The Myth of the Single Front
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Author:  Will Heath [ Mon Apr 24, 2006 11:07 pm ]
Post subject:  Re:

Hector Johnson wrote:
Will, the "best" side is the one that the artist selects, to present to the public, as the "front".
We, collectively, seem to be arguing that trees have a front, and you seem to be arguing that they shouldn't.

Can you please clarify the following points for me?
1. Is there a side from which a tree, irrespective of styling, looks most pleasing?

2. Is it still OK for the owner of the tree to show that side to the public, as the front?

3. Is it acceptable, even if the tree is near perfect from all angles, to
display it in that orientation, in your view.

I want to be sure I understand you properly.

The article is titled "The Myth of the Single Front" and the subject matter supports that statement. I am not arguing that a bonsai shouldn't have a front, I am arguing that a bonsai shouldn't have only one single front.
To answer your questions...

1) Is there a side from which a tree, irrespective of styling, looks most pleasing?

Yes, of course, however, as I have said numerous times, what I may consider most pleasing may not be what you would consider as most pleasing. I have shown that if presented with multiple pictures of the same bonsai, all at different angles, people will not all choose the same front, hence by choosing it for them, we cheat the ones who found another view "most pleasing" by turning it toward the back.

This all is only for the sake of argument though, since as I have shown in the article, there is only a very small percentage of people that will view the bonsai when it is displayed at the exact viewing angle we call the front. In short Hector, if they don't see the front, that sweet spot where the viewer is directly in front of the bonsai and at such a height where the back rim of the pot is barely showing, the front just does not exist.
In the typical show setup or display (see diagrams in the article) I show why this mythical front is never seen and why styling for this single front is an exercise in futility. This front serves the photograph, nothing else.

2) Is it still OK for the owner of the tree to show that side to the public, as the front?

Certainly, the owner can show their own bonsai however they please. However, let's not kid ourselves into thinking that the viewer sees only the front the artist presents, in fact, due to varying heights of displays and of the viewers, it is highly likely that the front the artist thinks they are displaying is never seen. (See diagrams in article.)

3) Is it acceptable, even if the tree is near perfect from all angles, to display it in that orientation, in your view.

Again, there is always going to be a side of the bonsai facing forward. Forward being defined as toward the viewing area, in a gallery setting or other areas where the bonsai can be walked around forward would be toward the viewers and naturally would mean a different direction to different viewers. And again, this does not mean the viewer will see the bonsai at the exact height and angle that we use in photos.

The point that is being missed here is that the photo front we see so often on the Internet is seldom seen by viewers in real life. Unless you put blinders on the viewers, make them stand on red footsteps directly in front of the bonsai, and raise or lower the display to customize its height for each viewer, this single front will seldom be seen.

Imagine five men, all of different heights standing shoulder to shoulder in front of a bonsai that is on a 36 inch bench. What do these men see?

Only one is directly in front of the bonsai.
None are at the height the bonsai was styled for.
Who is seeing this mythical single front it was styled for?
No one, no one at all.



Author:  Will Heath [ Mon Apr 24, 2006 11:22 pm ]
Post subject:  Re:

Here are a couple recent examples by Walter Pall not used before. ... ic=18780.0 ... c=10116.30
I personally see no flaws in these bonsai with multiple fronts or how, by creating such, degrades the whole.


Author:  Hector Johnson [ Tue Apr 25, 2006 1:26 am ]
Post subject: 

All becomes clearer, now.
The word we all seem to be missing here is: Compromise

By way of example/s:
- For every tree shown, there has to be a compromise, wherein it is shown to its best advantage. It is simply not possible to show every surface of the tree simultaneously, from all possible heights and angles. It is a limitation of our space/time experience that we cannot do it.
- For every point of view offered and considered here, there has to be a compromise, to allow everyone to have their own opinion without forcing one particular opinion down the throat of all.
- If we don't agree on a compromise here, then we are at risk of compromising the very basis upon which we found discussion groups. We need to differentiate between didactic and dictatorial, in my view.

Author:  Will Heath [ Tue Apr 25, 2006 1:49 am ]
Post subject: 

Let's review the article.
Fact: Bonsaists have been trained to style their bonsai with one single front in mind, a front I call the photo front because it is that precise angle and height that is shown in photographs.

I state that this single front is a myth because it simply is very seldom seen when a bonsai is viewed in real life. To support this I have produced the following:

Diagrams showing actual viewing angles that do not focus on the single photo front.

An informal study that shows that both experienced and unexperienced bonsaists can not agree on a single front for a bonsai.

Pictures of quality bonsai that succeed in having multiple fronts.
Links to other quality bonsai with multiple fronts.

Quotes from world class artists supporting the multiple front approach.
Most of all, if we all think about it, when we go to shows, we never only look at the bonsai from the side facing forward, we look around it, we look under it, we look above it. We look at all of the bonsai and not just the visual front presented. With multiple fronts, the bonsai passes this inspection, with a single front, it fails.

My article and my thoughts are based solidly upon the information above and I can not compromise my position without solid intelligent debate against. I am looking forward to seeing examples, diagrams, quotes, or even an entire article against the thoughts I have put forth.
There is no dictatorship here Hector, just a place where debates need to be backed with slightly more than, "because I said so."


Author:  Howard Smith [ Wed Apr 26, 2006 2:02 am ]
Post subject:  Re:

Will Heath wrote:
Howard Smith wrote:
What you have consistantly failed to acknowledge from what I have stated is that many bonsai techniques are used to make the chosen front look even better. I have also stated that styling a bonsai to be viewed from more than one front will sacrifice these techniques and make the one front not as good as it could have been. This is unacceptable to me. This is why the no front potted tree is not bonsai in my opinion. Please respond to this point.

I understand what you are getting at here but I disagree that by making the bonsai visually pleasing from all angles will somehow magically make one less than it could have been. I could post many examples (and have) but take a look at one of Walter Pall's latest efforts here ... ic=18780.0 could you explain to me how having so many great fronts takes away from the whole?


What I see on the link posted above is a mostly unstyled potted tree with views from several sides. Some views are not as flattering as others (straight sections in the trunk more pronounced, disharmony amongst the branches more pronounced in some of the views, more unnatural looking scars are more distracting in some views. By choosing one front and styling the tree with this in mind, one can maximize the aged character this trunk presents and minimize the boring straight parts, one can show off the nebari on their best side, one can hide most of the scars, and one can style the branches to harmonize so that they look like they were naturally shaped due to the same forces of nature. The tree can also be styled to be more inviting to the viewer from the one chosen front. One of Walter's pictures to me looks to have a chosen front with the styling enhancing the beauty accordingly.

I have also been giving the following some thought. At the risk of anthropomorphizing too concretely, and at the risk of sounding too metaphysical I will state the following. A bonsai possesses a percieved soul. Some trees are even named - usually the ones with the most character. These are often the favorite ones in a bonsaist's collection. Souls don't have a body, however when we read about or even think about talking to a spirit, we imagine it with a face, and a body (i.e. a front and a back). By eliminating a front of a bonsai, to me, it is like stealing it's soul and weakening its spirit and character. It simply becomes a miniature, stylized Christmas tree.

I choose to continue selecting a front of my trees and styling them accordingly. I will continue to strive to make my trees look tidy and clean from all other angles, but these will continue to be the sides and the back of my trees. If somebody sees a front they like better, they can offer me a good sum of money and then have at it. (Or if it is decidely better I may change the front myself). I am not closing my mind to the no front tree, but after exercising the possibilities for a few days now, I think I will give it a rest for awhile.

Thank you Will for a stimulating and fun debate. As Attila suggested, I will agree to disagree. (Even though I'm right and you're wrong).

Author:  Ron Sudiono [ Thu May 25, 2006 6:28 am ]
Post subject:  Re:

I?ve brought a bonsai to Mr. Hotsumi Terakawa some time ago, and to my surpirse (I also was told to always choose one good side as a front), he stated dat good bonsai must have pleasing views from all angles. I think that people, in order to simplify things, tend to come up with one single good solution (such as the front of a bonsai) but in reality, if one seeks for a 'rule' than we may say that: try to have as many good fronts as possible. This rule will include minimally one good front and maximally all sides are good. In one single sentence Attila Soos put it this way:

Attila Soos wrote:
A tree with many pleasing views will be much more successful than a one-sided one.

I notice that I have different kind of bonsai's in respect to their fronts: one bonsai has only one good side, others have many good sides. I believe I'm not unique in here.

Author:  Will Heath [ Fri Apr 13, 2007 5:55 pm ]
Post subject:  Re:

Ron Sudiono wrote:
I notice that I have different kind of bonsai's in respect to their fronts: one bonsai has only one good side, others have many good sides. I believe I'm not unique in here.

I have the same diversity in my collection, some of my bonsai have many pleasing fronts, others do not. I am always studying those that do not to determine why and I learn much by doing so.


Author:  Vance Wood [ Sun Apr 15, 2007 10:38 pm ]
Post subject: 

There is not doubt in my mind that the concept of this article will always be in debate, and that in itself is a good thing; keeping people thinking about this issue and maybe looking at their trees in a different way. I have seen many beginner trees that are two-dimensional because they mistakenly followed the "rules" and designed the tree from a selected front.

Believing that this is the way it is supposed to be done little attention is payed to the rest of the tree and everything is made subordinate to the assumed view known as the front. Consequently I have seen trees with absolutely no back branching, and side branching that was totally disordered and jumbled up in order to make the "Front" look good. In fact in my early years I did just that a couple of times.

I think the concept of a 360 bonsai is perhaps one of the best teaching tools a teacher could use with a student to get them to understand balance and depth, and a symbiotic relationship within the tree itself. Though a tree may have by its nature one or two good points of credible display, it should, none the less, be balanced and groomed from every point of view and not just the one selected special display front.

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