Technical vs. artistic

Fidur

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I used to be an enthusiast photographer.
When I was practicing that art, there were two different issues. The technical side (learn about the tecnical characteristics of your camera, your pic development and how to use your gear in a general sense) and the artistic side (learn to appreciate the light, shape and theme)
In bonsai, I can see the technical side as the ability to grow and keep alive a tree (knwoledge on soils, watering, fertilizers,....). And you can do almost nothing if you don't master this technical side.
But in both , photography and bonsai, IMHO you can do no significative work if you have no artistic point of view.
You can learn the technical issues, but creativity and artistic sense are somehow not learnable.

When I see a tree that touchs my soul, I identify that as an artistic expression of bonsai.... when I see a healthy growing tree I can identify that as a good technical development.
I would like to be good at both, but in bonsai you can easily know if you are good on the techincal side, but you don't know if you have a real artistic sense until some years later (unlike in photography, where a poor technical knwledge person, can make instintively the best photographs)

Do you agree? What are your thoughts?
 

just.wing.it

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Generally, I agree.
I do think however, that an artistic eye can be learned and attained if the desire to create is there.

As someone who came to the bonsai world from the artistic side, with childhood-like wonderment, curiosity and awe, I spent my first 5 years killing trees and learing the technical aspects of horticulture in bonsai.

There are just different levels of different knowledge that we need to become well-rounded bonsai creators.
 

Cajunrider

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Generally, I agree.
I do think however, that an artistic eye can be learned and attained if the desire to create is there.

As someone who came to the bonsai world from the artistic side, with childhood-like wonderment, curiosity and awe, I spent my first 5 years killing trees and learing the technical aspects of horticulture in bonsai.

There are just different levels of different knowledge that we need to become well-rounded bonsai creators.
Good to know that I've got a few more years of killing trees left in my allotment.
 

ShadyStump

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Generally, I agree.
I do think however, that an artistic eye can be learned and attained if the desire to create is there.

As someone who came to the bonsai world from the artistic side, with childhood-like wonderment, curiosity and awe, I spent my first 5 years killing trees and learing the technical aspects of horticulture in bonsai.

There are just different levels of different knowledge that we need to become well-rounded bonsai creators.
I'm apparently following this trend. Two years in, and not a single tree I've had longer than this season. I'm much more confident now than when I started, and have accepted that this is part of the process, so I use it to experiment some without fear of failure.
I imagine by my five year mark my experiments will have shifted toward the artistic end.
I would like to be good at both, but in bonsai you can easily know if you are good on the techincal side, but you don't know if you have a real artistic sense until some years later (unlike in photography, where a poor technical knwledge person, can make instintively the best photographs)
Here is where I would disagree slightly.
I believe that a talented relative newcomer could quickly and instinctively make some spectacular looking bonsai before your eyes. However, they will inevitably apply this or that artistic technique in a way which down the road will kill a branch or even a whole tree.
If we're drawing a line between the science and the art, the only difference is in the longevity of the project.
 

just.wing.it

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Good to know that I've got a few more years of killing trees left in my allotment.
Well, I didn't kill EVERY tree in the first 5 years....I still have one from my first year (but its a Spekboom, so.....does that even count?), and a few others that were tough enough to hang in there, lol!
 

Cajunrider

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Well, I didn't kill EVERY tree in the first 5 years....I still have one from my first year (but its a Spekboom, so.....does that even count?), and a few others that were tough enough to hang in there, lol!
So far I'm batting slightly above .500 but sure have lost some trees I would like to keep.
 

Cajunrider

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I used to be an enthusiast photographer.
When I was practicing that art, there were two different issues. The technical side (learn about the tecnical characteristics of your camera, your pic development and how to use your gear in a general sense) and the artistic side (learn to appreciate the light, shape and theme)
In bonsai, I can see the technical side as the ability to grow and keep alive a tree (knwoledge on soils, watering, fertilizers,....). And you can do almost nothing if you don't master this technical side.
But in both , photography and bonsai, IMHO you can do no significative work if you have no artistic point of view.
You can learn the technical issues, but creativity and artistic sense are somehow not learnable.

When I see a tree that touchs my soul, I identify that as an artistic expression of bonsai.... when I see a healthy growing tree I can identify that as a good technical development.
I would like to be good at both, but in bonsai you can easily know if you are good on the techincal side, but you don't know if you have a real artistic sense until some years later (unlike in photography, where a poor technical knwledge person, can make instintively the best photographs)

Do you agree? What are your thoughts?
For me in photography, it was mostly business and not even technical or artistic. Now that I am not longer in the business side of it, some day I would like to get back to it as an enthusiast.
 
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I think the technical side of this hobby can compliment the artistic side of it.
When your technical capabilities grow the artistic capabilities will likely also grow.

For example: if you don't kwow how to wire (and bend/twist) a tree properly the chances of creating a nice and artisic bonsai will be very low.
 

Michael P

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Fidor, you are exactly right. Bonsai require both horticultural and aesthetic skill. Most enthusiasts are more proficient at one or the other. Understanding this helps us know what we need to study.
 

dbonsaiw

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In addition to the technical and artistic aspects of bonsai, there is also the horticultural knowledge needed to understand your tree's life cycle, growth habits and specific needs. One cannot work the art of bonsai if the tree is unhealthy or dead. The "art" of bonsai is highly technical and, at least from this newbie's first observations, appeared somewhat arbitrary. I have come to learn that these technicalities are not arbitrary at all and form the foundational rules for what is aesthetically pleasing and best mimics the grace and form of a much older and larger tree. After practicing some styling (while ignoring 100s of years of bonsai experiences) my product was unsurprisingly unappealing. But for my arrogance, this should have been obvious. Horticultural knowledge and artistic fundamental first. Artistic license thereafter. No different than photography (or any other art form) - learn to use and care for your equipment and learn what others before you have figured out and now form the basis of the art. We all paint the same still lives at first and create our own masterpieces with the skills we gained.
 

HorseloverFat

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As an artist and musician, for most of my life BEFORE TinyTrees.. I can tell you that there IS a strict, unwavering differentiation between “Artists” and “People who make art”..

Like... the best technical keyboard player I ever played music with.. could not compose.. his “art” was all simply a collaboration of OTHER “licks/riffs/bubbles/movement”s...

I struggle with this with 2 of the 3 musicians I play with these days.. some people cannot “create”.. they NEED a path to follow... an equation to copy..

I can sit down.. start hamboning and write a song....

Different Sides of the brain.
 

bwaynef

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I think you're mixing technical ability with horticultural sensibility. The plant's health is primarily an indicator of the horticultural care its received. Technical issues would be like the proper application of wire, but those build on the horticulture by recognizing that a weak tree may need to grow freely to regain energy before being wired. Artistic issues would build on the others: You want to create assymetry (artistic) and recognize that you need to remove the branch from the maple with a concave pruner so that it'll heal correctly (technical) ...after recognizing that the tree is healthy enough to direct resources to another branch (horticultural).

Each of us has our own strengths. Some come to bonsai from an art background ...or with obvious sensibilities there. Some of us are plant people and lean on our horticultural understandings. Some of us are rule followers and excel with the technical side of things.

The artistic side can be taught/learned, but that's the last stage. Its also the stage most people skip to in the beginning, but if you stick around long enough, you'll come to understand that you have to keep the trees healthy (horticulture) and once healthy you've invested too much into the trees to be haphazard so you invest in your technical skill to realize your artistic vision.
 

bwaynef

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In Ryan Neil's recent Asymmetry podcast with Rodney Clemmons, Ryan goes into a little detail about how he's still chasing the horticultural part of it (and he has a degree in it or one of the similar sciences along with having run a high-level garden for 11 years ...and having spent 6 as an apprentice living and breathing trees all of that time). I posted above and had to run an errand so finished the podcast on the drive. He mentioned horticultural, technical, and artistic even.
 

Wires_Guy_wires

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I come from a very artistic background. And also a very technical one when it comes to horticulture.
But my goal in bonsai is to just have fun and enjoy both.

There's this kid in my country, maybe 17 years old, that makes insanely good trees. Levels way above me. I'm jealous that's for sure. But from a technical standpoint, I can't believe that right now, he has plants that he has owned for over 5 years. He works on stuff, sells it, buys some new stuff, works it, sells it. Rinse and repeat.
And I believe it's true that if you stick to the instructions on the box, or the ones from a mentor, you can get away with being a good artist without intrinsically being a good horticulturist. The opposite can also be true; I've been raising and breeding plants for nearly two decades and my applied bonsai techniques are still very limited.

In 2009 I won a youth-journalist award because I drunkenly borrowed a canon camera and shot a few pictures at a punk rock concert. The photographer was pissed, not because I took her camera, but because a noob did a better job than her with just a couple points and clicks.
Sometimes, you just hit gold by accident. Sometimes it requires some planning, some work and a lot of time and patience.

Best to enjoy the process, I believe.
 

TinyArt

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Well, the artistic side lured me in...
...and as I love research and technical challenges, I may be able to realize some nice results by staying the course.

Horticulturally, though... I may get my butt kicked, due to a general lack of prior experience. Have to keep my projects in proportion to my abilities, not count on any one plant surviving, and not take it personally if they fail to thrive.
And I believe it's true that if you stick to the instructions on the box, or the ones from a mentor, you can get away with being a good artist without intrinsically being a good horticulturist.
...there's hope for my plants to hold onto! 😀
 

sorce

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I think most artistic ability in bonsai is stifled by folks trying to keep trees from outside their natural climate.

If the technical side (learning the camera) is akin to Horticulture..
And the artistic side, both finished products...

It can be said that the tree is the camera itself.

Trees far outside your zone, that require inevitable "confusion" to keep them alive, are like a throw away camera.

Trees from your zone, that require no "confusion", are like the best photographic equipment.

An artistic eye and sensibility can create good products from either a cheap camera, or expensive equipment, the learning timeline varies both ways.

The biggest difference, or just plain oddity for me, is that a bonsai can hide is poorness in it's 3Dedness, better in a 2D photograph.
Where a 2D photograph, like that taken by the photographer with no technical abilities, has nothing to hide, so if it is good, is will always be good. Also true cause it can never die.

I think it's much easier to make a poor bonsai that impresses, than it is to make a poor photograph impressive.
Mostly due to human nature, but also due to the artistic part of bonsai that most folks just don't understand.

Sorce
 

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