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artofbonsai.org • View topic - Critique: The Maleficent Tree
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 Post subject: Critique: The Maleficent Tree
PostPosted: Sat Feb 26, 2005 12:21 am 
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This thread is for discussing Carl Bergstrom's critique article, "The Maleficent Tree"


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 28, 2005 5:46 pm 
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I like that list about the role of the critic a lot. I think that there is a lot of misunderstanding about this role, and a list like this can help diffuse all that.
Back to the scaryness of this tree, being scary is such a subjective quality.
I grew up right next to a cemetery in Transylvania, and we as little kids used to play amongst the tombstones and inside the burial chambers day and night. Sometimes we even had a nap in one of those chambers. For some people being in an old-fashioned cemetery in the dark would qualify as scary, but for us it was our home (and no, I am NOT related to Dracula).


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PostPosted: Mon Feb 28, 2005 8:37 pm 
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Thanks, Attila and Carl. Interesting posts!
Carl, each of us here is a critic.

As author and chief critic, doing one's best to expand the insight of a viewer/reader into a work of art is certainly not just worthwhile, but necessary. I gladly give you that. However, a strong personal overlay should in my opinion be avoided.

How would it be if, for instance, some of the statements were formulated as questions instead? These have suggestive power, which works more subtly and sometimes more efficiently.

I also miss a discussion of the tree as a bonsai. The section concerning the structural details serves mainly to support the premise that this is a "maleficent" tree. Well, it is an X-shaped, miniature tree planted in a bonsai pot (beautiful! wish I had one like it!), which has a great trunk with a curiously symmetrical split, and asymmetrical branching, the main part of which nicely follows the curved trunk line. While unconventional to a degree, it has balance and its own sort of aesthetic appeal. Don't know how else to put it. I should like to know how Nick sees the future of the tree, especially where the branching is concerned.
Lisa


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 Post subject: On Criticism
PostPosted: Tue Mar 01, 2005 3:26 pm 
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The role of art is to communicate and this tree does that well the message of course varies depending on the viewer, like a Rorschach Inkblot. The three holes on the trunk , whether natural or not look like a face and I find them distracting- always a risk with anthropometrical design. I don't see a demon denizen of the forest but rather a teenage vandal looking for trouble. The tree needs that white shari Icabod Crane saw on the tulip tree. Maybe the shari can connect the dots, get rid of the face and add age to the tree. The canopy needs denser twigging, even if it is chaotic to add age and mystery. I really like the tallest branch especially the acute angle near the top and would like to see that theme repeated somewhere else in the branching. For presentation purposes I'd like to see moss completely cover the soil. Otherwise it doesn't look like a forest resident but a tree in a pot. Overall to me this tree seems a bit too contrived and a little more bonsai technique would move it from a parody of a tree to a much more dramatic statement.

And a word on critics. Professional critics have a parasitic role in society, they feed off the work of others and add little value merely foisting on us what they think about a piece of work. But like the remora is to a shark, parasites can offer a service. By publicly offering their opinion of a work, they might for instance steer us from a bad investment, like going to see a bad movie. But bad is relative and I might like a movie that Gene Shalit didn't. Since we are not investing much in viewing this tree, other than some time, we don't need professional critics for that purpose. Perhaps the biggest benefit of having professional bonsai critics is that it will be a clue telling us that bonsai has arrived as an Art in the west a necessary evil that accompanies the big time.

On the other hand, I find it very interesting to learn what other bonsai artists have to say, especially in light of using that opinion to further improve a bonsai tree. And when those artists put their own work up for others to see, it places their opinion in an appropriate evaluative context. I am glad that Andy started this forum and look forward to the seeing ideas that get exchanged for the notion of bonsai as an Art has a long way to go in the west.


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PostPosted: Fri Mar 04, 2005 10:43 am 
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Glad to see the discussion here, ...but a note of clarification...
"I" did not start this forum or this project. That role was filled by Carl Bergstrom, Will Heath, Candy Shirey and others. I just happen to be the technical/web guy. Hope you enjoy the place, though!
Kind regards,
Andy


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 Post subject: Wabi-sabi
PostPosted: Fri Mar 04, 2005 12:18 pm 
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Before I bring my opinion on, I will like to express my gratitude to this new forum, and its members, which seems to seriously seek a high level of bonsai art discussions.

Back to the point. I agree with Rob. I too find the hollows in the trunk disturbing to my vision of a natural tree, which I find is one of the finest qualities in a bonsai.

Naturalness is difficult to achieve, and in this case I find the tree far from natural. Too much is distracting my mind from seeing a natural appearance of the tree.

A good phrase in bonsai is to bring peace, harmony, beauty and simplicity into the image of the tree. In this bonsai I find some, or maybe all of this is violated. Instead of peace and harmony I find a disturbing picture.
The beauty is partly (or widely) a matter of taste, but I don?t see the beauty in this bonsai, which I normally seeks in trees represented in this specimen. Because of the artificial approach of the tree, with the much too arranged (it seems so) face that is purposed in the trunk by the hollows. And the simplicity is violated by the overall complex picture, where it also is difficult to find a resting point for the eye.

At the same time I am disturbed by the double trunk, that leads my eye trough the hole rather than finding peace and balance at a more central and balanced point. When the eye find a natural and well balanced spot to focus on immediately, it is easier to start the search for details afterwards, and find back to the main point. This is an important point, to achieve calmness and peace in a bonsai.

So what to do, if I had the choice. First of all a slight change of the planting position towards the left could make the low placed hole (at the low part of the double trunk) seem narrower, and at the same time soil and moss can cover the rest, by lifting soil up to the mid part. This might also hide the left hollow in the trunk, and these hollows can be crafted so they look more natural. Changing the planting angle a little might help too.

Also the branches need attention, and in my opinion they must be shortened and brought a little more to order. The branch structure works against the peace and harmony that I personally feel is an important part of a bonsai. This doesn?t means that bonsai can?t be dramatic or powerful, but they visually need to be in balance and poses harmony.

Another point I personally seeks to develop in my bonsais are some of the essence of the Japanese phrases Wabi and Sabi.

Wabi-sabi is very Japanese in spirit, but can for some part be adapted by us who lives in the west.

The Japanese words wabi and sabi are related to the tea ceremony, which was developed by Sen-no Rikyu more than 400 years ago.

Allthough that wabi-sabi in Japan are keywords related to the bonsai art, it is in my opinion not fore filling all the aspects from my point of view, but is a part of the expression.

Because bonsai is also a poem or a poetry. A bonsai is an aesthetic expression, which tells a story and evokes emotions. This is related to the human behind the tree, or the people who get influenced by watching the bonsai, because all art relates to a human expression. In bonsai though, this expression must be closely related to nature.

This must be carried out with some dignity and humbleness, and this is not the case when the human expression, as with the case tree discussed here, overrides the naturalness and wabi-sabi.

The term wabi-sabi suggests qualities like impermanence, humility, asymmetry, and imperfection. In these principles are some underlying and diametrically opposed values to the Western counterparts, whit values deeply rooted in the Hellenic worldview, which values permanence, grandeur, symmetry, and perfection. I think though, it is possible to find a way to appreciate wabi-sabi, and express this in bonsai.

Wabi-sabi is also intuitive appreciation of transient beauty in the physical world that reflects the irreversible flow of life in the spiritual world. The understated beauty exists in a modest, rustic, imperfect, or even decayed, aesthetic sensibility that finds a melancholic beauty in the impermanence of all things. This beauty is what I personally appreciate in the Japanese bonsais, and I try to implement the spirit in my western approach to bonsai.


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