The Principle of the Steelyard in Bonsai Display
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Author:  Andy Rutledge [ Thu Mar 10, 2005 10:30 pm ]
Post subject:  Re:

Hi John,
John Quinn wrote:
Andy, have you been to a Kokufu-Ten exhibition? I can't imagine describing it as a 'craft' competition and not an 'artistic' display. I was more enthralled by many of the displays there than by that silly Mona Lisa thingy in the Louvre!

My observation was in reference to Rob's contention that since no scrolls are used at Kokufu-ten, we need not be concerned with them in artistic bonsai dispay.

As for how my remarks relate to Kokufu-ten, the event is a judged event where the judges sit in a row of chairs in a cramped room and the trees from the exhibit are rolled past them on a long conveyor/roller system. The trees are just the trees in their pots, sitting on plywood boards. The trees roll past, one after the other, and the judgements are made solely on that reference. There is little in the way of artistry in that "display." The evaluations are largely based on craft. Nothing wrong with that, but let's not confuse that process to the fullness of a formal bonsai display - and how it uses artistic conventions and display companions to expand the context of the artist's vision.

You have mischaracterized and/or misinterpreted both my remarks and the "meaning" of this site. No big deal, but it just means you're basing your arguments on distortions rather than relevant substance.
I heartily agree with you that bonsai in pots, in and of themselves, can represent excellent artistry. But the degree to which you give the back of your hand to the fullness of bonsai display artistry and the role which display companions can play in that endeavor is rather disappointing. I see no need to insist that you agree with me, but I am sorry that you do not recognize more than you allude to. Different strokes, and all that...

Kind regards,

Author:  Colin Lewis [ Fri Mar 11, 2005 1:24 am ]
Post subject: 

Nice discussion!
It's one of those rare, clear-cut arguments where one side is absolutely correct and the other is one hundred percent right!
Any attempt at a 'tokonoma-type' display, whether traditional Japanese or avant garde, should give the tree (or other prominent artifact) prominence and the other elements should support that end, in addition to being compatible in some way.
On the other hand, if you don't want to mount a tokonoma-type display, you don't have to. Even a 'new age' display can be both innovative and visually effective in that it achieves the same end: enhancing the presentation of the tree.
Both these approaches will inevitably lead any designer with the aesthetic acumen to employ the steelyard principle, the golden mean and/or some other principle of composition - whether they realise it or not.
And that's where artists of all types fall into the two camps:
Some work it out first and some do it well intuitively.
Some do it well intuitively and work it out afterwards.
Some do it well intuitively and can't work it out.
They all work!
Some can work it all out but can't do it afterwards. They become the critics. (Sorry, wrong thread)

Author:  John Romano [ Fri Mar 11, 2005 10:45 am ]
Post subject: 

Good point(s) Colin. They resonate with me in that I sometimes start with a 'feeling' that I want to compose with a tree, etc. and look for the elements to create it. It tends to be more intuitive - the actions follow the intuition (sometimes they work; sometimes they don't). Other times you have the pieces in front of you - a tree and elements - that you play with to create the feeling. The pieces are there first and then you have to 'work out' a feeling, atmosphere, etc.
(today I don't 'feel' like working ;-) )

Author:  Ron Sudiono [ Wed Sep 14, 2005 5:16 am ]
Post subject: 

I've looked for this steelyard thing in my photography book, but can't find anything like that. My question is: it must be familiar concept between photographers, isn't it ? In other words: is my photography book bad ? On the other hand, there are other familiar concepts like the third section concept, based on phi. But again, this steelyard concept is so obvious for creating visual balance within a rectangle view.

Author:  Carl Bergstrom [ Wed Sep 14, 2005 11:15 am ]
Post subject: 

For some reason I've never seen this mentioned in photography - only in painting. But yes, I agree - it works equally well in photography.
Best regards,

Author:  Nicolas Herve [ Fri Jan 06, 2006 9:44 am ]
Post subject: 

My name is Nicolas, and I found your discussions about aesthetics very interesting, but also sometimes, funny?as we are talking here (quite well in my opinion) about important details but we seem to forget the basic ?root? rules.

As far as I know, bonsai originates from China and basic aesthetic rules and guidelines come from there also. I tried to understand how that works and in my searches I found a Chinese-French book that explains these topics quite well. Maybe you have read it, in English or in French, as it may help you in understanding how Japanese display and bonsai such as Walter Pall?s, create such emotional feelings in us.

The book is by Florence Hu-Sterk and is titled La Beaut? autrement. Introduction ? l?esth?tique chinoise, 2004

The purpose of this book is to initiate one with Chinese aesthetics. It is intended to appeal to all levels. For example, it explores where and at what point did the vertically of Chinese writing influence the artistic glance? Why their music didn't succeed in opening out fully as well as their penmanship, painting and poetry? Why the Chinese painters always refuse to use perspective? Why parallel verses did not occupy an important place in their poetry? What does the proverb "In poetry, there is painting; in painting, there is poetry" really mean? And by which miracle did monochrome replace the colors in pictorial art?

This book is about Chinese landscape paintings that were created ten centuries before the European landscapes. It is about painting that takes a piece of nature that represent the whole. It's about the three kinds of perspectives Chinese painters use, why the Chinese painters don't paint shades and reflections, Tao drawing form, and the way that we may find it in Chinese paintings (as far as I know, in informal upright form also).
I think this book can shed some needed light on a way that is different from ours, but whose purpose remains always that of the beauty. An 'elsewhere' beauty.

Forgive my poor and broken English. Best regards,
Nicolas Herve

Author:  Attila Soos [ Fri Jan 06, 2006 12:35 pm ]
Post subject: 

Hi Nicolas,
There are a large number of books published here in the West on the subject of Chinese art and aesthetics. It is always interesting to see their point of view on any issue pertaining to bonsai or other visual art forms.
May be, during our discussions on various topics, you can interject things that you've learned from the above book.
Best regards,

Author:  Hector Johnson [ Tue Jan 10, 2006 7:46 am ]
Post subject: 

Perhaps we're all putting the cart before the horse in this discussion?
If you take a good look at the entire composition represented in a traditional Tokonoma display, you will see that the three elements:

Tree, Scroll & Accent; clearly represent the following:

Tree = Subject (Middle Ground)
Accent = Foreground
Scroll = Background

Whilst the use of perspective is uncommon in Chinese art it is far more common in Japanese art. The three major components of any landscape are represented by the 3-point display, clearly, to me.

Placing the tree in a position where it slightly overlaps the scroll gives more depth and meaning to the perspective of the display.

The elements, as displayed, are more figurative than literal, as is often the case in Oriental art (We more often refer to this aesthetic as Minimalism) but they nonetheless represent perspective. For this reason the scroll may even consist of a few Kanji (Japanese characters) rather than a distant landscape scene. The image is allegorical, rather than literal.
Scrolls are/were used more because of the spiritual message they convey, especially those with a quote on them. This has to do with a long tradition of art in Japan bearing spiritual connotations, rather than purely secular, artistic overtones.

In many cases it is not necessary to add other elements to a display of bonsai if you don't want to do so, but it is often done in displays of Ikebana & Suiseki but not often with Tsuba or teabowls, small boxes, sculpture or heirlooms or antiquities when they are displayed in the Tokonoma.

It would, however, be more likely to do so with a bonsai display inside the home than it would in a public space, for instance.

I guess I'm looking at the discussion from a little farther back than most of us here. My wife and I run a successful graphic design studio and possess a large collection of authoritative books on art from all over the world. (In this instance I referred to my copy of the 2 volume series titled THE ARTS OF JAPAN by Noma Seiroku, 1966)

It is perhaps salutary that there is no mention of either bonsai or Tokonoma in any of the 470 pages of the volumes. Perhaps we are ascribing the status of art to something even art historians from Japan regard as something other than art?

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