Bonsai and Art

ABCarve

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Water them....feed them .....groom them.....have great hopes for their future....oh no, that's having children.
 

Adair M

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Everyone has an opinion on "Is bonsai art?" My thoughts are contained here, in this brief 4-page article.

http://fredtruck.com/articles/bonsaiandart.pdf
That was an interesting read, Fred.

I have a few comments:

The Japanese are certainly a nation of conformists. And we are individualists. I certainly agree with that concept.

As to the training of the apprentices... I'm not sure that I agree with all you say there. Apprentices are trained to copy the style of their masters because that's what the clients of the Masters expect.

Let's say I am a wealthy businessman, and I want Kimura to style my tree. Kimura is very busy, so apprentices do most of the routine work: removing old wire, thinning weak branches, thinning foliage, even repotting. Basic wiring is also straight forward, and branch placement. The apprentice is trained to do it in the same manner and style as the Master. Once the apprentice has completed the work, the Master then "adjusts" the apprentice's work for the final touches. When complete, the tree is styled I the same manner and style as the Master, but the Master didn't have to spend a lot of time doing the tedious work. His "adjustments" however, are what the client wants and is paying for.

In this country, we are just beginning to build a demand for services of bonsai at this level.

Once the apprentice in Japan leaves his Master to go on to his own business, then he is free to develop his own style.

Think of it this way: an assembly line worker at General Motors is not allowed to make Fords. He has to make GM cars. If he were to leave GM, he can build whatever car he wishes.
 

JudyB

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interesting thoughts Fred, thanks for putting it out there.
 

rockm

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That was an interesting read, Fred.

I have a few comments:

The Japanese are certainly a nation of conformists. And we are individualists. I certainly agree with that concept.

As to the training of the apprentices... I'm not sure that I agree with all you say there. Apprentices are trained to copy the style of their masters because that's what the clients of the Masters expect.

Let's say I am a wealthy businessman, and I want Kimura to style my tree. Kimura is very busy, so apprentices do most of the routine work: removing old wire, thinning weak branches, thinning foliage, even repotting. Basic wiring is also straight forward, and branch placement. The apprentice is trained to do it in the same manner and style as the Master. Once the apprentice has completed the work, the Master then "adjusts" the apprentice's work for the final touches. When complete, the tree is styled I the same manner and style as the Master, but the Master didn't have to spend a lot of time doing the tedious work. His "adjustments" however, are what the client wants and is paying for.

In this country, we are just beginning to build a demand for services of bonsai at this level.

Once the apprentice in Japan leaves his Master to go on to his own business, then he is free to develop his own style.

Think of it this way: an assembly line worker at General Motors is not allowed to make Fords. He has to make GM cars. If he were to leave GM, he can build whatever car he wishes.
If you go back into Asian, especially Japanese history, you will find expert artists and craftsmen. There is also a very long history of "avante garde" art in Japan too, which became more visible post-WWII, but had been there for some time. Japan is not all conformity and rigidity. That's a stereotype. Art in Japan has adapted and drawn from Western art, just as Western art has tapped Japanese sensibilities.
http://www.khalili.org/collections/category/2

Bonsai is also mix of art, craft and commerce in Japan. You can't sell trees if they're ugly or not well done or not "in style."

Bonsai has roots in Japan, but it's strongest roots are only 100 years old or so, not ancient at all. In that time, what's "acceptable" has changed constantly. One has only to look at photos of bonsai from the 1970s or even 1980s to see some radical changes have taken place. Look back further, into the 20's and you will see bonsai that by today's vision are laughable.
 

fredtruck

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I actually know quite a few Japanese artists. What you're describing doesn't tally exactly with what they've told me, but that becomes a "he said, she said" kind of thing. Of course, Japan isn't all conformity and rigidity, but the Japanese artists I know envy the freedom and relative chaos we have here because of the dominance of the traditional in Japan. This is why almost all contemporary Japanese artists leave and work here or in Europe. The one artist resisting that tide is Murakami, who has started a foundation and educational project to help enable young Japanese artists to stay home. He himself I believe works mostly in France.

I agree that the bonsai of today in Japan are much more aesthetically pleasing than those of the past. But the culture that produces them hasn't changed all that much. For example, I asked my friend, Mano Tohei, to tell me how much the Japanese language had changed in his lifetime. We are about the same age, and I thought, thinking of how much English had changed in just the last 5 years, surely Japanese would have gone with the flow. He said--Changed? Not one bit.

The real point of all this is the use of the word "artist" and what it means here, and what it means there. What it means there, at least according to the many Japanese people I've conversed and corresponded with, is someone from the West who does and is involved in aesthetic practices. Making objects, etc. A Japanese person doing the same thing is not an artist.
 
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Adair M

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I actually know quite a few Japanese artists. What you're describing doesn't tally exactly with what they've told me, but that becomes a "he said, she said" kind of thing. Of course, Japan isn't all conformity and rigidity, but the Japanese artists I know envy the freedom and relative chaos we have here because of the dominance of the traditional in Japan.

I agree that the bonsai of today in Japan are much more aesthetically pleasing than those of the past. But the culture that produces them hasn't changed all that much. For example, I asked my friend, Mano Tohei, to tell me how much the Japanese language had changed in his lifetime. We are about the same age, and I thought, thinking of how much English had changed in just the last 5 years, surely Japanese would have gone with the flow. He said--Changed? Not one bit.

The real point of all this is the use of the word "artist" and what it means here, and what it means there. What it means there, at least according to the many Japanese people I've conversed and corresponded with, is someone from the West who does and is involved in aesthetic practices. Making objects, etc. A Japanese person doing the same thing is not an artist.
Well, then it's semantics.
 

rockm

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I used to work at a Japanese company. I'm familiar with Japanese corporate rigidity.

I also know with there are varying degrees of the perception with people there.

Change happens slowly in Japan, but it happens. Attitudes there can also shift very quickly, look at post war Japan's attitude towards military action.

Also comparing English--with its immediate idiomatic changes churned in a mixing bowl stirred by a hundred different cultures--with monolithically pure Japanese language and yeah, the pace of change might seem slow. I also think he's being a bit coy...Ask him about adoption of ENGLISH phrases and vocabulary into Japanese and I bet he has a different answer.

Yoko Ono isn't an artist?-please don't tell me she's not a free spirit, or not an artist (at least until she sings)

The list of artists in Japan is a very long one. Art in Japan springs from Craftsmen who elevate their craft to artistry, which is not an easy path for western artists. Da Vinci was an engineer and inventor, but he was also an innovative artist. I have feeling that simply because the Japanese don't use the word "artist" to describe some of these folks, doesn't mean they're not
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_Japanese_artists
 

fredtruck

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I have feeling that simply because the Japanese don't use the word "artist" to describe some of these folks, doesn't mean they're not
We'd certainly recognize them as artists. However, personal experience takes precedence for me over theoretical, or art historical notations. In the essay, I'm telling you exactly what happened to me and to my friend, and how embarrassing it was for him. And, I tell you, this happened over and over again.

As for incorporating English phrases into Japanese...I'm sure it happens on a popular day-to-day manner, but the Japanese have an official language institute similar to the French Academy. They decide what's in the language and what isn't. My wife has a long-time family friend, Mr. Ofuku, who got the word "cactus" incorporated into official the Japanese language, which had no word for cactus. I've heard him tell the story several times, and it was quite an amusing ordeal. I'm sure the official language institute (whatever its actual name is) is what Tohei was referring to.
 

rockm

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Well...Yoko Ono has done almost all her work in the U.S. and Europe.
Ok, fair point, but a lot of contemporary artists don't work in their country of origin. Tina Turner is Swiss now...doesn't mean she wasn't born in Tennessee.

Here's a very short list of artists in Japan.
http://theculturetrip.com/asia/japan/articles/top-10-japanese-contemporary-artists-you-should-know/
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hayao_Miyazaki
http://kotaku.com/poll-the-most-beloved-manga-artists-in-japan-1717432812
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Akira_Kurosawa
http://www.imdb.com/list/ls003707360/
 

rockm

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We'd certainly recognize them as artists. However, personal experience takes precedence for me over theoretical, or art historical notations. In the essay, I'm telling you exactly what happened to me and to my friend, and how embarrassing it was for him. And, I tell you, this happened over and over again.

As for incorporating English phrases into Japanese...I'm sure it happens on a popular day-to-day manner, but the Japanese have an official language institute similar to the French Academy. They decide what's in the language and what isn't. My wife has a long-time family friend, Mr. Ofuku, who got the word "cactus" incorporated into official the Japanese language, which had no word for cactus. I've heard him tell the story several times, and it was quite an amusing ordeal. I'm sure the official language institute (whatever its actual name is) is what Tohei was referring to.
Yeah and English has the Oxford dictionary and other "official" language sources. Slang is slang. It's never official and old folks can't keep up. I know I don't understand half of the language my 20 year old son uses that is day-to-day language, "suh" is a word...so's "bae"


https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_gairaigo_and_wasei-eigo_terms
 

milehigh_7

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I spend a good deal of time in the world of music, which believe it or not has relevance to this topic. At it's core, music is simply math. There are formulas that work and formulas that don't. If this basic step is not taken you can call it what you will but it's not music it's called noise.

The next step beyond the understanding of "the rules" is that of the craftsman or technician. This is the person has the technical ability to take what is on the page and reproduce it. This includes all manner of physical gifts. Think of the worlds greatest cover band.

An additional type of person is an artist. By my definition, artistry is creation. The artist sees things that others don't they hear music put together in a way that has never been done before. This person may or may not have the technical skill to execute what is in their brains. For example a coach or a movie director or an orchestra conductor. The brilliance of something new is there but they require the technical chops of others to get it done.

A master, again my definition is the confluence of all these things.

An example again from the music world was a master we lost yesterday. Prince (regardless of anyone's opinion of him personally) was technical perfection paired with the vision of creation. On most of his early records he played every instrument, sang ever vocal, wrote, arranged and produced ever single bit. Everything was designed specifically to be a "product". From the outfits to the lyrics to the sound. Additionally he put things together that had simply never been done before. Just a small example is that once, 'When Doves Cry' was finished he made one additional tweak. He completely dropped the bass out in post production. People thought he was nuts and by the time the music world had him figured out he was on to something else that made them scratch their heads.
 
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Everyone has an opinion on "Is bonsai art?" My thoughts are contained here, in this brief 4-page article.

http://fredtruck.com/articles/bonsaiandart.pdf
Let me say I appreciate your thoughts and I think i understand what you are getting at? Perhaps you are showing the contrast of Japanese views vs Western...

With that said, I would have to totally disagree and state just the opposite... that this is not a matter of an "opinion", but merely a fact. That yes, Bonsai is an Art.

Now, of course I would not just arrogantly throw this out there with out some actual meat to back up this reality. So, let's start with the definition of the word Art as taken from Webster's:

ART
noun \ˈärt\

: something that is created with imagination and skill and that is beautiful or that expresses important ideas or feelings

: works created by artists : paintings, sculptures, etc., that are created to be beautiful or to express important ideas or feelings

: the methods and skills used for painting, sculpting, drawing, etc.

All of these apply to Bonsai. We are taking often times a piece of raw stock, imagining how it can be transformed into an object that it is not. A scaled down version of a tree. Trying to replicate an image we see, or would like to see exist in nature.

This in itself goes well beyond the realms of a normal trade or craft... Why? We are not creating objects for any utilitarian needs. We are not creating a bowl to eat cereal out of, a structure to seek shelter under, or a part to fix our car to get to work with. There is no other purpose for what we do, than to express a desire to create something for beauty and feelings alone. One could argue that yes they are critical for our survival, emotionally as well as in a form of communication, but this has more to do with our mental sustainability, then our physical functioning needs.

Now, of course one can point to various aspects of Bonsai and say they are utilitarian, such as simple care for the tree, ie. Watering, fertilizing, repotting, etc. But these are no different than similar functions I have to do when I paint, ie. Clean brushes, mix paint, etc.
and with any Art, yes one has to learn how to first master how the art is done, and the tools needed to get the job done.
But, after this point one is on their own and free to create, however this does not stop one from creating a piece of Art before they have come to terms with these rules and tools. So, in theory, on day one pick up a pair of scissors, grab a piece if material and create a piece of Art.
With that said, this does not mean the Art will be good, it often times takes practice upon practice to get there.

Which from reading your synopsis, I think this is where are two points, or the point of the Japanese differ, along with a couple of other issues, which I will address later... Now correct me if I am wrong, but what I am getting from what you have written is that until one learns how to do the Art and becomes good at it they are not doing Art? That Bonsai is not an Art, in itself unless it is done by an Artist? Not arguing of course just trying to understand your position, and express mine.

If, this is correct, than yes... my views would totally go against this... It is not a requirement that one learns how to do the art and becomes good at it, in order for it to be considered art. It helps, and often on numerous occasions one might here me say, that it is time to become the artist after being a student of the art. Which by this I mean perhaps a similar view... at which point after studying how to do the Art, you need to put away the how to books and just do what comes naturally, however this does not mean one has not done the art all along, it just means that they have let rules dictate their emotions, in an environment where it should be the other way around, with the freedom to just do.

Now, to the other points in your piece, I understand that in places like Japan, China, Korea, etc. There are whole factories of people mass producing artistic items for sale, mostly to foreigners, who want some cool piece, but don't want to spend the dough on the expensive stuff. Would these be considered artist? Part of me is torn here, but in the end I would say yes. My reasoning being that even if the art is borderline craft, and aimed at the bottom line being a commercial market, they are still doing art, even if it is at perhaps a lower level. Often these folks might if they were doing their own work have the talent to do some very nice stuff... in this case it is all about putting food on the table. Will give you an example, I don't know how many Guinness Signs I have painted for Irish Pubs in my lifetime? Hundreds? Who knows, yet I would still consider art due to the fact that they still require the same mindset, and abilities as do my own personal work. Are they the same, no... but I am not kinkos, and one is paying me for my talents, my artistic abilities and they help put food on the table sometimes and pay bills.

As far as comparisons over the use of the word Artist in Japan. I think it is interesting, yet for me shows more about the cultural hierarchies that exist within a feudal society, where a person's standings and place within the community has ranking. .. so, I can totally get how a student, an intern, or an assistant, would not be referred to as equal.
 

MichaelS

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Most bonsai (I mean very vast majority world wide) could not be regarded as being works of art any more than if I copied the Mona Lisa and called it art.
Of the ones that are left, the truly good pieces would be even more difficult to find.
 

Adair M

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Most bonsai (I mean very vast majority world wide) could not be regarded as being works of art any more than if I copied the Mona Lisa and called it art.
Of the ones that are left, the truly good pieces would be even more difficult to find.
I guess you haven't seen very many good bonsai.

Your analogy of copying the Mona Lisa is misguided.
 

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