Do established bonsai guidelines stifle creativity?

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#41
Exceptions or not, it proves that one doesn't have to know the rules to produce something compelling (though it may not be accepted into a show that abides by "the rules"). Kind of like the fact that Jack Wikle can grow junipers indoors all year, proves that you can grow junipers indoors, regardless of how many internet warriors say otherwise. It may not be easy and maybe not everyone will be able to do it, but it is possible.


I don't know if I would agree with that. People are certainly capable of responding to art on more of a gut level.

I go to the National Exhibition every other year and it's filled with trees that meet "the rules", that look like bonsai. Yet very few of them stop me in my tracks or evoke "that feeling". What does that mean...were the rules applied more effectively by those particular artists? Or maybe those were the ones who more effectively bent or broke the rules? Or maybe it's something that can't really be quantified because a particular tree (or painting or sculpture or whatever) somehow connects with something deeper, some past event or memory or place...and it doesn't really matter how well that piece of art follows any set of rules.
I completely agree with you. Following the rules for the rules's sake will never produce good art, not in bonsai nor in anything else. That said, my point was that the truly great artists know the rules (I prefer the word "tradition") so well, that they are able to use it creatively for their own ends, creating something new in the process
 
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#42
Do trees that don't follow the guidelines ever end up in high end shows?
If not then are there trees that don't tick all the boxes but people think could be held to such a standard?

I'm genuinely curious to see any examples if people know of them.

Obviously lines are drawn at certain points depending on the situation but they are not always the same.
Audiences and all that.

It's subjective...

or

it depends.
 

rockm

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#43
As I learn more (and read more) about bonsai I notice that there are several rules or guidelines in the presentation of bonsai materials. This makes me wonder if these rules have advanced creativity or stifled it. Imagine if literati had never been a part of bonsai culture. Then along comes someone with a perfect tree that is long, skinny and exceedingly bent but there is no accepted class for this structure of tree. Since there is hypothetically no class or venue in bonsai for this tree it is considered not true bonsai. I’m just curious as to what people think.
Before you can write a novel you have to learn to spell and use grammar. Grammar and knowing the rules of the language are hardly barriers to creativity. They, like "the rules," are a framework to put some structure to creativity. the notion that they somehow stifle is mostly silly and an excuse for not learning the basics and having work that looks like it.
 
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#44
This thread reminded me of something I read once that has stuck with me: “Innovation requires knowing the rules, but not having much respect for them.” It has kind of become my personal mantra for Bonsai, as well as other areas of my life.

I have enjoyed some of the comments in this thread and would add that there are many different ideas of what Bonsai is. Some strictly adhere to rules, some are totally focused on aesthetics alone, and in my experience most fall somewhere in between, following rules as long as the results are pleasing to the eye and or beneficial to the circumstance. My suggestion to people is to decide what you want to get out of Bonsai and then proceed accordingly. If you want to win contests, formally show your trees and/or go into business, than following the rules (at least knowing them) is probably a good idea. If you want only to produce trees that you take pleasure in looking at, then do what makes them look good to you regardless of any rules (I would suggest that at least knowing some of the rules might make this a little easier). Or if you are like me, you will enjoy the challenge of trying to follow the rules in some cases and the whimsical beauty resulting from totally ignoring them other times, while the rest of the time trying to find a balance between the two hopefully not killing too many promising trees along the way.
 

Smoke

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#47
Or if you are like me, you will enjoy the challenge of trying to follow the rules in some cases and the whimsical beauty resulting from totally ignoring them other times, snip,,,
Just which rules would one ignore to enhance whimsical beauty? Mans rules or Gods rules? Mans Rules are designed to make perfection from imperfection, while God just seems to make beauty from imperfection

Is asymmetry more beautiful than symmetry?
 
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#50
I am somewhat surprised at the direction this thread has taken. I get the feeling that some people here took my question to imply that I want to work on bonsai free of rules and guidelines. If this was the case I wouldn’t be studying books on bonsai to a ratio of at least 10 hours for each hour I work on trees. As I become more knowledgeable I hope this ratio will change. Up to this point I really enjoy bonsai.
 
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#52
This is the second time I bent it. Dunno what to do with it. It was rotted through the center (see through) when I collected it this year.

Same here, bent this newly collected yellow buckeye hard, new leaves fast down low after bend, I mean fast.

It was happy and I was happy, it looked awesome to me, but it showed 0 growth after first leaves..
6F0C4636-9F6F-41C7-A0FD-69B7E16843F8.jpeg

I don’t really want it to bend like this, but I knew when it snapped back it wouldn’t be so extreme.
Interesting thing about this one, the first leaves have remained relatively much smaller than all its wild neighbors without cutting.
 
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#53
Ditch art continued..free beech this late winter ...cut high with one limb to insure survival....honestly, thought I should cut lower, but I don’t exactly know what I’m doing,..

I’m not saying stress them to the brink, this beech was an accident that I let die slowly while I researched how to treat it.

If I had an expensive guitar, I would be afraid to scratch it.

Problem, I had not decided on how best to feed or treat trees, so I just watched every leaf on this one slowly disentgrate. I didn’t know, still don’t...
6AE11BCB-2A1F-4B64-9D66-B9D12A1D171D.jpeg 1AE49F95-2DCB-4A78-A431-FA0BCD7E6C8E.jpeg
 

rockm

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#54
I am somewhat surprised at the direction this thread has taken. I get the feeling that some people here took my question to imply that I want to work on bonsai free of rules and guidelines. If this was the case I wouldn’t be studying books on bonsai to a ratio of at least 10 hours for each hour I work on trees. As I become more knowledgeable I hope this ratio will change. Up to this point I really enjoy bonsai.
Good for you in making the effort to learn more. You may be an exception to the rule.

Your question has hit a sore point.

I can't count the number of posts over the years that claim the "rules" are a needless restriction on the "free spirit" of bonsai, or (god give me strength), "my extraordinary, raging creativity that can't be bridled." The "I do bonsai for myself" is a lesser sin, but it's still a bit dishonest.

Both are familiar refrains for some in bonsai and are especially prevalent among those that have been doing bonsai for less than five years or so.

Both arguments are not well thought out. The free spirit argument is also kind of icky.

For instance, "doing bonsai for yourself" is well and good, but it's NOT the case for most people if they're honest with themselves. Bonsai is NOT about trees. It is about communicating with people through an object (just like a painting or a sculpture). If the object speaks only to its creator, it misses most of what it is created for. I have yet to meet a bonsai person who doesn't want their trees to evoke an emotional response IN OTHERS. That is true creativity--the ability to make yourself heard without speaking through your work. Mosty not following the rules typically results in trees that send the message of "I'm just a twisted plant that is remarkable because I'm grotesque or weird looking--and yeah, some "masters" break the rules, but at least they observe them and know what they're doing in ignoring them.

As for the "rules harsh my creativity" argument--self-regard is not art, nor is it creative. Without a framework to hang your creativity on or at least reference, you end up with crap and junk that looks like crap, junk or worse.
 

rockm

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#55
This is the second time I bent it. Dunno what to do with it. It was rotted through the center (see through) when I collected it this year.

Same here, bent this newly collected yellow buckeye hard, new leaves fast down low after bend, I mean fast.

It was happy and I was happy, it looked awesome to me, but it showed 0 growth after first leaves..
View attachment 197873

I don’t really want it to bend like this, but I knew when it snapped back it wouldn’t be so extreme.
Interesting thing about this one, the first leaves have remained relatively much smaller than all its wild neighbors without cutting.
You are moving much too quickly. This tree needs at least a year to recover from collection. One push of leaves is mostly out of inertia left in the remaining trunk. It just means the tree is struggling to survive. It is NOT an indication the tree is going to live. Same is true for the beech you posted.

Bending this tree severely compromises the cambium under the bark, potentially killing sections off or the tree outright over time as the abbreviated root mass wont' be able to push nutrients up through the mashed cambium.

If this were mine, I'd set it aside and quit messing with it. What you're after at this point is a SECOND push of new foliage. That indicates the roots are recovering.
 
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#56
As I learn more (and read more) about bonsai I notice that there are several rules or guidelines in the presentation of bonsai materials. This makes me wonder if these rules have advanced creativity or stifled it. Imagine if literati had never been a part of bonsai culture. Then along comes someone with a perfect tree that is long, skinny and exceedingly bent but there is no accepted class for this structure of tree. Since there is hypothetically no class or venue in bonsai for this tree it is considered not true bonsai. I’m just curious as to what people think.
I think this is a good question. Since I am not as experienced nor as articulate as a lot of the posters here I wasn't going to post anything. But! After going to a show this past weekend, watching a really bad video yesterday and then seeing "Bonsai" on sale at Home Depot last night I decided to say something. FYI...I was not there to buy some hardscape material, not "bonsai."

A huge problem here in the US is what the people perceive as bonsai. If the non hobbyist walks through HD and sees these plants on display and the big sign says "Bonsai." That becomes what they believe bonsai are.
I don't recall who did the video I watched yesterday. I just stumbled onto it and the guy was taking $5 1 gallon junipers, trimming them up and calling them Bonsai. Again, if this is your introduction to bonsai your entire paradigm is different from someone more experienced.
I think these are the people that take a semi-woody young plant and stick it in a pot and ask "What do you guys think?" Then when someone tells them the truth they get offended.
Like anything else these days, the internet has been both very good and very bad for bonsai. There is so much good information out there but there is also so much crap. How do the people above know the difference?
When I began bonsai the first time in the 80's my initial influence were the books I bought. They were all written by Japanese masters and were pretty adamant about following some basic horticultural and artistic rules. This was my basis for understanding bonsai, not the stuff at big box stores or a lot of the junk sold on the internet these days.

I guess my point is that a major problem for bonsai is where a lot of people are starting from, what their initial influence is and what they aspire to create....those of the Japanese masters or that thing called a bonsai from HD.

The show I attended....this was a small local show and there were a lot of really well done trees. Many of the trees broke some rules but they worked because of the talent of the artist. They were able to work with what they had and create trees that looked "right" even though they may have broken some rules. It isn't until an artist has a very good understanding of these rules that they can do this.
 

rockm

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#57
I think this is a good question. Since I am not as experienced nor as articulate as a lot of the posters here I wasn't going to post anything. But! After going to a show this past weekend, watching a really bad video yesterday and then seeing "Bonsai" on sale at Home Depot last night I decided to say something. FYI...I was not there to buy some hardscape material, not "bonsai."

A huge problem here in the US is what the people perceive as bonsai. If the non hobbyist walks through HD and sees these plants on display and the big sign says "Bonsai." That becomes what they believe bonsai are.
I don't recall who did the video I watched yesterday. I just stumbled onto it and the guy was taking $5 1 gallon junipers, trimming them up and calling them Bonsai. Again, if this is your introduction to bonsai your entire paradigm is different from someone more experienced.
I think these are the people that take a semi-woody young plant and stick it in a pot and ask "What do you guys think?" Then when someone tells them the truth they get offended.
Like anything else these days, the internet has been both very good and very bad for bonsai. There is so much good information out there but there is also so much crap. How do the people above know the difference?
When I began bonsai the first time in the 80's my initial influence were the books I bought. They were all written by Japanese masters and were pretty adamant about following some basic horticultural and artistic rules. This was my basis for understanding bonsai, not the stuff at big box stores or a lot of the junk sold on the internet these days.

I guess my point is that a major problem for bonsai is where a lot of people are starting from, what their initial influence is and what they aspire to create....those of the Japanese masters or that thing called a bonsai from HD.

The show I attended....this was a small local show and there were a lot of really well done trees. Many of the trees broke some rules but they worked because of the talent of the artist. They were able to work with what they had and create trees that looked "right" even though they may have broken some rules. It isn't until an artist has a very good understanding of these rules that they can do this.
I think you are spot on with the "bonsai at first sight" thing. Most people take what bonsai is from TV, movies and at Home Depot. Being exposed to REAL bonsai up front can put you on a completely different path. I began bonsai pre-Internet. Books were a way in, but I am also spoiled with having the best collection of bonsai outside of Japan 10 miles away from me. It was seeing that collection for the first time in 1980s that made bonsai "click" for me. It wasn't those pathetic little trees being sold on the roadside or those crappy $5 junipers made into $100 "bonsai" at Home Depot.

The problem now with the world available through the net is that, like other things, ANYONE can say they're a "bonsai master' and post crummy videos and pictures of their awful "bonsai" and most people won't know the difference.

That is why, if you're serious about doing bonsai (for yourself or others) getting to established collections, either public or in a club members backyard, is a MUST. Bonsai done in a vacuum or only through the Internet will fall short of its potential.
I'm always surprised when people are proud they haven't been out of their backyard to see other bonsaiists, join a club, attend a show, or make a trip to regional collections. Such trips can be life changing, or at least tree-changing.
 
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#58
Perfect example to illustrate what I was talking about above with the role of "the expected" in Japanese art and culture ;)
If I had to contrast two people, it would be Kathy Shaner vs. Ryan Neil. And I'm ONLY talking about show critiques, not any other ability.

Kathy is like: "This is what I want to see, and this is more or less based on how it's done in Japan."

Uh...ok? Do what Japan does and then read your mind. Got it.

Ryan is like: "This fundamentally why this does or doesn't work." And you say: "A-ha."
 
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#59
You are moving much too quickly. This tree needs at least a year to recover from collection. One push of leaves is mostly out of inertia left in the remaining trunk. It just means the tree is struggling to survive. It is NOT an indication the tree is going to live. Same is true for the beech you posted.

Bending this tree severely compromises the cambium under the bark, potentially killing sections off or the tree outright over time as the abbreviated root mass wont' be able to push nutrients up through the mashed cambium.

If this were mine, I'd set it aside and quit messing with it. What you're after at this point is a SECOND push of new foliage. That indicates the roots are recovering.
Thanks much @rockm, per your advice I unbound/released bends this morning. My intent was to stress them into pushing new buds, I had never seen or heard of doing this, and it was successful...@smoke claims something to the regard of, no one does anything creative and trees are babied...sure I’m not the first to do this tho..

However, stressing/crushing the cambium to literal death...no good...fine line between babying and battering I suppose. Again I fall prey to inexperienced rushing.

As for the beech..my plan was to leave it alone and chop this fall or winter if vigorous as advised by judyb, think this is off the table now. I’m just glad it’s alive. I have never applied pesticides or fungicides to any plants not subject to scientific study, this tree changed all of that.

Regarding the meats of this thread, I don’t know why anyone would not strive to learn and seek to be able to employ every facet of traditional and embraced bonsai practices...I just really don’t understand that..what is innovation without standing on shoulders?..some form of creative freedom, or literal ignorance?
 

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#60
Since there is hypothetically no class or venue in bonsai for this tree it is considered not true bonsai. I’m just curious as to what people think.
It is interesting that in this thread people refer to Picasso. In addition to being one of the most prolific artists of all time, Picasso was constantly reinventing himself as an artist. Look at his earlier work and it bears zero resemblance of his work in his middle or later stages. He was always challenging the "rules", and whenever his rules became acceptable or mainstream - he would break the rules again.

I think there is plenty of leeway for creativity in bonsai - as long as someone knows how and why they are breaking the rules. Take for example this tree, which I really enjoy:

redwood.jpg

The artist created this redwood bonsai from a rotting trunk of a much larger tree. He took the deadwood of the trunk to suggest a stone cliff-side, while running the live vein of the tree to make the composition look like a root-over-rock.

It is certainly an unusual composition that falls outside of the "accepted" rules of bonsai and does not fit a category. However I would say that it obeys more rules than it breaks, and ultimately it is successful at suggesting a live tree in nature in a small form. This tree tends to be very polarizing at shows - people either love it or hate it.
 

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