Talent = Vision?

agraham

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After 30+ years in bonsai,I feel I understand most of the horticultural requirements for the limited species I grow.I'm not looking for horticultural challenges,but the talent/artistic vision area of bonsai still seems to elude me.My personal opinion is that it eludes many more people than will care to admit it,so I don't feel that I am alone.Nor,am I embarrassed by this shortcoming.I would,however,enjoy developing whatever semblance of artistry may be lurking in the right(?) side of my little brain.

The biggest problem seems to be envisioning where I want to take any particular tree.While I feel I get lucky once in a while it isn't as often or as purposely driven as I'd like.

For the sake of discussion(actually,I'm asking for personal suggestions)let's assume that "talented" as defined by the dictionary is an inherent characteristic.Let's also assume that we all have at least a little talent.So I guess the question I have is....."how do we(I in particular) develop this "vision" to the best of our(my) ability.

Edited to add:This is not intended as a philosophical question.While i expect differing answers and opinions,I hope that y'all understand that I am asking personally for help, not a debate trying to convince each other who is correct.

Thanks,

andy
 
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Tachigi

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Hi Andy,
I believe the common denominator among people that are considered talented, be it a baseball player, concert pianist, or bonsai artist / artisan is practice, practice, practice.

For us, that can be practicing styling by drawings and virts. Also seeking out a coach (preferably one that is not politically correct) with a proven track record for producing great material or one that is known for having the ability to draw out the latent talent that is in their student. Exposing yourself, in person, to high quality trees from artists that you would like to emulate or respect can be helpful. Yes, I believe osmosis helps to a degree ;) .

I think Colin Lewis in his profile here at AoB stated it best:
If you want to become an accomplished bonsai artist, you will only do so by your own efforts. It requires dedication, tunnel vision, an enormous amount of passion, the willingness to learn at every opportunity, and the drive to create those opportunities for yourself.
I am obviously interpreting "accomplished bonsai artist" with a person that has learned to develop his / her own talent.

I think my daughter Taylor is a good example of this. I use her as an example not because I'm a proud Dad, which I obviously am, but because I see this on a daily basis.

If she isn't in school, and her chores are done, she immerses herself almost every minute of the day in one form or another concerning bonsai. Drawing, doing virtuals, reading books and articles, coming to the forums, getting coached (and not by me :) ) or asking to go to places like the National Arboretum so she can surround herself with trees that are of high quality. She is of a single mind and does what is necessary to improve on a day to day basis and a year to year basis. This is what I believe Colin was referring to. Something I believe Taylor took to heart when Colin mentioned it years ago while instructing her.
 

ianb

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I'll wholeheartedly agree with Tom here, not surprising as we went through some of the same teaching (Colin). As Andy said the artistry is the most elusive of the skills needed to create good bonsai and this is where teaching by numbers (aka the rules) fails.

What I found to be of great help is not to look at the rules of bonsai but the rules of art, composition, perspective, tension, etc. Another tool to help is studying good trees, here the Kokufu books have helped. Find trees that you like then try and break down what you like about them what makes them different how they correspond to the art rules. Drawing is also a great help, I find I get a much better connection to the tree by drawing than doing virts, but thats just me.

Good luck I know it can be frustrating at times but it really is worthwhile.
 

Vance Wood

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It is interesting that you should post this question. I would like to share the beginnings of an article I just started writing. It may be of help it may not. But philosophical ideas or not it all starts here and it would appear that the both of us are going down the same road. Let's hope there are not too many orange barrels along the way:

This is copy righted

If we see our trees with new eyes we must of necessity look at ourselves the same way. If we do not we are dooming ourselves to doing less with our bonsai than we know can be done and in not doing anything about it, we will find ourselves living in a state of miserable paucity, opting for excuses and rationalizations rather than taking chances and living on the edge once more. To consider myself a beginner once more, after doing bonsai for fifty years, is both a sweet and sour morsel to chew and swallow. At this point I have decided that it is better to choke on the idea than to suffocate on the status quo.

Maybe we can start a new thread called: "Old Farts New Ideas"

I hope this encourages you to continue. I believe that you have the eye to see what you want or you would not realize you need to go there.
 
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For the sake of discussion(actually,I'm asking for personal suggestions)let's assume that "talented" as defined by the dictionary is an inherent characteristic.Let's also assume that we all have at least a little talent.....
I think you may be making a false assumption here.

I agree that talent is inherent and that a person either has talent or they do not. It can not be learned, bought, sold, or acquired, it can only be developed by practice and by adding skills which are like tools for the talent. It can be focused, tamed, refined, but it must be there first.

I disagree that we all have at least a little talent, at least when directly related to the artistic talent needed to take a bonsai from beyond the tree in a pot stage to the level of artistic creation. Sure we all have a little talent, some knitting, some painting, some music, but these are all different talents and I assume we are referring to bonsai and the talent to create art from such.

There are people whose talent is obvious, some who have already shown this talent in there work, and there are some that have been practicing bonsai for 40 years without ever producing a great bonsai, some who have studied under great masters for ten years or more and never produced a single great work themselves....Certainly talent manifests itself at different time frames for different people, but how long (40 years, 10 years?) before a person must admit that they have no talent?

Don't get me wrong, many people without talent have great skills that are valuable, skills at growing, wiring, grafting, pruning, etc that can be passed along, but at the end of the day, these are only great skills, not talent. There are thousands of painters and sculptors out there that have great skills, skills that amazing and inspire the novices, but they have never produced great art, most likely they never will.

This is a hard truth for many to admit, especially those who do not have talent in this art form. This doesn't mean they can not still enjoy the art, or teach the techniques needed for the art. This does not mean they can not be a valuable resource to the community or that their knowledge is worthless, it simply means that they are part of the vast majority that simply do not have the talent to produce greatness.

Fortunately we have other options. In the better known world of art, people love art, the vast majority can not create art, so they go to museums and collections to see it, they collect it so they can have it close at hand, they buy it to display in the home or at their business, they read about it and even dabble a bit in it. As bonsaists, people can go see the collections, they can buy books and visit web sites to see the great works, they can read about the masters and their thoughts, they can even buy bonsai that only need refinement and maintenance in order to have something of high quality they could not produce themselves. We can even dabble in the art as well.


When one wishes to understand the art side of bonsai and the motivations of the artists and of the collectors, one only has to look to other art forms, much of what we wonder about has been hashed out many years ago. If bonsai is indeed an art form, then what happens, what is decided, what is proper in other art forms must pertain to bonsai as well.



Will
 

agraham

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It is interesting that you should post this question. I would like to share the beginnings of an article I just started writing. It may be of help it may not. But philosophical ideas or not it all starts here and it would appear that the both of us are going down the same road. Let's hope there are not too many orange barrels along the way:

This is copy righted

If we see our trees with new eyes we must of necessity look at ourselves the same way. If we do not we are dooming ourselves to doing less with our bonsai than we know can be done and in not doing anything about it, we will find ourselves living in a state of miserable paucity, opting for excuses and rationalizations rather than taking chances and living on the edge once more. To consider myself a beginner once more, after doing bonsai for fifty years, is both a sweet and sour morsel to chew and swallow. At this point I have decided that it is better to choke on the idea than to suffocate on the status quo.

Maybe we can start a new thread called: "Old Farts New Ideas"

I hope this encourages you to continue. I believe that you have the eye to see what you want or you would not realize you need to go there.
Thanks Vance,

It does indeed, encourage me.I actually reached this point a few years ago when I first started coming on the internet forums.I'm just stubborn enough and proud enough for it to have taken this long to really sink in.Not the fact that my trees weren't as good as I wanted them to be....but the belief that all that time wasn't wasted,but rather,just preliminary study(as well as quite a bit of fun).It IS interesting that you were thinking of writing an article on a like minded subject.I was too.An article concerning the things I've learned over the years and the things I am just now concerning myself with.Sort of a don't do what I did or you'll end up frustrated premise.But,perhaps that's too negative:) .Maybe your article will provide the impetus I need.

Thanks to Tom and Ian also.I'm thinking a teacher would have been a good thing to have.While I devote a lot of time to my trees,I think a direction has been lacking all these years;as well as honest and objective criticism.

andy
 

Tiny Lumberjack

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I would recommend doing sketches of different options for a tree and see which ones just feel better to look at. You can use pencil or camera and computer or watercolors or anything at all.

Don't be afraid to make drawings that aren't easily achieved, in fact make some that would be impossible if you want to. But when you see a shape that pleases you I think it just rings true, and you'll know/feel that is a good direction to go. There is rarely/never only one option, so you have to choose one that you like inside, forget about everyone outside.
 

Vance Wood

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Thanks Vance,

It does indeed, encourage me.I actually reached this point a few years ago when I first started coming on the internet forums.I'm just stubborn enough and proud enough for it to have taken this long to really sink in.Not the fact that my trees weren't as good as I wanted them to be....but the belief that all that time wasn't wasted,but rather,just preliminary study(as well as quite a bit of fun).It IS interesting that you were thinking of writing an article on a like minded subject.I was too.An article concerning the things I've learned over the years and the things I am just now concerning myself with.Sort of a don't do what I did or you'll end up frustrated premise.But,perhaps that's too negative:) .Maybe your article will provide the impetus I need.

Thanks to Tom and Ian also.I'm thinking a teacher would have been a good thing to have.While I devote a lot of time to my trees,I think a direction has been lacking all these years;as well as honest and objective criticism.

andy
If you have the eye you have the art. Art is not much more than seeing what can be and doing it.
 

Smoke

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I think a discussion about talent has to be tempered with a little realisim. When useing the word talent on a discussion forum between a group of people that are just enthusiasts, is it not wise to throw a blanket statement out like: "you either have it or you don't".

I do not agree with that quote. I think talent has many facets and enthusiasts can have many levels of talent just like many other artistic things in life.

I am drawn to another Texan, legendary blues guitarist Stevie Ray Vaughn. Stevie was introduced to guitar by his older brother Jimmie Vaughn. In fact Jimmie Vaughn taught Stevie to play guitar. There is little doubt who is more talented of the two. This does not diminish the fact that Jimmie Vaughn is still a very talented guitarist. He is very talented, just less so. They are brothers and possibly have the same talent genes. Stevie may have just wanted it more. Who knows. It's not really important that we understand what may drive someone to pursue an art more than another.

I think most enthusiasts need to feel comfortable with where they are in their own peer group. Andy may be the most talented person within his club. That may be enough. It would be for me. I have no aspirations to be the best in the world or even care to try and aspire to that. I don't think that is what being a talented person is. Best in the world. I think a talented person is someone that makes the best use of what this world gives them to work with.

Cheers, Al
 

Vance Wood

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The problem is when those who are "gifted" cruse along to a point where all of a sudden they find they have to work to progress decide to stay in their own personal comfort zone and start a slow but steady process of decline.
 

cascade

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Developing vision

Andy,

I think what helped me most to develop vision is "thinking in retrospective".
When I saw a refined bonsai,I analyzed the tree and studied the steps that were necessary to accomplish the creation.I studied the steps all the way back until I formed the picture of the initial piece of material.

This also helped me to distinguish between good and not so good starter material.

I still follow this method,but it happens very fast and automatic.Now I also study the technical requirements to achieve satisfying results in regards to bending and wood reducing techniques.

Creating bonsai is sometimes mystified and blamed on talent,however,a good eye,some determination and the readiness to analyze will work wonders too.

All the best to you,
dorothy
 

agraham

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Al.....another blues fan?I belong to the San Antonio club,but it's 250 miles away.I used to belong to the Corpus Christi Club...it's 100 miles away.Either place is difficult to run up to for a weeknight meeting.I've recently found(or he found me,I have forgotten)a bonsai friend much closer.Hopefully,the give and take will spur some creative juices.It seems that unlike someone like Nick Lenz(whose name I mention in this context only because my understanding is that he is somewhat of a hermit)I might need some give and take and encouragement to progress.Perhaps more than anything,I lack the drive....wow,damnit....why'd you make me think that?

I have to say though(and this may reinforce the previous point),I have had more,if somewhat infrequent, personal contact with other bonsaists in the last 2 or 3 years.Thanks,Behr,,Jay,Jorge, Irene and Larry.....and my enthusiasm(and hopefully the quality of my trees)has increased.

Vance....."The problem is when those who are "gifted" cruise along to a point where all of a sudden they find they have to work to progress decide to stay in their own personal comfort zone and start a slow but steady process of decline.".....the 1% inspiration/99% perspiration theory....I agree.Not that I claim much talent..but I think the comfort zone may be my enemy as much as anything.

Dorothy.....reverse engineering?.......like a slap to the forehead:D .btw,I'd like to take this opportunity to thank you for your blog on KoB.Along with Lo's and Kempinski's,I check it every day.

andy
 
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Bill S

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And Al comes up with a SRV analogy, now I have to be a fan.:D

and some wear the lable "Natural", with out effort, not many but some.
 

pjkatich

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Andy,

You are not alone, I'll admit it, after 20+ years of practicing bonsai, I find myself in the same boat as you. When I read your initial post I thought I was reading about myself and I think you are correct in your statement that many others are in the same situation. I have asked myself the same questions you have and for the most part concluded that I am a part of the problem.

I believe this particular situation is a natural function of bonsai development in this country. The majority of the written (which has been my primary source) information that has been available to us over the past 20+ years is geared more toward the technical side of developing bonsai and only briefly address the requirements for artistic refinement. I would bet that you own many of the same books and subscribe to many of the same periodicals that I do.

Vance,

I look forward to reading the rest of your article I think it something we all need.

Best wishes,
Paul
 

AndyWilson

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So true Andy, While i lay no claim to having any great vision i think i have improved in my four bonsai years. When i began i was taught to make triangles, a lot of my trees reflect this. Once i had this basic my teacher has (only in the last year) encouraged me to practice differing forms and to try and "see" the final product before gettings hands on. i think this will eventually help to create more vision as i often used to go into a hypnotic like state and come out with yet anothe triangle or formal upright.

I feel more comfortable trying something else because i have a better handle on the basics, can this vision be taught? i dont know, maybe it can be coaxed out and thats what my teacher is trying to do with me. Working on trees in her nursery and having them all around while i am learning is really beneficial too as i get to work on different styles and species, learning species specific info and styling elements too.

Very interesting thread, cant wait to read some more replies.
 
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Attila Soos

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I believe that the secret to achieve your artistic vision is a strictly practical approach: let your hand do the job and then your eye will tell you whether or not you did a good job.

There is a difference between looking and seeing. Looking is always self-centered: what is there for me?, what is it that pleases my ego? will others like what I did?
Seeing, on the other hand, means losing myself in the present, suspending judgment and becoming one with the subject (or the tree, in our case). Seeing is totally honest, not tainted by any selfish act, such as desire for fame and recognition.
I suppose, that's what the great teachers meant, when they said "listen to the tree". You can never certainly say that you "see" something, until you actually use your hands to create your impression of it. Only then, looking at the end result, you can tell whether you were right or wrong.

So, all the above has to do with our devotion to practice and being totally honest to ourselves.

The other part of the equation is study: studying (and enjoying) as many great bonsai as we can. Both printed galleries, as well as real bonsai (more of the latter). Down to the last little detail.

I believe that doing both, will inevitably take you to your artistic vision, whether you want it or not.
Complacency and being dishonest to yourself are the greatest enemies toward this goal. Being dishonest, in this case, means that you care about your own image, and "how the end result will look", more than you care about your tree. Posing would be another word for it.

Edit: Reflecting on my own post made me realize that in fact re-descovering the world around you by using your hands, is the approach that many of our accomplished bonsai artists talk about about (Boon, Kathy, Mario, Peter, etc), when recalling memories of their apprenticeship in Japan. Very little explanation was given, they learned by "letting their hands do the thinking" (-I hope you don't take this literally) and personally experiencing great bonsai.
 
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I believe that the secret to achieve your artistic vision is a strictly practical approach: let your hand do the job and then your eye will tell you whether or not you did a good job.

There is a difference between looking and seeing. Looking is always self-centered: what is there for me?, what is it that pleases my ego? will others like what I did?
Seeing, on the other hand, means losing myself in the present, suspending judgment and becoming one with the subject (or the tree, in our case). Seeing is totally honest, not tainted by any selfish act, such as desire for fame and recognition.
I suppose, that's what the great teachers meant, when they said "listen to the tree". You can never certainly say that you "see" something, until you actually use your hands to create your impression of it. Only then, looking at the end result, you can tell whether you were right or wrong.

So, all the above has to do with our devotion to practice and being totally honest to ourselves.

The other part of the equation is study: studying (and enjoying) as many great bonsai as we can. Both printed galleries, as well as real bonsai (more of the latter). Down to the last little detail.

I believe that doing both, will inevitably take you to your artistic vision, whether you want it or not.
Complacency and being dishonest to yourself are the greatest enemies toward this goal. Being dishonest, in this case, means that you care about your own image, and "how the end result will look", more than you care about your tree. Posing would be another word for it.

Edit: Reflecting on my own post made me realize that in fact re-descovering the world around you by using your hands, is the approach that many of our accomplished bonsai artists talk about about (Boon, Kathy, Mario, Peter, etc), when recalling memories of their apprenticeship in Japan. Very little explanation was given, they learned by "letting their hands do the thinking" (-I hope you don't take this literally) and personally experiencing great bonsai.
Great thoughts, Attila. It's a completely different approach from critique. Critique is necessary and valuable, in my opinion, but critique becomes informed critique through mastery and the "high touch" attitude you have put forth so well.
 

Attila Soos

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Critique is necessary and valuable, in my opinion, but critique becomes informed critique through mastery and the "high touch" attitude you have put forth so well.
Thanks.
I agree, critique is great, but it comes as an afterthought. When we put critique to the forefront, to dominate the creative process, it totally inhibits it. That's when we do the so-called "bonsai by the numbers" thing, or "bonsai according to the rules". That's what happens when, instead of trusting ourselves, we use critique as a substitute for seeing.
 
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I think you may be making a false assumption here.

I agree that talent is inherent and that a person either has talent or they do not. It can not be learned, bought, sold, or acquired, it can only be developed by practice and by adding skills which are like tools for the talent. It can be focused, tamed, refined, but it must be there first.

I disagree that we all have at least a little talent, at least when directly related to the artistic talent needed to take a bonsai from beyond the tree in a pot stage to the level of artistic creation. Sure we all have a little talent, some knitting, some painting, some music, but these are all different talents and I assume we are referring to bonsai and the talent to create art from such.
Now I know you say you agree, but you are only agreeing that talent is inherent. Why the insistence that talent is like a light switch instead of a rheostat? Why must talent be or not be? Does this even make sense unless one has another point one is trying to get through subtly? Some people are incredibly talented musically, others not so much, some are tone deaf. But the pool of evidence is so vast that it's easy to see that the "talent" there is on an infinitely sliding scale. Now, how much of that is inherent and how much is developed is a matter for some discussion, but it's almost impossible to argue that one either has talent for music or one doesn't.

There are people whose talent is obvious, some who have already shown this talent in there work, and there are some that have been practicing bonsai for 40 years without ever producing a great bonsai, some who have studied under great masters for ten years or more and never produced a single great work themselves....Certainly talent manifests itself at different time frames for different people, but how long (40 years, 10 years?) before a person must admit that they have no talent?
What if they have some talent and a love of the art/craft/hobby/torture, but not the drive that another might have? Could that account for the difference in results?

Don't get me wrong, many people without talent have great skills that are valuable, skills at growing, wiring, grafting, pruning, etc that can be passed along, but at the end of the day, these are only great skills, not talent. There are thousands of painters and sculptors out there that have great skills, skills that amazing and inspire the novices, but they have never produced great art, most likely they never will.
I'd like to see some examples, even though it might be politically hard to show them in the bonsai world, but perhaps some from other areas of art.

This is a hard truth for many to admit, especially those who do not have talent in this art form. This doesn't mean they can not still enjoy the art, or teach the techniques needed for the art. This does not mean they can not be a valuable resource to the community or that their knowledge is worthless, it simply means that they are part of the vast majority that simply do not have the talent to produce greatness.
Once again, who gets to decide this? Will we have the "new literati" go from collection to collection, giving their imprimatur or panning the lot? Who's to say? And will those who judge be limited only to those who "have the talent to produce greatness?"

Why did Harper Lee only write one work? Because she had no talent?


Will[/quote]
 

Attila Soos

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Once again, who gets to decide this?
Well, the question is not really who decides it. Nobody has the authority to decide it anyway, this is not someone else's decision. People have varying degrees of talent. Some more, some less. We can easily see that on bonsai forums: some people produce better bonsai than others. Some trees are great, others are very good but not quite world class, and some others are good but not very good. And some are outright bad. The level of talent is all over the map.

The only question that makes sense, is what the premise of this thread was in the first place: what do we do to make the best use of whatever talent we have? Just sitting and pondering upon whether we have talent or not, takes us nowhere. The question is: how do I use my current level of talent to make the pursuit of bonsai a satisfying and truly rewarding experience?

It is a practical question (not a philosophical one), that requires a practical answer, that hopefully helps creating better bonsai.
 
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