Back to Back - Instant Bonsai - by Dixon and Heath
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Author:  John Dixon [ Wed Feb 22, 2006 8:47 am ]
Post subject:  Re:

Will Heath wrote:
The rate of loss on any effort in bonsai is high for all beginners, this rate decreases in direct proportion to experience gained. Everyone kills a few trees, more when they first start in the art, less as the time goes on, but I do not believe it every stops, it just becomes less frequent.
Not trying something because the plant may die is the surest way to fail at bonsai. Instant bonsai, as described in my article, can be very educational in almost every area of bonsai.
Education, sometimes it hurts, but there is no debating it's value.

Will Heath

I cannot concur with that. While the rate of loss for beginners may be higher, once certain procedures are correctly taught, the losses are minimal. I still have the first bonsai I ever made under the direction of a professional. Now, if you mean SELF-TAUGHT, well that's like representing yourself (pro se) as a defendant in court without knowledge of the law. Your chances are never good. You will pick up a few things along the way, but at what cost?
Quite frankly, I believe being an advanced bonsai artist requires you to already have a good working knowledge of when a risk is acceptable and when it is not. Remember, these instant bonsai we are discussing are the result of contests. Contests that reward for the present, not future, design of the bonsai. Therefore, we are making a decision to gain the best aesthetic view of the material NOW as opposed to later. That, in my opinion, opens up pandora's box.
When I see someone taking extremely valuable material and using the same "NOW" philosophy, I will reconsider my stance. But I haven't seen that yet, and I submit that's because it is not the proper - advanced - way of styling bonsai. You have to take your time and work within the physiological limits of the material. You don't push too hard, and experience teaches you that. Education is great, yes, but learn the lesson the FIRST time. Remedial education should not be necessary in this situation. Now I realize you have never said differently, but what changes an effective technique on a $50 shimpaku or a $5000 one?
I don't take unnecessary risks with my better material, but on junk, yes, I will sometimes have at it. I see this in a similar light as a professional athlete playing in a street pick-up game. They don't learn anything, they are just enjoying it. If that's how others see instant bonsai, then by all means they should enjoy themselves, but I think the "educational" aspect of the philosophy is greatly over-rated.
Take care,

Author:  Vance Wood [ Wed Feb 22, 2006 10:22 am ]
Post subject: 

In an ideal universe that would be true. However if a club or an association like ABS, IBS, MABA, or what ever hire a guest artist to work on a tree for a demonstration they are interested in seeing performance art and not a tree partially done with the final result seen only in the eye of the master.
I don't think that is going to change, mostly because it would require the same person to come back for a follow up in a year or two and that is not likely to happen due to cost. But here again the fault lies with the club or organization in not selecting the kind of material that can be more or less completed in a day or weekend.
In answer to your question the difference between a $50 Shimpaku and a $5000 Shimpaku is $4950 dollars (could not resist, just a joke), but this is an entirely different set of circumstances. If you have a $5G Juniper you are not going to have a $50 talent working on it. The last I knew you don't buy any thing for $5000 dollars sight unseen, and in most cases where this kind of stock is used the master that is going to do the work has been in the loop as to selection of material.

Author:  Hector Johnson [ Wed Feb 22, 2006 10:30 am ]
Post subject: 

Fair enough. I still think it sets unrealistic expectations in the minds of the public. Whether the club executive or the visiting demonstrator care about that is up to them, I guess.

Author:  Vance Wood [ Wed Feb 22, 2006 10:44 am ]
Post subject: 

That kind of had the tone of grudging acceptance but in my view a Demonstration involving a world class artist is designed to bring in the public, sell them trees, pots, tools, soil, and some classes. This is the real world and the business side of bonsai.
Because of this a world class demonstration is expected, producing world class results because of another dirty little secret. The finished tree is often sold at auction or raffle, hopefully for a world class price. Not too many people are interested in paying big money for a tree that has no visible future in their eyes.
What is the public's perception of all of this? It is really kind of hard to paint with a broad brush on this one. "The Public" could be people that just today found out that there is such a thing as a bonsai, or people with years of experience. To say a given crowd is one or the other is difficult.
It is hoped that the experienced bonsaiist will take or give classes where the issues that concern us are dealt with. It is the instant bonsai work shop the often bothers me because that is usually a one on one sharing of misinformation.

Author:  David Yedwab [ Fri Feb 24, 2006 8:34 pm ]
Post subject:  instant bonsai

Well, almost everything has been said but, maybe the most important. The topic was supposed instant bonsai (the oxymoron [thanks Mike]), not "online bonsai 1st styling contests," which is what Will wrote about and the pictures posted were.
What is missed is the topic should maybe have been - "online photographic 1st styling contest as a good learning experience". Learning, that is the value ... but the subject of instant bonsai was not argued affirmatively, in my opinion.
Demos at shows is another whole topic ... maybe we should also discuss that.

Author:  Vance Wood [ Fri Feb 24, 2006 10:21 pm ]
Post subject: 

Be patient David it's coming. (discussion you suggested) As to Will referring to an on-line styling contest in reference to the instant bonsai. I think he had some pretty valid points, and an actual event most of us were familiar with. I don't see where there is a great deal of difference between the on line instant bonsai, and the club sponsored work shop instant bonsai.

Author:  Jose Marrero [ Sat Apr 22, 2006 4:53 pm ]
Post subject: 

I read with interest my first Back to Back. John Dixon and Will Heath devend their opposing views very well, I wish I had the master of the english they show.
I feel they both are right. But before they cruxify me in the e-debate crossfire that might develop, I will try to explain my point.
John Dixon states clearly that instant bonsai is an oximoron. Since Bonsai is a tree in a shallow container, and as stated by Will, the container is not considered in the contest, then ... We lack the relationship between pot and tree that is part of the composition of a bonsai. It takes time to adapt a tree to a shallow container. As stated by several posts, survival without changing the tree from the pot is in question. So, they are trees that have the initial work to become beautiful bonsai. They lack the pot, hence, no bonsai yet.
Also, John points out (maybe an overkill from me) none will show the fullness that only time gives to a mature bonsai. They will exhibit curves and gin, and plants that have been tortured or are just barely surviving. Few will reflect the majesty of a formal erect.
We say in Puerto Rico "Trabaja un ?rbol para que tus nietos gozen un bonsai" (Work a tree so your grandchildren enjoy a bonsai). I have to agree with John that "Instant Bonsai" is like comparing an expresso with instant coffee. Not the real thing. An oximoron.
But the defense Will Heath shows is right in one aspect. The benefits of this contests. The critical tasks of selecting from stock the best within a budget constraint, then choosing the front and the style to work are critical skills and each one alone is an art.
We start with the stock selection. John indicated that the shape of the trunk and roots is something that takes time. But that is the importance of the selection process, to find the work already done by nature, hidden in a nursery stock, mountain's side, or forest. Remember that is only raw material, still not a bonsai. Here is where the artist's eye come into play.
The ability to take a stock and shape it, creating something we communicate with, that moves us is the difference between an artist and just a "practicante" (a practitioner, someone that have the moves but not the talent).
The third skill, presentation is a double edge sword. I am sure that by trying to create an image with impact some creators may hamper the survival of their creations. I don.t see how this might help the Art of Bonsai. But I am still a Bonsai student.
So the defense of Will Heath is valid and is summarized in his closing statement:
I think that "instant bonsai", and the contests that create them, have many educational advantages that greatly outweigh any disadvantages they may present. As you can see from the examples I have posted above, "instant bonsai" do not have to yield poor results; they do not have to die; they can in fact be a fantastic tool for teaching and learning.

Will, the only problem I see is with the term "instant bonsai". It is a publicity stunt.

Author:  John Dixon [ Mon Apr 24, 2006 9:08 am ]
Post subject: 

You made a great contribution to the subject. Thank you.
I too agree with some of what Will is saying, especially with the importance of training your eye to pick good material. But my perceived difference is that having "an eye" for good material is not just linked to instant bonsai. It should apply to EVERYTHING. Yamadori doesn't have a price tag on it, afterall. At least not in the standard sense.
Once again, thank you for the thoughtful and interesting perspective.
Adios amigo,

Author:  Myron Redding [ Thu Jun 08, 2006 8:18 am ]
Post subject: 

having been a student of bonsai these past 10 years, I quite often create instant bonsai for my own pleasure, it does take time and effort to browse the local landscape nurseries for mature stock that is suitable for the venture, but it is feasible, this photo is of a 3 1/2 inch tall mame juniper created from Lowe's garden center stock in Feb. 2005 and recently repotted in Feb. 2006, it is growing vigourously and happy in his new 3"x 2 1/2" x 1" inch unglazed chinese pot....

Copy of mame2.JPG [50.66 KiB]
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Author:  Enrique Castano [ Wed Jan 17, 2007 7:45 pm ]
Post subject:  one more for the road of post

Well this is an old debate, but I decided just to clear my view on the subject. I agree with the idea that instant bonsai can?t be created in a few hours; I think one just creates the illusion of what would be a bonsai. By illusion I mean, it looks like a bonsai, it smells like a bonsai, I would guess it even taste like one. But if you actually pot a tree, cut a few branches, move them to the right position and everything looks good. There is just one thing missing! Is in?t and the answer is quite simple, Time, why, well even if the overall style does not change, the tree needs to get through the shook. That?s why after such task (if one ever does all those things at the same time) we would have to pamper the tree a bit more. It would be unlikely that it would withstand the same treatment as a tree that has already been potted for one, two or ten years. This acclimatization is what ensures us that we have a bonsai and not just a nice Ikebana. Obviously if a pontensai that has already been potted in the right pot a few years before it is given a first style you can come pretty close to having a bonsai. Of course we have to think were the heck is the line, was the pontensai a bad bonsai that has just been improved? Then it was not instant and is the new tree an already completely acclimatize tree, uhmmm well hard to say but it would depend on the tree, the species, the work done etc. I guess many trees die during the process for those who are a bit inpatient or only know the first part of the trick. The styling, however mist the second act the right cared after. Well these are just some thought of mine.

Author:  Mike Page [ Wed Jan 17, 2007 8:08 pm ]
Post subject: 

I have a strong tendency to distill a question down to the nitty-gritty.
Instant bonsai=painting by numbers. Neither are art.
If I have offended, please pardon a grumpy old man.

Author:  Mike Page [ Thu Jan 18, 2007 3:32 pm ]
Post subject: 

I wish to amend my previous intemperate remark.
My old friend, Warren Clark, when teaching a novice class would state the following: "Bonsai has four dimensions. Height, width, depth, and most important, TIME." This was intended to tell them that there is no "instant" bonsai.
I wholeheartedly agree with Warren's statement.

Author:  Enrique Castano [ Fri Jan 19, 2007 9:36 pm ]
Post subject: 

Yeap I agree with Warren, and I actually use the same saying in my clases, I guess is a universal statement. Best regards. Enrique

Author:  Vance Wood [ Sun Jun 15, 2008 9:42 pm ]
Post subject: 

Raphael Rybarczik wrote:
A question which may sound silly to you as it is asked by somebody who is not as experienced in Bonsai-Do as most of the fellows here:
What exactly is the difference between a first styling and an instant-bonsai concerning what the tree looks like after the styling? Does instant bonsai in that respect just mean paying less attention to the future health of the plant in order it looks good?
Best regards,

In a word Results: If you take a piece of crap tree, chop it, wire it, and put it in a pot of some sort and in the end it looks like a piece of crap tree that has been wired, chopped and potted. This will be argued as a first styling. If you take a piece of crap tree, chop it, wire it, and put it in a pot of some sort and in the end it looks like a pretty good bonsai it can be argued as an instant bonsai. It really comes down to the vision, ability and courage of the artist doing the work.

I have always argued that the difference between a demonstration and a workshop event is that a demonstration is to show off the artistic skills of the demonstrator and the workshop; technical, and horticultural expertise. Some people would demand that a demonstration be nothing more than a workshop approach, without participants and multiple trees, where the excuses of why this is like that and that is like this are more prevalent than actually seeing how these things are created. Instead the demonstrator does a little of this and a little of that and spends a good deal of time prophesying about the future of the tree. To me this is not a good demonstration.

This ultimately is the difference between the instant bonsai and the instant cut-and-waitsai. There is nothing wrong with approaching a tree that has to be developed over time before it even starts to look like something, but there is nothing wrong with taking a tree that has the potential and making it look like a bonsai in one day if it is possible.

Doing bonsai is like cutting diamonds. Often a large uncut diamond ends up being a substantially smaller finished diamond cut down to its best possibilities. Many experienced bonsai growers have not gotten hold of this concept even after many years of doing bonsai. For these people the instant bonsai is not only a good lesson to witness it is a good thing to attempt.

I don't understand why this is a problem for some to get their minds around. I know the argument; many instant bonsai die. This is marginally true but many cut-and-waitsai die as well. The truth is if you don't work on a tree it might die from neglect. Another equally valid truth is that if you don't work on the tree it will never be a bonsai. Bonsai are not accidents or the work of the bonsai fairy, they are the products of hard work, vision and care. Workshops are to educate, demonstrations are to motivate and inspire. Any grower worth his salt should be able to do both.

Author:  Enrique Castano [ Thu Jan 01, 2009 1:21 pm ]
Post subject:  Re: Back to Back - Instant Bonsai - by Dixon and Heath

In a word Results: If you take a piece of crap tree, chop it, wire it, and put it in a pot of some sort and in the end it looks like a piece of crap tree that has been wired, chopped and potted. This will be argued as a first styling. If you take a piece of crap tree, chop it, wire it, and put it in a pot of some sort and in the end it looks like a pretty good bonsai it can be argued as an instant bonsai. It really comes down to the vision, ability and courage of the artist doing the work.

I think that will be the diference between someone with talent doing the choping and some one with out. However, the end result will look like a bonsai from a far, but not really if you look at it from a close up. So far I have never seen an instant bonsai being created. not from Kimura, not from Marco, not from anyone during their demos, Sure there will be some trees that will look great, but you will always see wire, or guy wires, or sticks or what ever. A real bonsai should stand without.
However, I do think Demos are very educational and very important. Were else can one see exactly how to do things, how to treat certain aspects of esthetics, horticulture. etc.

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