin/literatti.

Creating a bonsai, in my opinion, is different from creating a bunjin-gi (a bunjin tree). Furthermore, as the process of sculpting a bunjin-gi is such a personal exploration, how can one expect to achieve a bunjin-gi that can withstand the vicious tongues of art-critics?

Do you not agree that a good gardener can eventually be a good bonsai artists, and maybe one day, a bonsai master; but it would make far more sense for a bunjin to express his/her ideas by creating a bunjin-gi?

What is a bunjin? Well as explained above, he should be at least philosophical in his ideas. How many of us practising bonsai can proudly say that we think outside the box? I do not think that one can wake up one morning and say to oneself, hey I have a tree in my garden with thin trunk, lets turn it into a bunjin-gi. That is a garderner's reflex.

Then again, this is such a romanticized perspective of the subject that re-reading my thoughts made me cringe with embarrassments :D

Grosso modo, a bunjin-gi is the personification of the bunjin. As with many great artists and thinkers of our time, you can't train to become one, you are either born with "it" or you are not.

Author:  Will Heath [ Fri Dec 04, 2009 2:31 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A Brief Exploration of the Literati Style

Thanks for all the great replies, very thought provoking!

For those interested, Robert Steven has an excellent article on Literati that can be read here, it is certainly an informative piece.


Will

Author:  Ana Veler [ Sat Dec 05, 2009 5:20 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: A Brief Exploration of the Literati Style

Speaking of bunjin...

I came accross a historic account of the movement and style rendered brilliantly in Conrad Totman's 'Early Modern Japan'. The particular chapter is very short and makes perfect sense independently.

Prescriptions aside, it is quite intuitive to see a darkly humorous take on the predictable trials and tribulations of independent scholarship - anytime, anywhere - in the particular form of tree styling. The most flattering caricature, come to think of it!

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