Back to Back - Demonstrations - by Johnson and Wood
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Author:  Rob Kempinski [ Sun Apr 23, 2006 12:55 pm ]
Post subject:  Re:

Vance Wood wrote:
Rob, respectfully I have to disagree with you putting the blame squarely on the demonstrator, certainly there is blame there. But did you read the accompanying article? Have you ever done one of these programs yourself?

Yes and yes.
Vance Wood wrote:
Let me give you a bit of an analogy. I pay for a ticket to a concert to hear So-and-so play the violin. I anxiously wait in line to get in, I anxiously wait for the show to commence and Maestro So-and-so comes on stage and explains that he has chosen PDQ Bach's partita with one part missing as his concert selection. But because the piece is so difficult and he can't find the other part he will only be able to play part of it. As a ticket holder what do you think of this?

The analogy is not relevant. Music is a performance art, so the expectation is to view a performance. Bonsai is a time phased sculptural art - no one in the know expects to see a finished bonsai at a demonstartion. After watching a demo you can go to the "exhibition room" and see what the finished results will yield. Use painting or carving as an analogy and you'll find them to be similar to bonsai. If you are enjoying a demonstration in these, the goal is to say"wow, that's how they do that."
Vance Wood wrote:
When someone goes to a convention to see Kimura, or Walter Pall design a tree masterpiece they do not want to be told half way through that this is all you get.

Oh but this is exactly what I have seen both Masahiko Kimura and Walter Pall say. I've have seen Mr. Kimura perform several times, and I've seen Mr. Pall too. Both work and get to a certain point and say "thats it for now." For instance in Atlanta in 1999, Mr. Kimura did his best to make 3 very nice starter trees look good, but he didn't repot the demo material, he explained how the pads were skimpy now but will fill out, how a branch needed to extend, and how they should be pinched, and how in a few years the tree could be prepared for an exhibition. While the trees looked good, they were not finished. I saw Mr. Kimura do a demo in Japan where he said he would continue next year after partially working on a 1,000 year only Ezo spruce.
And BTW, I have seen Kunio Kobyashi, Colin Lewis and host of other artists do similar work in a demo. In Florida it is understood that the tree will look nothing like the show version after a demo. Jim Smith, our statewide master, will do a demo and reduce a tree to its bare form cutting everything extremely hard to induce taper. He and the audience do not worry about making a finished tree. A favorite line of Ben Oki is to finish a demo by saying "That's the best I can do for now."
Vance Wood wrote:
So in this instance the ethical demonstrator gets to sit back on his ethics while someone else reaps the monetary rewards. So in the end you stand for something but you stand alone.

Masahiko Kimura and Walter Pall get rewarded for two main factors -- their tremendous portfolio of excellent trees that they have developed over time (not at demos) and have publicized very well and the very excellent demonstrations of technique that they perform when working on a tree in front of an audience that enables attendees to learn. That is why they draw top dollar (and top dollar is very relative, even Mr. Kimura's rate can't compare to appearance fees of top athletes and politicians.)
Vance Wood wrote:
You have of course heard the story about being outstanding in your field, parodied by the song which continues----in mud up to your knees?

I really don't know what this sentence has to do with the topic.

Author:  Vance Wood [ Sun Apr 23, 2006 1:16 pm ]
Post subject: 

You seem to have a chip on your shoulder, or I am not reading this correctly, either way have it your way. I'm not going to argue with you.

Author:  Attila Soos [ Mon Apr 24, 2006 11:30 am ]
Post subject: 

Well, Rob articulated very well how a demonstrator can take charge of his own destiny, stand by his principles AND make the demo enjoyable, even if at the end the tree is not yet a finished masterpiece. I doesn't seem that he has any chip, other than being uncompromising when it comes to the well being of the tree. And that is not a bad chip to have...

Author:  Vance Wood [ Mon Apr 24, 2006 1:24 pm ]
Post subject: 

If you go back and read my article once again you will find that mention was made of big name high profile artists as being an exception, which is what Rob pointed out not as an exception but as a rule. The difference is in who is doing the demonstration or work shop. It is for that reason, as I pointed out in the article, I supply my own materials for both when it is possible.
Rob also pointed out that he did not like my analogy between music and bonsai demonstrations, one is performance art and the other is not. I disagree with that determination, a Bonsai Demonstration is very much performance art.

Author:  Attila Soos [ Mon Apr 24, 2006 1:48 pm ]
Post subject: 

One great example comes to my mind from the last GSBF Convention in Anaheim, CA.
Lo Min Hsuan, one of the "stars" of the event, was given a ficus material for a simultaneous demo. He shared the stage with other stars, everyone was working on a separate tree in the same time. A simultaneous demo puts much more pressure on an individual, since the audience has a choice to tune him out if the other demonstrators put up a better show. And this can be quite embarrassing. At least, when there is only one demonstrator on the stage, there is no competition and you will not be ignored.
Anyway, the material Lo was given was absolutely pitiful, in my opinion. And Lo was basically done after about 15 minutes. But he was prepared for this. He used his laptop to put on a slide show, showing us his earlier works, and the final results that can be achieved with some of the techniques that he did on the demo tree. He also used the slide show to talk about his philosophy when creating a great tree.
At the end, he did much more than just relying on his star status to impress us: he put on a great show, shared some interesting thoughts, and did all this with being handicapped by a limited knowledge of the english language.

Author:  Chris Johnston [ Mon Sep 25, 2006 7:34 pm ]
Post subject: 

So in this instance the ethical demonstrator gets to sit back on his ethics while someone else reaps the monetary rewards. So in the end you stand for something but you stand alone.

Are you truly saying that the demonstrator is forced to act unethically by the club? How can any person with a moral and ethical sense truly be forced to act unethically?

I agree with Rob. The fault is solely at the door of the demonstrators. This is the culture we have built in this country. When John Naka began travelling around the country (how many years ago was it?) he used to come to Kansas City, and I am sure other cities, too, for a week at a time. Notes for his classes in the bonsai basics became the basis for his first book, Bonsai Techniques. It was like adult Vacation Bible School, with John working with local folks gardens and trees during the days and classes at night. It was a great way to impart the basics of a real bonsai education, showing that there is far more to bonsai than "instant masterpieces."

This has devolved into the state we have today with unethical "masters," some of whom are beloved and seem to have no idea the damage they are causing, roving around the country taking borderline material and ruining or killing it, convincing clubs that the way to do bonsai is to do a nursery crawl, bring your new nursery stock to a workshop, and mutilate it so that their entire collection is a group of sticks in pots. I have even heard one highly revered master remark, when someone said that the yamadori people in the area had collected were only living about ten years, "Oh, that's good!"
This is not good.

Author:  Dorothy Schmitz [ Mon Sep 25, 2006 9:28 pm ]
Post subject: 

This is so good about forums.You can revive some very important issues
and acknowledge the actuality of events.I strongly agree with the demonstration responsibility being placed on the presenter.

The organizers however need to understand the nature of teaching and learning-besides the self understanding budgeting of the event.
Demonstrators will always take a chance in applying extreme methods of
manipulating the material.

One way to limit the risk is certainly to supply your own demonstration tree and to p r e p a i r e it for the event.
The other possibility that was previously mentioned is to dismiss any further work beyond the point of doubt.

Some clubs will invite the same presenter for a follow up on the same material.
Here I see a good future for bonsai presentations:
seminary/demonstration formats,follow-ups,refinement,on stage
tree critiques of accomplished bonsai material.

Why not taking bonsai from "performance art" and "Action hero" to the next level of refinement and cultivation,thus creating quality trees and a healthy curriculum?

"Try not to become a man of success but rather try to become a man
of value"Albert Einstein

Dorothy Schmitz

Author:  Galach Fiachaire [ Mon Mar 24, 2008 8:10 am ]
Post subject:  Just my opinion...

Hi there!

Even as a beginner in the "art" of bonsai, I have a strong opinion about this demonstrations: sometimes, they really sucks.

Our society is eager to encompass everything seems beautiful to our eyes, but we rarely have the compreenson, or the patience, to achieve some goals.

I understand the situation of the "masters" in their demonstrations, not knowing what lies ahead (wich plants and material will be avaliable, etc...), but as "masters", the first thing they could do is to tell the audience just about this difficults, and what can be done with the plant after a lot of care and time, but if they push it too far it will die with sure.

I think this demonstrations are not for entertain, but to teach. The problem is, I think, some "masters" are too proud of themselves, too afraid to share some "secrets" and too arrogant to just talk as equals with other people, so they prefer to kill a plant.

In other side, we have the "clubs". I grow orchids here, too, and I know how groups and clubs can be distastefull. There are a lot of politics and egos involved. There are the eternal dispute of wich one have the most beatiful plant, the most rare one, the one with better genetics, and so on. This can reach some extremes as we know here, of people discovering a population of very rare native plants in nature, and collecting all of them (against all laws of bio-protection), just to became the only person to have it in the whole country.

I thing the same rules can be applied, more or less, in the bonsai clubs. I think that in demonstrations, bad conditions to the "masters presententions" could not be "coincidence" in some cases, just as a try to demolish the reputation of these person for envy or jelousy.

Our society is imediatist, wishing to have all in a second, never learning important lessons that are the center, the soul of some things. With Bonsai or Kung Fu, or Meditation and Study, Music and Contemplation, and so many other things, we must learn to see beyond the appearence, and reach the true purpose of the arts and its teatchings, leaving behind our egos.

A good day for you all.

Author:  Dave Williams [ Sun Mar 30, 2008 6:05 am ]
Post subject: 

I haven't much experience of bonsai workshops. I have attended a few in the past; low-level, local events for small classes, but that was a long time ago. They seemed quite brutal to me at the time. I have absolutely no experience of teaching bonsai, but I do have experience of teaching.

I don't agree that bonsai workshops/demonstrations are (or should be) a form of performance art, for as long as the objective is to teach. They should, of course, be interesting (the first thing a teacher needs is the student's attention. The second thing is to keep it), but teaching has to be about reality and what happens in the real world, or it is worthless.

When teaching a practical skill, the most basic thing to assume is that students will emulate the teacher. The hope is that students will also achieve an understanding of the underlying principles (that, after all is the aim of teaching), but it is never safe to assume that will be the case (that's why we have assessment). So, if we can only assume that students will emulate the teacher, then if what the teacher does will result in the death of the tree, the teacher will have taught a room full of people how to kill a tree.

As mentioned, teaching has to be about reality (this applies to all disciplines, not just bonsai). Professional teachers are obligated never to present as true something they know to be false. So, is it ethical to ‘show' students that bonsai masterpieces can be created from nothing in a few hours when, in reality, this is not true? Teachers of bonsai undoubtedly know the limits of their trees, so is it ethical to show students how to do to a tree something the teacher would never do to one of their own trees?

I can understand there must be a lot of pressure on teachers from clubs, but it would be a fallacy to assume that what can and cannot be done safely to any tree is influenced in any way by the desires of any club, however large or important they may be. As I say, I know nothing about teaching bonsai, but I would imagine that the idea should be to impart an understanding of the reality of bonsai, regardless of what the students may or may not want.

Many of my students want what I teach to be quick and easy, or dramatic and thrilling. The reality is much more mundane, as it is in most things (although it has its moments). The real trick of a teacher is in presenting the mundane in an interesting way that captures the attention of students. But would I be serving my responsibility to my students by misrepresenting reality to them? What happens if they choose to enter the profession and only then discover the reality? A significant part of my role is to adjust student expectations to match reality so that they are better equipped to deal with it. In reality, bonsai creation takes time and patience. Isn't that in itself an important lesson?

Ultimately, I think it's down to the teachers to decide whether they are teachers or show people. Whether it's important to teach what can and cannot be done, how to decide what should be done and how (and when) to do it, or to increase bookings by being the spectacular show person who can get sawdust to fly the highest.

Author:  Vance Wood [ Fri Apr 11, 2008 6:03 pm ]
Post subject: 

Do not make the mistake of concluding that work shops and demonstrations are the same thing. They can be,--but in most instances work shops are for education and Demonstrations, depending on the subject of the demonstration, are for enlightenment and the revelation of styling options.

Author:  Dave Williams [ Sat Apr 12, 2008 3:45 am ]
Post subject: 

My error. I was of course referring more to demonstrations than to workshops.

Author:  Vance Wood [ Sat Apr 12, 2008 9:20 am ]
Post subject: 

Let me put forth this simple question: When you go to a demonstration from a visiting master what do you really expect to see? Be honest, we can discuss finner points latter.

Author:  Dave Williams [ Sun Apr 13, 2008 5:04 am ]
Post subject: 

From what I remember (back in the late 80s - early 90s) they were all so different, it was difficult to form any solid expectations concerning demonstrations. One or two left me with a feeling of 'What have I just been shown?'

However, what I would like to expect (and this is purely opinion), are demonstrations of particular techniques, where the emphasis is on the skill, rather than the tree. That way, the demonstration would be more 'encapsulated'. From beginning to end the demonstration would be 'this is how to achieve (or one effective way of achieving) ...X.

With the emphasis on the technique, it wouldn't matter if a number of trees were used to show it from beginning to end and observers (students) would know that the objective is to learn a particular technique.

I think where demonstrations are more general (beginning to end treatments of fresh stock to 'completed' bonsai), it can be hard to differentiate the different techniques involved as they tend to blur into one overall assault (which makes it harder to learn them). The focus is more on the tree than the skill with everybody looking to see the final outcome (even though it may be doomed).

Demonstrations on specific trees (e.g. such as have been given by Kimura) are different. By definition, those are about the tree and how the master deals with the problems specific to that tree. However, the particular combination of techniques used in those cases (e.g. Kimura on the Amazing Spruce of Hokkaido (Bonsai Focus 91 59-67)) tend to be specific to a particular tree and thus of limited general use.

I am not suggesting that such demonstrations are not valuable (of course they are), but the emphasis is different. One emphasises the technique and the teaching of it, and the other emphasises what can be achieved once these techniques have been learned. As Andy Rutledge and Atilla Soos both told me on this forum, learning the techiniques must come first.

This is why I say that demonstrators have to decide whether they are teachers or show people.

Author:  Vance Wood [ Sun Apr 13, 2008 8:25 am ]
Post subject: 

There is one point of view on expectations, but it was more with disclaimers than a simple expression of expectations. This is not bad but slightly missed the point of my question.

So lets look at some of the disclaimers or qualifiers. If a demonstration is for the soul purpose of demonstrating a technique then you could expect to see that technique demonstrated. If the demonstration was posted as being a styling demonstration then you could expect the demonstration to focus on styling and styling options.

I know the complaint about the death of trees that have gone through a blitz styling. I would like to add at this point, and if you go back to the article you will see that I do use my own material, I have been doing beginning to end demonstrations for at least thirty years. In all that time I have lost one tree from it.

Author:  Dave Williams [ Mon Apr 14, 2008 5:30 am ]
Post subject: 

I think your point about disclaimers or qualifiers is a good one. If the objective of a demonstration is made clear at the outset, with disclaimers, I think there would be fewer problems.

For example; 'The purpose of this demonstration is to show how such and such tree might be styled, or how to achieve such and such style. The techniques employed would normally be performed over two or three years. In year one you could do this... In year two you would follow up by doing this...' and so-on. That would help prevent the audience (or at least the less experienced members of the audience) from assuming that everything should, or even could, be done at once.

On the most basic level I think the issues surrounding demonstrations stem from a lack of consensus on their basic perspective. Is it to be amazed by the skill of the real masters of the art, or is it about teaching and learning? Is it about the singer or the song?

Neither perspective is wrong and both have merit, but expectations differ fundamentally according to each. Some people are always going to be disappointed unless the perspective in each case is made clear from the outset so people can form realistic expectations of any particular demonstration.

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