A nice discusion among friends: Do bonsai realy have to look like a big size tree?

Hans van Meer

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HI everybody,

I hope they don't mind me quoting them here in my own thread! And I hope they will join in and give me their thoughts and opinions!:D

In a other fun thread "An opinion poll, just for fun...." placed by GREERH (Harry) :
http://www.bonsainut.com/forums/showthread.php?t=1497

GREERH (HARRY) asks people there opinion and or virtual to restyle a Bonsai in the picture he showed.
Please read the next well written reply from EMK to this question, in witch he gives his honest feelings about how he sees a beautiful Bonsai:

Since you asked...

While I like both of your images better than Mojosan's overall, those individual trees did bring to light a nagging issue with your original tree. While it's a visually appealing bonsai, it really doesn't look like a "tree". The extraneous deadwood that you removed in the virt makes me think that on some level you recognize that the original looks more like an interesting deadwood project than a real tree you might encounter in nature.

<understatement>Now I'm no expert</understatement> but I'm sure there are others here who could point out excellent examples of real-world trees that have a lot of surrounding deadwood that's not part of the trunk/branch structure of the main tree that might be composed in a similar manner to what you have here, but I think we'd find that it looks quite different than the deadwood on your tree. I would guess that it would mainly be an issue of scale.

So, in the end, I think the original image with some serious refinement of the deadwood could make a better overall composition, but as it stands now, the second image has a lot of potential on it's own and looks far more tree-like than the other.


First: The post and the above quote are not the discussion here, I just showed them, to show you, why I placed my post!
A part of this, again well written reply, started a discussion in my own mind, again! A discussion I had so many times before in my own head! So I might as well ask you all!:D
My question to you all, is a important Bonsai art wise question and a Bonsai art wise dilemma to me! And because I did not wanted to hack into a other bonsai friend thread, I made this new thread about my next question:

DO BONSAI REALY HAVE TO LOOK LIKE A BIG SIZE TREE?

I hope you will seriously think about this question and give me a honest answer and your reasons why?!
I am really interested in this issue, because I have such a strong feeling and opinion about this personally. And I do believe it is a important subject to think about and seriously discuss among bonsai friends. So what do you think?

My own opinion:
DO BONSAI REALY HAVE TO LOOK LIKE A BIG SIZE TREE?
No! Absolutely not. They are small fantasy's trees in a pot!
Why: Because Bonsai is a Art form, that like any other Art form, can and may travels between abstract and magical realism. As long as it is done in good taste and the tree is appealing to me, I will applaud them all. A Bonsai should be judged by its quality and beauty, not by its style, form or creator!
Beside that: Bonsai are/should be, a Bonsai Artist interpretation of how he sees a tree in his own might and world, some will paint with a small brush, while others will use a sponge. And even some will try to use a camera, to show us their fantasy tree world in a pot! So don't discard any form of Bonsai Art. It will only hinder you, in your own pursuit to find your own personal way to express your Bonsai ideas, in what ever form that may be!
And you might miss out on seeing Bonsai Art, when you only look for small trees in pots!
That's my opinion in a Bonsai Nut shell:D
What are your thoughts?

Regards,
Hans van Meer.
 
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Walter Pall

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A few unsorted answers:

No, bonsai do not have to look like real trees. They can though, if the artist wants so.
Bonsai don't even HAVE to give the feeling of a real tree. They can well give the feeling of a tree made of plastic. It is in the eyes of the beholder whether he finds that tasteful. Bonsai can give up the idea to be a tree totally. Bonsai can look like animals or humans.

A bonsai that does not look like a real tree at all can very well be a piece of art. It can also be just poorly designed. A bonsai that looks very much like a real tree can be a piece of art or be poorly designed.

But should they look like a stereotype bonsai? The answer is no again. Because this would not be artistic and possibly of poor taste. At least to me.

So to blame a bonsai for not looking like a real tree is not very helpful. To blame it for looking like hundreds of thousands other bonsai is helpful in my eyes.

To say that one does not like a bonsai is repectable. To think that it is a poor bonsai because you don't like it is not always wise. It depends on who you are. To say that it is a poor bonsai because it does not look like a real tree is not always wise.
 

greerhw

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Interesting question. I never gave it much thought before, because I'm a collector and not an artist. I buy what I like dispite the style. I can't buy large trees anymore. They are just to much trouble for me to move by myself. Nowhere in nature are you going to find a tree like the one pictured below, but I like the feeling it gives me looking at. After all isn't that whats it's all about.

Harry
 

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king kong

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Wow, that was scarry. I think emk and I must be relatives or sharing the same DNA or sleeping bag...just kidding. We share camps with this one. Show me something that is tree-mendous, not a stack of driftwood with a green acute triangle on top. The overall composition should mimic a tree. This is the core philosophy,the strict discipline, the common denominator, to find our way as a designer without getting to far astray. But, I read this somewhere too "The vitality and sophistication of any art theory depends on being sensitive to the need for flexibility". Something like that.
 
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bretts

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Wow when I saw Walter's post straight after the very well put forward suggestion by Hans van Meer I thought this will be very intresting. We all Know this is a subject close to Walter's journey these days.
With all due respect Walter, I am sincerly sorry if I am too dumb to get your post but I am disapionted with your sarcastic answer. I think Hans has put forward a very intresting view point. I understand from your teaching (and your post) that you do not agree. I just wish we could have had less sarcastic jabs and more substancial explination of why you disagree.

My view is that Hans has stired some ideas I had of Bonsai when I first started 4 years ago. It was explained to me that Bonsai did not always look like a real tree because it was a perfect fantasy tree from your mind. I think that a naturalistic style is a very important aspect of Bonsai. I think that Han's comment has reminded me that like Penjing it should be classed as a style of Bonsai and there is room for many styles. At pionts these styles will overlap. I for one would like to have some skill in all styles from naturalistic to penjing.
I wonder if there is a name given to the fantasy style of Bonsai? The twisted deadwood juniper with a crown of fiolage is not my favourite style yet I can very much apreciate the work of Kimura and would of course be honoured to have a tree anywere near that style in my collection. My ultimate fantasy tree though is more like the manicured Pine or deciduous tree. It is akin to the feeling of a manicured lawn. A part of nature that has surcome to our will. This to me is some of the appeal of bonsai. Mastering and harnessing nature. The fantasy style is a pure indulgence in this skill.
I would hope there will always be different styles and I will continue to try to learn from Walters teachings of Naturalistic style.
I would like my collection to have a range of these styles
 
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Walter Pall

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Hey bretts,

what makes you think that my reply is sarcastic in any way?? I mean everything that I wrote just as I wrote it. Why do you interpret something else into this?
 

Walter Pall

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I understand from your teaching (and your post) that you do not agree. I just wish we could have had less sarcastic jabs and more substancial explination of why you disagree.
This is not so. I do agree to what Hans said. I Why is this so difficult to understand?
 

Walter Pall

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One has to differentiate between a general perception of what is good art and one's personal taste. It is one thing to say

'I want a bonsai always to look like a real tree'.

Another is it to say

' a bonsai that does not look like a real tree is not good'.

The first statement is acceptable, the second not. The first is a statement about one's personal taste, which everyone has a right to. The second is a statement about the value of a bonsai as a piece of art. One cannot bind the value on naturalistic or abstract. By the same token one could say 'all abstract paintings are trash'. Which is a silly naive statement. But to say 'I absolutely hate abstract paintings' is honorable.


I say neither. I say very much what Hans says. I have a real lot of trees in my collection which absolutely don't look like a tree would ever look like and I think they are not bad.

The big misunderstanding is that folks put me into the corner 'everything that Walter does and thinks is naturalistic'. This is absoluteley wrong. I do abstract, conventional, neo-classical, penjing bonsai. I also do appreciate all sorts of styles. But this thread is not about me and my taste. I was only challenged for a moment. So back to Hans.
 

king kong

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wonders of the World

A tree, one of the greatest if not the most fantastic marvels on the earth, why wouldn't we want to duplicate it? To improve there overall composition...now that's a task that must be done very carefully.
 

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A tree, one of the greatest if not the most fantastic marvels on the earth, why wouldn't we want to duplicate it? To improve there overall composition...now that's a task that must be done very carefully.
The question is not about whether you would or would not want to duplicate it. The question is whether or not all bonsai have to look like trees in nature. I do not believe so. Imagine the feeling you get when looking at an emotionally moving scene in nature. Can you generate a similar feeling with a bonsai that is not a literal translation or copy of the scene?

By the way Kong, I think the tree you use in your post illustrates my point. It makes me think of trees in nature, but there is not a natural tree on this planet that looks like that bonsai.

Going back to the original tree that generated this discussion - it was (to me) a powerful tree with an extensive amount of deadwood. Do you (1) eliminate the deadwood in order to fit the tree into a pre-defined set of "bonsai design rules" or (2) work with the deadwood in order to bring out the true bonsai that exists in every tree - even if you have to break some rules to do so? To me the best designs are those that break the rules - for a reason. Otherwise you end up with technically perfect trees that can lack passion or originality.
 

king kong

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Over the years, with all the variety of trees, with all the different styles that I have been lucky to see in person in this area, S Florida, one tree was talked about over and beyond all the others. It took the bonsai World here by storm and put it on a whole new dimension. It was trained and displayed by my mentor. The artists, the non-artists all would take one look at this bonsai and gasp "now that looks like a tree" and it did. I guess I never forgot that. Now Walter has a pine, which I saw not long ago on a forum that gave me the same feeling. This tree also looks like the real thing in every way.
 

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The artists, the non-artists all would take one look at this bonsai and gasp "now that looks like a tree" and it did. I guess I never forgot that. Now Walter has a pine, which I saw not long ago on a forum that gave me the same feeling. This tree also looks like the real thing in every way.
But does this mean that all bonsai need to "look like a tree" in order to be amazing bonsai? Because I could point you to numerous Kimura bonsai that don't look like trees at all and are very non-traditional in their design. While that might not be your favorite style, you cannot deny the amazing technique and vision. Yet, they do not look like trees.
 

Graydon

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What are your thoughts?
I think it greatly depends on the species. Some trees we grow in bonsai culture could never look like they would in nature. Others can with a little effort on our part and a small squint of the eye.

In a nut shell no.. but it doesn't hurt. Does it?
 

greerhw

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I love the traditional Japanese style and Walters style, but the Chinese, what in the hell are they trying to create, I'm talking about the gross stuff. :confused:

Harry
 

bretts

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My mistake Walter it was this
Bonsai don't even HAVE to give the feeling of a real tree. They can well give the feeling of a tree made of plastic.
That had me misinterpret you.
I have learned much from my mistake though as I found your follow up posts very informative.
Thanks
 

Walter Pall

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My mistake Walter it was this

That had me misinterpret you.
I have learned much from my mistake though as I found your follow up posts very informative.
Thanks
Brett,

what I wanted to say is this:

In general I would say that a bonsai does not have to look like a real tree, but it can well. In general even if it does not look like a real tree it will give you the FEELING of a real tree. This is true of most classical bonsai. Classical bonsai usually do not look like real trees, but they have a soul and this soul gives you the feeling of a real tree.
Modern bonsai are even more abstract than classical bonsai. Meaning that they don't even try to look like a real tree at all. But in general they give you the feeling of a real tree. Many modern bonsai recently though have even given up this notion. They want to be a great sculpture and that's the feeling they give you. Some recently give me and many others the feeling to be totally of plastic. In a recent fierce forum discussion in Germany I declared one of these modern bonsai resembling a Russian plastic table decoration. This is, of course, very derogative and means 'of very poor taste'. Well. I always made sure that this is according to MY taste. When asked though whether the bonsai in question was a piece of art I, much to the surprise of many, answered wholeheartedly YES. It is one thing to hate a bonsai and another to declare it non-art.
So a bonsai does not HAVE to look like a real tree, it even does not have to give the FEELING of a real tree. Although the latter is not of my liking it is acceptable in contemporary bonsai art.
 

king kong

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This bonsai is not in defiance of a natural tree. Sorry if this is linkjacking. Just read the small print.
 

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Kong, would you give references please so we can know whose trees/photographs you are showing?
 
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Imagine a group of sculptors sitting around discussing what their sculptures should look like when completed.....
 

king kong

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Kong, would you give references please so we can know whose trees/photographs you are showing?

The bonsai is on Mr. Pall's web site and the krummholz is on a mountain somewhere in Turkey on a Frank's Gallery. Have no photo credit for that.
 
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